Afternoon High Tea

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English Afternoon High Tea Time

This post will give you some afternoon tea ideas and recipes to let you organise your own tea party at home. It will also help you understand the difference between ‘high tea‘ and ‘afternoon tea‘, as there is, understandably, some confusion as to the meaning of both terms.

Below I will link to some of my afternoon tea recipes that will enable you to prepare your own English afternoon tea.

High Tea vs Afternoon Tea

OK, I have called this post ‘afternoon high tea’ because there is some confusion as to the meaning of afternoon tea and high tea, and I thought I would have a go at tackling that briefly here.

I am myself originally very English, and even I confess to having been confused by the different terms.

What is Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon tea refers to the meal which would be taken towards the end of the afternoon which would keep you going until supper or dinner at around 20.00. Afternoon tea time is normally around 16.00.

Originally it would be something that the British upper classes would enjoy as, of course, they needed some way to bide their time. These days it is still common to stop for tea during cricket matches when afternoon tea will be served to the players.


afternoon tea


Afternoon tea was introduced in the 19th century and became a fashionable social event for the upper classes where people would meet up and chat. It would have been an important part of society in many parts of the British Empire back in the day. 

Afternoon tea would typically consist of sandwiches, cakes, pastries, scones with jam and cream and, of course, tea. Tea is still enjoyed every day by the Queen, it is claimed.

Afternoon tea can be enjoyed inside or outside, depending on the weather. But if you are outside, you may need to cover the jam to keep the wasps away!

What is High Tea?

High tea is a reference to a meal that would be enjoyed by the working classes after a hard day in the factory. Many of the factories in the 19th century were situated in the Midlands and the North of England, and coming home the workers would be famished and would want to eat straight away.

What is high tea time? This could be any time after 17.00 and could include anything, but would likely be a hot meal like a meat pie or something similar, and maybe some cakes.

Tea would also commonly be present. I remember that having tea at the evening meal was also something I found very strange when I moved up North from the South as an 18-year-old.


shepherd's pie
A Shepherd’s Pie. Could easily be part of a high tea meal


I studied in the North of England and can concur that the names for these meals have remained.

You will find that in the North most people still refer to their evening meal as ‘tea‘ as opposed to ‘dinner’ or ‘supper’. 

Outside of the UK, many people think that ‘afternoon tea‘ is called ‘high tea‘, but this is a common mistake. But it is not surprising that people think this, as many places in the UK even market afternoon tea as high tea, but this is really more to attract tourists.

So really, tea is the major common denominator between the two.

Why ‘Tea’?

Well ever since the British found out about tea, they have drunk quite a lot of it. Now more than 100 million cups a day in Britain alone, apparently.

It became very popular in England after being introduced by the East India Company in the 17th century, when it was a prized product amongst the aristocracy. 

With the development of trade and tea rooms across the country, tea drinking became a national pastime in the British Isles, and the British Empire, and it still is. By the middle of the 19th century, it was the most popular drink amongst the working classes.

I remember being brought up on Twinings Earl Grey tea at home (Twining opened his first tea shop in 1717) and my mother used to love the Chinese Lapsang Souchong (which was far too smokey for my liking!). We still drink Twinings Earl Grey at home, with a splash of milk, of course! In fact, I have one next to me right now as I write.


Twinings Earl Grey with some egg salad sandwiches


There are thousands of different tea types to choose from, from China and India, any one of which you may find at an afternoon tea.

In Japan, for example, they have Matcha green tea made from finely powdered dried tea leaves. If you wish to gift someone a nice tea-related present, why not try this Matcha kit from Art of Tea below?



In the UK, afternoon tea would traditionally be served in a teapot using black tea, and many people have their own ways to make the perfect cup. My grandmother was once married to a tea planter in India and she would always give me a very hard time if I poured the water into the pot and it was not boiling properly! And of course, the milk always goes in last, once the tea is in the cup!!


Variations on tea time

So, although the British will drink tea all day long, from breakfast to bedtime, there are some other expressions you may hear.

Tea time‘ for example is one. What is tea time and what time is tea time? Well, tea time could refer to afternoon tea or high tea, depending on where you are in the country. But it could also mean anytime when someone wants a cuppa (cup of tea or cup of char).


afternoon tea


You may even hear ‘elevenses‘ which refers to a short break at 11.00 when one might partake of a cup of tea and some biscuits for example. 

A ‘Cream tea‘ is also something you may hear of and is similar to an afternoon tea, but just includes scones with jam and clotted cream and tea. It is traditionally part of the West Country (the counties of Devon and Cornwall), where they have a long-held rivalry on how best to eat your cream tea. You can read more on my scones with clotted cream post.

english cream tea
An English cream tea

Afternoon tea etiquette

Originating from its posh beginnings, afternoon tea obviously has some etiquette attached as to how to behave. Quite useful to know, if you are visiting the Queen at Buckingham Palace, for example 🙂

Here it is nicely summarized in this amusing video describing afternoon tea etiquette, by William Hanson:



Anyhow, having given you some background, I shall now give you some recipes to help you make your own afternoon tea party. Invite your friends and pretend you are royalty!

Afternoon tea recipes

Here are some afternoon tea food recipes for you to make your own afternoon tea menu. Make sure you create a nice table spread.

If you browse some of the other hearty pie recipes on my site you could even put together your own high tea menu! Good luck!

Recipes for Tea Sandwiches

Afternoon tea starts with sandwiches with the crust cut off. How about these ones?


afternoon tea sandwiches
Cucumber and egg salad sandwiches

Cucumber sandwiches

Egg Sandwiches

Cheese and Pickle Sandwiches

Ham Mayo Sandwich


After the sandwiches, we have some cakes, pastries and biscuits……

Cake and Pastry recipes

Raw Apple Cake

Apple and Cherry Pie

Madeira Cake

Banana Cake

Sponge Cake

Macaroon Cookies

Lemon Cake

Fruity Flapjacks

Ginger Biscuits

Shortbread Biscuits

or something more savoury perhaps?

Mushroom Pastry


And then the Scones

English scones with clotted cream

and on this link a make your own Clotted Cream recipe from one of our friends.

real scones

And finally the Tea

Really for the tea, I do not want to make any particular recommendations, apart from my own favourite Twinings Earl Grey:


Twinings Earl Grey Tea




There are so many types of tea and everyone tends to have their own brand that they like. Tea is a very personal thing.

If you are a real tea enthusiast, you may like to explore the Art of Tea website, where you can find a wonderful range of organic and botanical teas, as well as lots of new information about tea. Or maybe join their exclusive club and try a new type of tea every month. Just click on the banner below.

Art of Tea - Tea of the Month 

These days everyone makes tea with a teabag, but to do it properly you should use loose tea and a strainer when you pour it. On the continent, most people drink tea black, sometimes with a slice of lemon, but in the UK many still add a dash of milk to it. I certainly do. In the old days, it was to stop the China cups from cracking it is said.

I hope you have found this post useful and that you can try some of my recipes and enjoy a real English tea party!

How to Prepare your Afternoon Tea

Afternoon High Tea

afternoon tea

There is nothing more civilized than afternoon tea. Follow the etiquette and do not eat too many cakes!

Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes


  • Sandwiches
  • Cakes
  • Biscuits
  • Scones & clotted cream
  • Tea


  1. Invite friends
  2. Purchase ingredients
  3. Make the recipes in blogpost
  4. Prepare the table, linen, china and silverware
  5. Enjoy !


See blog post for details

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