This is the ultimate guide on throwing an Indian afternoon tea. It has tips from decor to crafting the perfect Indian high tea menu filled with various chais and Indian-inspired tea time snacks.
I LOVE tea parties. I host some sort of tea party every year. For the last couple of years, I've made it a tradition to throw a Mother's Day tea party for my mother-in-law which has been one of the sweetest traditions ever. I even teach a class called Indian chai party where my students and I learn about the complicated history of chai while learning how to craft three different kinds of chai.
My tea parties always have an Indian flare, with various types of chai served, loads of Indian snacks, and of course cute decor additions. This blog post is here to give you practical menu and decor inspiration to throw an Indian afternoon tea of your own!
What is afternoon tea?
Afternoon tea is a British ritual set to have started around the 19th century. It is said to have started as a small meal with snacks and tea to tide people over until it was time for dinner, which was typically served around 8pm to 9pm.
Over time, afternoon tea became more than something that folks hosted at home and it became a more formal affair accompanied with dancing and fancy cakes and teas.
What kind of food do you serve at afternoon tea?
Traditionally an afternoon tea has petite finger foods along with an assortment of teas. There are typically three tiers for a tea stand. The first layer has finger sandwiches, the second typically has scones, and the top tier has delicate cakes.
These are rough guidelines but you should feel free to riff and create an afternoon tea with the treats that you really enjoy eating and making.
Indian Afternoon Tea Menu Ideas
Below is a guide of an Indian-inspired afternoon tea menu along with recipes that you can follow.
Pick one to three chai varieties for your afternoon tea. I've listed the flavor profiles of each chai so you can choose a combination of delicate and sweet chais and ones that are more spice-forward. I personally like to start with the spice-forward chais and end on ones that are a bit more delicate and floral!
- Masala Chai - Spice-forward, peppery
- Ginger Chai - Calming, back of the throat spicy
- Rose Chai - Floral, delicate
- Kesar (Saffron) Chai - Earthy, floral, rich
- Cardamom Chai - Sweet, floral, decadent
- Decaf Chai - This blog post has a recipe for decaf masala chai but explains how you can make any of the above chai varieties decaf!
Savory Tea Time Snacks
- Cucumber and mint chutney tea sandwiches
- Description: A riff on a classic cucumber tea sandwich but with Indian flavors introduced via the cilantro-mint chutney. You can really create any type of Indian tea sandwich with your favorite chutney! Just remember to cut the crusts off for that classic tea sandwich!
- Difficulty: Easy. You can make the homemade chutney ahead of time or buy the store-bought version and assemble the sandwich before the party!
- Masala caramelized onion puff pastry swirls
- Description: These caramelized onion puffs are flaky and filled with onions that are caramelized with delicious pantry staple spices like turmeric, coriander, and cumin!
- Difficulty: Medium. These puff pastries also rely on store-bought puff pastry sheets. It takes a bit of time to caramelize the onions but the flavor is totally worth it. The caramelized onions can be rolled into the puff pastry and stored in the freezer days or weeks before the party. Simply thaw, slice, and bake the swirls when ready to eat.
- Keema Aloo Cutlets
- Description: Keema aloo cutlets are minced meat and potato cutlets that are breaded and baked until golden and crispy! They are super delicious and a hearty snack for an afternoon tea.
- Difficulty: Medium. It takes a bit of time to form the cutlets, but they can be easily baked and stored ahead of time.
- Samosa Hand Pies
- Description: Potato and pea samosas are a crowd favorite at tea parties. If frying is not your thing, you can try samosa hand pies, which are made with spiced pie dough, shaped into cute flowers, and baked in the oven.
- Difficulty: Hard. These samosa hand pies are definitely a labor of love because they involve folding and sealing mini hand pies. However, this is one of those recipes that can be made weeks in advance.
Sweets and Pastries
- Badam Halwa Croissants
- Description: This pastry is an Indian spin on the traditional almond croissant. Badam halwa, an Indian saffron fudge, is spread in the middle of a store-bought mini-croissant and topped with slivered almonds and powdered sugar.
- Difficulty: Medium. Buying mini-croissants from the store is the key to making your life simpler. The badam halwa or almond saffron fudge takes a bit of patience but it can be made days ahead of the big day.
- Chai Sugar Cookies
- Description: These tea bag shaped chai sugar cookies have chai spices and tea granules baked in for an adorable tea time dessert.
- Difficulty: Medium. Fairly straightforward and forgiving cookie recipe.
- Kaju Katli
- Description: Kaju katli is a decadent, melt-in-your-mouth, diamond-shaped Indian dessert that can be adorned with edible silver foil.
- Difficulty: Hard. This is a more technical Indian dessert that involves getting the fudge to the right consistency so it can be cut into beautiful diamonds.
- Kesar Peda
- Description: This easy but delicious kesar malai peda, or Indian milk and saffron fudge, comes together in minutes thanks to the help of condensed milk and milk powder.
- Difficulty: Medium. This milk fudge comes together so easily and can be shaped into whatever cute shape you desire.
- Khajur Burfi (Date and Nut Roll)
- Description: An easy Indian date and nut roll that has no added sugars but is naturally sweetened by dried fruit.
- Difficulty: Easy. Super easy to toast a few nuts and assemble this dessert!
Desi Tea Party Decor Ideas
- Repurpose Saris and Kurtas as tablecloths - Use the saris and kurtas that you wouldn’t mind spilling a little tea on. Build the color scheme of your tea party based on the colors in the fabric. For my chai party, I decided to use my husband's cream cotton kurta with light orange leaves. It was the perfect way to utilize this kurta, which honestly doesn’t get used nearly enough.
- Jhumkis and bangles as napkin holders - Gold jhumkis and bangles can serve as ornate napkin decorations such as napkin holders to really elevate the table scape.
Jhumki Napkin Holders
- Pick lovely flowers that match your decor - Marigolds and jasmine are beautiful flowers that will give your afternoon tea an Indian vibe. However, choose whatever flower is local and in season for you.
- Buy mismatched tea cups and tea stands at a thrift store for a fraction of the price. Having mismatched tea cups is the charm of throwing an afternoon tea. Guests can pick their tea cup on arrival and the cost of tea cups is significantly cheaper when bought second hand.
- Buy disposable tea cups and tea stands for large crowds. If you don't own large amount of tea cups or don't want to do dishes, paper cups are the way to go.
Tips for hosting an Indian afternoon tea
- Store bulk of the chai in a thermal carafe. Tea pots are cute but don't keep tea warm for long. My recommendation is to put the chai in a large insulated thermos or carafe to keep it warm throughout the event. This way you don't have to leave the party to keep warming the chai. Simply fill one or two small tea pots with enough chai for one serving; that way the majority of the chai stays warm.
- Keep chai warm in Instant Pot. You can also add one type of chai into the Instant Pot directly and keep the chai on the warm setting. Guests can ladle chai into their cups or the teapots when they are ready for a refill. Alternatively, if you made multiple kinds of chai, add water into the instant pot on the warm setting to create a hot water bath. Add the premade chai into mason jars and leave the jars in there so they are warm. Be careful with this method as the mason jars will be hot to the touch.
- Pick an afternoon tea menu with dishes of varying difficulty. When picking out your afternoon tea menu, try to strategically pick dishes that can be prepped ahead of time and try to limit the number of complicated dishes that need your attention the day of the party.
- Set the table the day before the event. Making the table ascetically pretty can be time consuming. So take time to do this task the night before your event. It will make the process more fun and less stressful on the day of.
- Make chai in big batches couple of days in advance. Simply reheat chai on the day of the party.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post about throwing your own Indian inspired afternoon tea. Let me know if you have any other questions I can help answer! If you end up hosting your own tea party, please comment below or tag me in the pictures on Instagram @moonriceshri!