Technically, high tea in the U.K. includes cooked meats and salad. But in the U.S., it has become synonymous with an afternoon of sweet treats and delicate sandwiches.
Step 1: Invite your guests Invite guests to come by between 3 and 5 p.m. Afternoon tea is meant to tide people over from lunch to dinner.
Step 2: Set a proper table Put out a cloth tablecloth, cloth napkins, and your best utensils. Provide each guest with a teacup and saucer, and a small plate. Give each guest two spoons: one for their tea and one for their clotted cream and jam.
Step 3: Pick your tea Offer a variety of loose-leaf teas; tea bags are a no-no. Either limit your selection to the number of teapots you have, or provide each guest with a tea infuser that allows them to steep tea in their own cups.
Step 4: Prepare your menu Prepare a menu that includes small scones, miniature pastries, like petits fours, and finger sandwiches – egg or chicken salad, cucumber, watercress, and smoked salmon with cream cheese are all traditional fillings. Cut them into quarters, and remove the crusts.
Step 5: Serve food Place the sweets and sandwiches on separate platters or tiered serving trays and allow guests to serve themselves with tongs. Place pots of jam and clotted cream on the table for the scones.
TIP: If you can't find clotted cream in your market, substitute creme fraiche.
Step 6: Prepare your tea Put the loose tea into the empty teapots. A good general rule is one teaspoon for every cup of water.
Step 7: Add the water Just before the water boils, add it to the teapots. Cover and let steep for two to four minutes.
TIP: Stir the leaves lightly a couple of times while they're brewing. The tea will brew more evenly this way.
Step 8: Serve the tea Place a tea strainer across each teacup before pouring to catch the tea leaves. Offer guests sugar, lemon, or milk – but not cream.
Step 9: Relax Sit back, relax, and linger over good conversation. High tea is meant to be savored.
FACT: The tradition of afternoon tea was conceived in the 1800s by Anna Maria, the duchess of Bedford, who complained she got hungry between lunch and dinner.