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6 Afternoon and High Tea Food Ideas for Your Party

Pulling off a high tea is doable without breaking a sweat—and eminently less pressure-filled than assembling a multi-course lunch or supper. What you’re going for is a mix of sweet and savory small bites that can be eaten out of hand, or on a small plate, while juggling a cup of tea (depending on the season, hot or cold tea works).

For maximum ease, remember that you don’t have to make everything from scratch. Go high-low with some simple make-aheads and a few tasty sweets you can pick up premade, such as our seasonal High Tea Dessert Set.

As for the tea itself, don’t feel, well, boxed in. According to Statista, Lipton Pure Leaf was the top-selling ready-to-drink tea brand in 2021, but that’s only scratching the surface. A traditional tea service includes steeped tea. Read on for tea party food ideas—plus the perfect steeped tea pairings for every bite.

What Is High Tea, and What’s the Difference from Afternoon Tea?

While high tea and afternoon tea are often used interchangeably, and are both steeped in British tradition (pun intended), they originated as separate events. Afternoon tea was served around 4 p.m. and involved sitting down for a cup of tea, sandwiches, scones, and cake. The light meal was not meant to replace dinner but instead to tide people over until dinner, which was usually served around 8 p.m. for upper-class British society.

High tea originated among the working class and was served between 5 and 7 p.m., as supper. Rather than petite nibbles, high tea consisted of meat dishes, potatoes, baked beans, and other heavy bites. However, today you’ll often see what was once called afternoon tea referred to as high tea—even in England. Why? Many say it’s because high tea just sounds fancier.

What Do You Serve at an Afternoon Tea Party?

Assuming your tea party is meant to be closer to afternoon tea and not the heavier high tea, think dainty. Tea party foods can be savory or sweet, but they should be on the lighter side—as you’ll see with these six afternoon tea ideas. For a low-effort way to add variety to your tea offerings, slice up some fresh fruit—apple slices, mango wedges, and pineapple spears can be delightful here.

Scones, Clotted Cream, and Fresh Berries

Wash fresh, in-season berries and serve alongside small and not-too-sweet ginger, brown sugar, plain, or berry-studded scones and whipped cream or clotted cream (available in jars). Spritz the berries with water just before serving for that glistening glow. Pair with Earl Grey, milk, and honey.

Cucumber and Watercress Tea Sandwiches

Start with brown or pumpernickel bread, salted butter (cultured or European butter earns bonus points), and peeled English cucumbers, thinly sliced. Layer on freshly washed watercress—or any other sprouted cress you can find—and cut into finger sandwich sizes (triangles or 2-inch-wide quarters work). Pair with sencha or green tea.

Scones, Clotted Cream, and Fresh Berries

Wash fresh, in-season berries and serve alongside small and not-too-sweet ginger, brown sugar, plain, or berry-studded scones and whipped cream or clotted cream (available in jars). Spritz the berries with water just before serving for that glistening glow. Pair with Earl Grey, milk, and honey.

Cucumber and Watercress Tea Sandwiches

Start with brown or pumpernickel bread, salted butter (cultured or European butter earns bonus points), and peeled English cucumbers, thinly sliced. Layer on freshly washed watercress—or any other sprouted cress you can find—and cut into finger sandwich sizes (triangles or 2-inch-wide quarters work). Pair with sencha or green tea.

Quinoa Celery Salad with Currants and Sprouts

Toss cooked and cooled quinoa with chopped celery, currants, sea salt, chives, chopped parsley, and lemon zest. Drizzle with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon. Sprinkle in sprouted greens or leafy herbs such as chervil and serve chilled or at room temperature. Pair with hibiscus tea, served warm or iced with a sprig of fresh mint.

Open-Faced Salmon Toasts

Soft white bread and a schmear of cream cheese make a perfect base on which to layer buttery cured salmon or gravlax. Top with a thinly sliced cucumber, if desired, or flowering chives or chervil. Pair with oolong tea with milk.

Quinoa Celery Salad with Currants and Sprouts

Toss cooked and cooled quinoa with chopped celery, currants, sea salt, chives, chopped parsley, and lemon zest. Drizzle with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon. Sprinkle in sprouted greens or leafy herbs such as chervil and serve chilled or at room temperature. Pair with hibiscus tea, served warm or iced with a sprig of fresh mint.

Open-Faced Salmon Toasts

Soft white bread and a schmear of cream cheese make a perfect base on which to layer buttery cured salmon or gravlax. Top with a thinly sliced cucumber, if desired, or flowering chives or chervil. Pair with oolong tea with milk.

Eggs!

Eggs offer substance to high tea time, whether you serve them deviled, pickled, or turned into a creamy egg salad to be spread on toast points (toasted white bread, cut in triangles). For a slightly heartier option, bake mini quiches in mini muffin tins and serve at room temperature. Pair with yerba maté or Assam.

Petit Fours

These one- or two-bite sweet or savory morsels are right at home at high tea. Serve prepared bonbons, tartlets, or store-bought macarons in bright colors and floral flavors (think rose or lavender). Looking for something more decadent? Miniature shortcake-style sponge cakes or tiny bakery-bought éclairs with chocolate icing are sure to make a statement. Pair with lemon balm or chamomile tea.

Eggs!

Eggs offer substance to high tea time, whether you serve them deviled, pickled, or turned into a creamy egg salad to be spread on toast points (toasted white bread, cut in triangles). For a slightly heartier option, bake mini quiches in mini muffin tins and serve at room temperature. Pair with yerba maté or Assam.

Petit Fours

These one- or two-bite sweet or savory morsels are right at home at high tea. Serve prepared bonbons, tartlets, or store-bought macarons in bright colors and floral flavors (think rose or lavender). Looking for something more decadent? Miniature shortcake-style sponge cakes or tiny bakery-bought éclairs with chocolate icing are sure to make a statement. Pair with lemon balm or chamomile tea.

Great HelloFresh Recipes for Your Tea Party

Need more inspiration for your high tea service? Here are a few of our favorite options. Don’t forget to cut everything into hand-holdable pieces:


Check out HelloFresh Market for everything you need, from desserts and treats to bite-sized sides, to throw the perfect high tea.

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