Fresh scones, finger sandwiches and a hot cuppa€”high tea is elegant entertaining made effortless.

Don’t think of high tea as a stuffy, proper affair. It’s become a perfect casual mid-afternoon gathering, an easier (and more memorable) alternative to the classic cocktail party—and a simpler option if you don’t want to commit to a sit-down meal.

A traditional high tea includes sweet (wee tarts, cakes and cookies), savoury (think finger sandwiches and petite quiches) and scones, all arranged on a tiered serving tray with jam and clotted cream. But you’re not limited to one of each, and if you think small, anything goes. There’s no requirement to serve egg salad with watercress or cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off (though they’re lovely); instead, try bite-sized sausage rolls, sliders, thick curries served in toast cups, spanakopita triangles or cold cubed frittata. Any type of pie can be made into tarts by cutting rounds of pastry and pressing them into mini-muffin cups to bake and fill (or fill and bake), or make small portions of panna cotta or crème brûlée in Chinese soup spoons.

The key is to make it a mini-celebration—the dishes don’t need to be complicated, just tiny and pretty.

Tea Primer

Beloved the world over, the humble cup of tea has evolved from its original medicinal origins in China into the comforting brew we know and love today. Here, four of its most familiar types.

BlackThe most common tea in the West, black tea is withered, fermented and dried to produce the deep amber-coloured drink that has become synonymous with tea time. This full-bodied tea can be compared to red wine: it pairs well with richly flavoured foods, including meat, curries and desserts (especially chocolate). Think: English breakfast, orange pekoe, Earl Grey, Darjeeling

GreenGreen tea skips the fermentation step to produce a tea that is more delicate in taste and lighter in colour. If black tea is similar to red wine, then green tea is more like white—better suited to pairing with seafood and salads, in addition to unsweetened pastries like croissants. Think: Matcha, sencha, gunpowder, Maghrebi mint, jasmine

HerbalTechnically not a tea, as it is made from an infusion of various fruits, herbs and/or spices (and not leaves from the tea plant), herbal tea is a caffeine-free beverage. Herbal teas can often have pronounced flavours that may compete with many foods, so they are best served after eating or with a food pairing in the same flavour family (e.g., blueberry tea with a blueberry-based dessert). Think: Chamomile, peppermint, licorice

RooibosRooibos, which derives its name from the red bush plant it comes from, is another caffeine-free drink often considered a tea. Grown in South Africa, it undergoes a fermentation process that enhances its flavour and produces the distinctive reddish-brown colour it’s known for. Its natural hint of sweetness pairs nicely with pastries, chocolate and fruit. Think: Red bush chai, green rooibos

Finger Sandwich 101

To enjoy these simple finger sandwich combos, trim bread crusts with a sharp serrated knife, then cut each sandwich into four pieces—either squares, rectangles or triangles.

Smoked salmon + watercress + lemon

Cucumber + cream cheese + radish

Thinly sliced ham + butter

Egg salad + pea shoots

Easy Petit Fours

Petits fours can be made out of any store-bought pound cake—just cut it into small squares or rounds. To coat with an easy faux fondant, set the squares on a wire rack, heat a container of store-bought frosting in the microwave (about 30 seconds should do), stir and pour over top, then let cool until set. Decorate with icing from a pastry bag fitted with a small tip, or add small flowers or silver dragées.

Recipe: Mini Pavlova with Lemon Curd

Puff Pastry is Your Friend

Puff pastry can be easily filled with all kinds of sweet our savoury ingredients, then baked until golden to serve at a tea party—most pastries are just as delicious cold or at room temperature as they are served warm.

Recipe: Curried Coconut Chicken Puffs

Don’t Forget the Scones

Good scones are a must at any tea party. These nubbly oat scones are a perfect vehicle for fresh or frozen blueberries; white or dark chocolate chunks are always a welcome addition to the dough, or leave them perfectly plain to serve with simple strawberry jam and clotted cream.

Recipe: Wild Blueberry Oat Scones

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