British Bites: A Brief Guide to Afternoon Tea

British Bites

Classic British dishes updated for the modern American cook.

[Photograph: Sydney Oland]

Tea can be a contentious topic. And although the snobbish debates of the twentieth century have been quiet for years, there are still many of us who prefer our afternoon tea consumed a certain way. Afternoon tea, no matter where, what, or how you consume it is a soothing moment and a fantastic way to punctuate your day.

Even though most of us just grab a quick biscuit alongside with our afternoon tea there are a host of dishes you can have at the ready—ranging from classic tea sandwiches, to sweet loaves, and rich trifles. Here is a breakdown of some sweets, sandwiches, and savories to include alongside your pot of tea.

Scones and Buns

These simple breads are often a bit sweet and can be accompanied by jams, butter, and even clotted creams. Scones can range from a simple raisin-studded milk scone to a fancier glazed and flavored version. If you happen to find yourself in possession of a specialty item like a Devonshire cream, go with a simple scone and a thick homemade jam to accompany it.

Tea Sandwiches

Small, often two-bite sandwiches ideal to stave off hunger until supper. Tea sandwiches are simple, two or three ingredient sandwiches on plain bread normally served cold. Smoked salmon, watercress, and egg all make ideal fillings, but more complex fillings such as coronation chicken and even cheddar and chutney versions have become popular over the past few years.


Serving a loaf alongside your tea is a great way to give a few people something to eat without having to spend too much time in the kitchen at the last moment. If you're serving a loaf like a soda bread having some room temperature butter and a sweet jam go very well on top. More intensely flavored breads like sticky malt loaf just need some soft butter and a hot pot of tea.


Small cakes and puddings can be served with your afternoon tea as well. If you are hosting a fancier affair then something as pomp as a beautiful trifle may grace your table, though I suggest serving it in individual portions rather than a large trifle dish. Eccles cakes are often served with cheese, but as a sweet offering along with a pot of tea, these small, currant-studded cakes make a fancy sugary addition to your tea.

Whether you are hosting friends and making a big pot of loose leaf tea, or having a quiet moment on your own with a mug of milky tea, taking the time to have a quick bite and a hot tea in the afternoon can give you the strength to conquer the rest of your day.

View the slideshow for afternoon tea recipes!