Darcy Lambton

27 September 2023

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A serving of luxury afternoon tea suggestions that takes the cake

The afternoon tea is a British institution, a nation defining pastime that only seems to be growing in popularity. An afternoon tea taken in a swish hotel is a wonderful way to mark a special occasion, but it’s equally rewarding when enjoyed in a more relaxed setting at home. Menu options abound from a slice of cake and a cuppa to a more baroque spread of scones, pastries, fizz and, of course, Lambton & Jackson smoked salmon sandwiches.

What is afternoon tea, anyway?

Many of us think of starched luxury and a spoonful of decadence when afternoon tea springs to mind. Its origins are certainly aristocratic. The English only really started drinking tea en masse in the seventeenth century. Fast forward two hundred years and the concept of the afternoon tea was born. It is often attributed to Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford and lifelong friend of Queen Victoria, who was said to endure something of a mid-afternoon slump when hunger pangs struck. With dinner not served until eight o’clock in the evening, she started to have tea, bread and cake in her private chambers. It wasn’t long before selected friends were invited along. Such gatherings snowballed so that by the end of the century afternoon tea was a fashionable high society engagement. In fact, some afternoon tea events were an open invitation with up to 200 guests visiting over a three hour period.

Migration to hotels

So afternoon tea initially morphed into a social occasion within the wealthiest homes, but how did it transition into an established form of eating out? When Europe’s first grand hotel, The Langham, opened its London doors in 1865, its inaugural menu featured afternoon tea. It was not yet billed as such;  “tea, plain” was listed alongside suppers and luncheons. Opening soon after, other grand hotels like The Ritz and The Savoy followed suit. Gradually the elements that we have come to expect in an afternoon tea became embedded and the consumer experience of afternoon tea steadily percolated into Britain’s collective cultural consciousness. Nowadays afternoon tea in a swanky hotel is how we frequently like to celebrate major milestones in life.

Luxury afternoon tea

So what are the components that make a luxury afternoon tea, then? A builder’s brew and a slab of carrot cake in a cafe are one thing, and such delights certainly keep the wolf from the door, but they hardly epitomise luxury. A proper afternoon tea therefore would not be complete without:

Tea – Not just any tea! A range of leaves, like Assam, Darjeeling or Lapsang Souchong, should be on offer. Infused to perfection, tea should then be served from a preferably ornate China or silver-plated teapot.

Champagne – Especially for a celebration, a glass of fizz has become the norm for a luxury afternoon tea.

Finger sandwiches – Delicate and light, these should be small and devoid of crust. Fillings like Maldon Cure smoked salmon, cucumber, egg mayonnaise with watercress, coronation chicken, or Lambton & Jackson smoked salmon pâté are favourites.

Scones – Not the chunky scones that make a cream tea; these should be slightly daintier bite-size scones served with a range of jams and Cornish clotted cream.

Pastries and cakes – This is where the hotel pastry chef gets to be creative! Anything goes here from delicate sponges and elaborate cakes to pastries and Florentines.

At home

Sadly, most of us don’t have a resident pastry chef on hand to dream up a luxurious afternoon tea at home! But since this tradition began as one in the home, there’s really no reason not to give it a go. These are our top tips to hold your own luxury afternoon tea.

Ingredients

The key to luxury is in the tasting. So it’s important to use good quality ingredients in your savoury items especially. We love to celebrate the exquisiteness of our smoked salmon in all its forms, so if you fancy an alternative hint of flavour then why not sample our yummy Cherrywood smoked salmon.

Size

A signifier of luxury in an afternoon tea is a refined portion. Sandwiches should be light and delicate. So perhaps try a long sliced salmon to keep your fillings elegant. Cut your cakes to smaller pieces with a garnish, or add macarons to the mix.

Details

Bring a slightly more formal feel to your at home afternoon tea with a few extra details. Draw up a menu to present your afternoon tea courses in advance. Add some fresh flowers to the table and make sure that there’s plenty of light.

Variety

Afternoon tea is set apart from a ‘picky tea’ by the variety on offer. You should have a few sandwich fillings served, including variations of smoked salmon and egg as two traditional fillings. Similarly, there should be a selection of sweet treats, at least two varieties of tea, and assorted jams to accompany your miniature scones.

Setting

Choose the area of your home carefully. You’ll need adequate seating for all of your guests. Traditionally, afternoon tea would be served in the drawing room. This would use slightly more informal seating and a low table. Of course, in most homes it might be more practical to use a dining room. Soften the space with a fabric tablecloth and chair covers.

Service

To make your afternoon tea feel like a real occasion, think about how the food is presented to your guests. Platters, cake stands, and boards are wonderful for presentation, while fine china crockery feels far more elegant than a standard side plate. Mismatched china sourced second hand is both affordable, sustainable, and gives a real bijoux feel.

Theme ideas 

To make an afternoon tea feel really special, try giving it a theme like 1920s vintage. Even the top London hotels are partial to a theme, often tying in to nearby exhibitions or timely events. So give your home afternoon tea party an edge.

Seasonal

From Christmas to Easter to the change of seasons, choose your colours and ingredients to tie in to the time of year.

Global spread

Choose international ingredients to present an afternoon tea that takes your guests around the world! From mango lassi cakes to Japanese sashimi style salmon.

Mad Hatter Day

This is a very specific one for October 6th, which is celebrated among Alice in Wonderland fans as Mad Hatter Day! So it’s the ideal time to plan a Wonderland themed afternoon tea with upside down cake and kooky details.

Whether you prefer a low key or indulgent gathering, the quality of your ingredients should not let you down. Browse our range of smoked foods for afternoon teas and more!