Afternoon Tea Course Order

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Traditional afternoon tea is served in three courses and usually on a three-tiered tray alongside a pot of tea. This illustrated guide shows what order afternoon tea should be eaten.

Illustration of an afternoon tea 3-tiered tray.
Credit: Alia Phibes

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It’s not surprising there is such a thing as afternoon tea etiquette since it can be quite a formal (*ahem* dare I say civilized) affair.

There are lots of rules to follow if you want to have proper tea which can be intimidating if you don’t know them.

The first few times I went for afternoon tea, I had no idea what was to be eaten first since everything comes out at the same time, usually on a three-tiered tray. I would just eat whatever caught my eye first.

Over time, I learned the proper order and that made me feel so much more comfortable since I knew I was doing afternoon tea the right way.

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Let’s get started on the courses.

First Course

Tea sandwiches and savories are eaten first. These are small bites that can be eaten in 2-3 bites. It’s funny how afternoon tea, which is seen as so formal requires eating with your fingers.

Eye the sandwiches and savories first before touching one to bring to your plate. You definitely don’t want to be touching anything on the tray that you’re not going to be eating. Eat off your plate.

Don’t place a bitten sandwich back on the tray but I think that goes without saying.

Finish all the tea sandwiches and savories before moving onto the second course.

Second Course

Scones. Well, scones served with jam and clotted cream is eaten next with your fingers.

I did a whole post on how to eat a scone properly so you may find that helpful.

Again, just touch the scone that you’ll be eating from your plate. Scoop a little of the jam and clotted cream using the spoons that are provided with the condiments and put them on your plate.

Knives are used to slather on the jam and cream onto your scones but the scones are eaten with your fingers.

Don’t cross-contaminate the jam and cream and the serving spoons. You don’t want to use the cream spoon to scoop the jam.

Most importantly, don’t use the serving spoons to put the jam or cream directly on your scone.

RELATED: Afternoon Tea 101: Clotted Cream and Devonshire Cream

Third Course

The sweets are the third and final course. This course is also eaten with your fingers.

All pastries and sweets should be small, each one gone in 2-3 bites. Please, don’t be an animal and lick all the sweets and call dibs.

RELATED: Complete List of Places for Afternoon Tea in NYC

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  1. Thank you for this very interesting article. I have enjoyed afternoon tea on several occasions in England and Scotland. The courses are always served in the order stated in the article: sandwiches and savouries; scones with jam and cream; and sweets.

  2. Do you have any suggestions on how many people can share a tower? or amounts per 4 people? Planning a shower for about 30, any suggestions would be helpful.

    1. Hi Brandy, it depends on the size of the tower but usually a three-tiered stand can hold enough food for two people. If you’re having a shower for 30, it may be easier to put all the tea sandwiches on a 4-6 towers, the scones on trays, and desserts on another 4-6 towers. Make 4 tea sandwiches per person, 1-2 small scones per person with clotted cream and jam on the side, and 4 mini sweets per person.

      1. Hi there! I recently hosted an afternoon tea for 8 people at my house. Unfortunately, I have limited space and supplies, so I circumvented the rules a bit, but it worked out well for me. This may be sacrilegious, but ahead of each guest’s arrival on the table I put one each of the savories/sandwiches I served on everyone’s dinner plate as well as a scone alongside cream/jam on each of their dessert plates. I put all the sweets/desserts on three-tiered stands on the center of the table for the guests to choose from. Any extras I made were on smaller trays on the kitchen island in case the guests wanted more.

  3. The placement correct order for afternoon tea is: Scones on top, Sandwiches in the middle, sweets on the bottom. Read Etiquette Faux Pas and Other Misconceptions About Afternoon Tea by Ellen Easton on

  4. Hi Pam, HAHA, yes, I can see how it appeals to you since you ARE such a visual person!

    Hi WInnie, mmm, butterscotch scones sounds amazing! I'll make a note of Chat Noir. Thanks!

    Hi Michele, glad you found the tip helpful!

  5. Great visual. I went for tea this Sat with my Jane Austen group to a place called Chat Noir. Not sure if you ever been there. It is small place, and not fancy, but the food is tasty and they use loose tea. it is in Rockville center. Love their scones (butterscotch ones are my favorite…and their Croque Monsieur sandwiches are great, also the salads etc. Thought I would pass it on to you.