• Hazelnut meringue layer cakes with coffee buttercream. (Alan Benson)Source: Alan Benson
Tiered cake stands, bone china, petite silverware, tea with lemon slices, and dainty finger foods are the hallmarks of High Tea.
28 Mar 2018 - 10:46 AM  UPDATED 30 Mar 2018 - 4:45 PM

An important distinction to note: in Australia what we know as "High Tea" is actually "Afternoon Tea" in its home country of England. From the late 1800s, Afternoon Tea was a meal for the upper classes taken around 4pm, pre-promenading, cards, theatre, or other social occasions, to bridge the gap between lunch and a later dinner. The middle and lower classes had a more substantial "high" tea later in the day, around five or six o’clock, in place of a late dinner. Something to keep in mind if you're inviting along an English friend, or looking for a High Tea in England!

The exact origin of High Tea is unclear, but credit is largely given to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, in the late 1800s, who remedied her "sinking feeling" in the afternoon with tea, bread and butter and cake. The idea went somewhat viral in Victorian-era terms. 

Aside from having a selection of loose-leaf teas (no bags!) on offer, here are some of the essential components:

Pretty little cakes

Lemon yoghurt syrup cakes (yiaourtopita)

You'll need individual bundt tins to make these sweet little cakes. They're light and spongey, and serve up a triple-hit of zingy lemon elegance: zest in the cake, a lemon syrup soaking, and a lemon juice glaze. 

White chocolate butterfly cakes

The shape of these enchanting fairy cakes is made by scooping out little cone-shaped mounds from the centre, slicing the mounds in half, filling the holes with whipped cream and jam, and arranging the slices into "wings". 

Fancy tarts

Blood orange tart

A dazzling citrus makes for a dazzling citrus tart. Blood oranges have a richer flavour than regular oranges, with a raspberry-like edge, and create a curd that is vibrant, creamy and luxe.

Strawberry tart

Strawberry tarts made with Cointreau > all other strawberry tarts. 

Finger sandwiches

Watercress, crab and roasted capsicum ribbon sandwiches 

No high tea is complete without a ribbon sandwich, so why not go all out and make it one on dark rye bread, filled with cream cheese, watercress, roasted capsicum, black caviar, and crab meat? 

Pickled celery, cress and anchovy butter sandwiches

It may sound like an odd combination of flavours, but these little finger sandwiches are actually the perfect little ratio of crunch, salt, soft, sweet and fresh, and balance out the other sweet flavours of a high tea.


Melting moment

A little honey in the biscuit mixture and a little passionfruit in the cream are the sneaky ingredients that make these moments really melt. 

Melting moments

Matcha and coconut meringues

Whether you use mascarpone or whipped thickened cream to sandwich these delicate meringues together, these will absolutely pop on any plate. If you want to make more of a “green” statement, add a little green food colouring to the meringue mix before you shape it.

Hazelnut and chocolate kiss biscuits

Rich chocolate icing sandwiched by roasted hazelnut shortbread... see how long you can resist dunking these in your tea. 

Savoury tartlets and bites

Leek and bacon tartlets

These tartlets use a homemade yoghurt pastry shell. Adding yoghurt to pastry dough results in a light, crisp, and smooth-tasting pastry shell with a hint of tang—the perfect complement to just about any filling, but particularly leek and bacon. 

Mushroom sherry tarts (torteletten mit pilzen)

Earthy mushrooms and the dried-fruit flavours of sherry are a classic Spanish combination. Here, the combo gets a German touch with some butter, cream, lemon juice and egg, which is all sauteed together then spooned into pre-baked puff pastry shells—you can use bought puff pastry to keep things simple, as you'll no doubt have your hands full with other High Tea prep. 

Lobster with buckwheat pikelets and avocado

Lobster sounds (and tastes lavish), so is a natural topping along with avocado and a smear of sour cream for these fluffy, nutty High Tea pikelets. You could also substitute picked crab meat, hot or cold smoked salmon or trout, or a fish pâté. 

Stuffed eggs

Stuffed eggs, or "deviled eggs", are a High-Tea tier essential. Use a piping bag with a fluted nozzle, piping out the yolk mixture in a circular motion, to make the decorative rosettes.

Cream scones

These scones use a secret ingredient to make them extra soft, downy and creamy.

Strawberry shortcakes

Rather than a jam filling for these shortcakes, strawberries are tossed with the sugar in a bowl and left to sit for 30 minutes to bring out their juices—because there's nothing quite like the burst of fresh berry with smooth, milky cream.  

Mousses and mousse-y cakes


A good cheesecake makes you feel like you're swimming through cumulonimbus clouds, and this is just that type of cheesecake.

Photo credit: Pierre Javelle

Hazelnut meringue layer cakes with coffee buttercream (fragelite)

Because a special occasion deserves a layer cake.

Chocolate mastiha mousse

Chocolate mousse is inherently elegant in its airy, soft texture. This mousse features mastiha, an exotically aromatic Greek spice with woody cedar notes. It can be found at Greek grocers and online, but if you're in a pinch the best substitute would be vanilla bean. 

Chocolate mastiha mousse


Chocolate swirl meringue kisses with caramel ganache

These charming little meringue kisses are peak High Tea. 

Cranberry-citrus macarons

A hint of blue food colouring (optional, but recommended for creating a vivid colour) and a filling of cranberry and mascarpone cream makes these macarons exceptionally fancy-occasion worthy.

This week on Luke Nguyen's Food Trail, Luke heads to the Blue Mountains and enjoys a spot of high tea with a breathtaking view. Tune in 8pm, Thursdays and visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.

Fancy finger food
Choc cherry macarons

The classic Cherry Ripe takes on a French favourite. If that vibrant pink colour is anything to go by, you know this recipe will be a crowd-pleaser. 

Tiramisu squares

This Italian classic is taken to a whole new level as elegant individual dessert cakes with a rich chocolate topping.

Punschkrapfen (rum and apricot cakes)

These sweet little morsels are traditional Viennese petits-fours. Their delicate sponge layers, punchy rum-spiked apricot filling and pretty pink exteriors make them rather addictive.

Cupcake collection
These mini cakes are perfect for morning teas and parties.
Pandan lamingtons

Who doesn't love a lamington? Here’s a colourful variation on the great Aussie classic. For best success, the cake should be day old so it absorbs the icing better; make it the day before you need it.  (You can even use a store-bought one for ease).