You’ve landed at the famous landmark in London, England—Big Ben! The clock tower was erected in the 19th century. Big Ben actually refers to the giant, 13-ton bell that tolls each hour from its home near the Houses of Parliament. The building that houses Big Ben has gone by two names historically, first St. Stephen’s Tower, and later (and currently), Elizabeth’s Tower.

Its designer, Augustus Pugin, created it in a neo-Gothic style. When it was completed in 1859, Big Ben was known around the world for being the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world. It was also considered a great feat in clock making for it to be extremely accurate despite its size and complexity.

Now, maybe you haven’t personally made it to see and hear the real Big Ben, so if you’d like to experience a taste of jolly old England at home, we thought we’d take this opportunity to introduce you to the English tradition of tea. We’ll even give you a recipe to try!

Host a Traditional English Tea Party

First, we should point out that there are different types of teas, each with their own traditional characteristics.

Low tea, or afternoon tea, is a wonderful social occasion that is served at a low table… hence its name! A coffee table in the living room would do just fine for hosting a low tea.

On the other hand, high tea is served slightly later in the day. High tea is more of an early supper, rather than just an afternoon snack, and includes a much more substantial meal served on a higher table, such as a dinner table.

Host a Low Tea

Today, we’ll take you through what you’ll need to host a beautiful afternoon ‘low tea’ for your friends and family. First things first: A formal party must always start with invitations, so get creative, have some fun with snail mail and hand-write some invites to your guest list. Make sure you give at least two weeks advance notice. As for time, a low tea will typically begin between 2:00 and 4:00 pm, and would not venture past a 6:00 pm end time.

What to Serve at a Tea Party

Let’s start with the obvious… Tea! A typical tea served in the afternoon would be a black tea such as Earl Grey or Assam. You should offer tea with milk or cream, sugar cubes, and lemon wedges.

This would be a great time to haul out (and possibly dust off) that beautiful tea set. If you haven’t got a tea set, just collect what you’ve got and have some fun. Use tablecloths, fresh cut flowers, and light colours such as white, pink, yellow, and gold for your décor.

As for food, there are many variations but the most common foods to include for your guests at a low tea would be:

  • Scones with clotted cream and jam.
  • Finger sandwiches.
  • Dainty desserts.

Stack your goodies on a classic three-tiered serving platter in the traditional order of sweets on the top tier, scones and breads on the middle tier, and savouries and sandwiches on the bottom level. A great rule of thumb for how many items to make would be 2-3 sweets, 2 scones, and 4-5 savouries or finger sandwiches per person.

A Scone Recipe with Crème Fraîche for Low Tea

Here’s a classic scone recipe that your guests will love. Serve these scones with a red berry jam of your choice and crème fraîche. Although clotted cream is traditionally served, it is often difficult to find in North America due to its unpasteurized nature.

You will need:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour – sifted
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ cup cold, unsalted butter
  • ½ cup of whole milk
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 tablespoons of milk for brushing the tops
Putting it all Together:

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

  1. In a large bowl, combine your flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder.
  2. Cut your cold butter into cubes and begin blending it with a pastry blender or a fork until the pieces of butter are about the size of peas. You can use your hands for this step, but be careful not to melt the butter pieces too much with the warmth of your hands.
  3. Make a well in the middle of the mixture and add your milk and the egg. Work it together with a spoon until it starts to form a sticky ball of dough. Knead it together on a floured surface for no more than a minute in order to keep those pieces of butter intact.
  4. Roll out the dough to a thickness of ¾ of an inch and cut into small circles using a cookie cutter or small cup that is no more than 2-2.5 inches wide. Since these are tea scones, it’s important that they be a little smaller in size. Continue to gather and roll out the scraps until all of your scones are cut out.
  5. Place your scones on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush the tops with a little milk. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden on top.

This recipe will yield about 14-16 scones, depending on the size you make them.

Serve on the middle tier of your serving tray with crème fraîche and a sweet, berry jam on the side for your guests to slather on to their hearts’ content.

We hope that enjoy this taste of England at your sure-to-be delightful tea party!