It is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of an English high tea: the tea sandwich. Also referred to as finger sandwiches, these mini, crustless bites have become synonymous with English culture and cuisine alongside bangers and mash and scones with clotted cream. But what’s the history of these delectable bites and how do you make them? And more importantly, what are they filled with (Hint: there’s an endless variety so no one will go hungry). In this article, we’re explaining everything you need to know about tea sandwiches, their evolution over time, and fifteen of our favorite recipes.
History of Tea Sandwiches
It all began in 1840 when Anna Maria Stanhope, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, established high tea at Woburn Abbey, her summer home. As she put it, she would start “having that sinking feeling” in her stomach and needed a light meal to hold her over. Dinner was served fashionably late at the Duchess’ residence, so around 4:00pm she’d request a tray of tea, bread, butter, and cake be brought to her room.
This became a daily affair and when she returned to London, the Duchess began inviting friends to join her, turning her afternoon snack into a social affair.
High tea slowly spread in popularity among high society women. It was no longer simply a meal to satiate the appetite, but became an event that signified fashion and wealth. However, before long, men began joining in and soon all of the upper class was having tea and finger sandwiches in their drawing rooms mid-afternoon. They would even hold full receptions, inviting hundreds of guests to mingle and have a bite to eat.
In modern English society, high tea is no longer an everyday affair. However, many English hotels and restaurants offer high tea where diners can experience the classic British tradition of tea sandwiches, scones, and petit fours with English Breakfast tea in vintage china.
What Exactly are Tea Sandwiches, Anyway?
Tea sandwiches are traditionally made from buttered white bread and filled with light or dainty fillings. This can include cream cheese or mayonnaise with thinly sliced vegetables. They are then cut into small squares, triangles or thin rectangles and the crust is removed once the sandwich is made.
15 Types of Tea Sandwiches
While tradition would say that tea sandwiches should be graceful and delicate, you can find tea sandwiches filled with almost anything today. If you take a stroll through London, you’ll see endless offerings for high tea. From the luxurious, classic Goring Hotel to The Wizard Exploratorium, you can truly find a high tea suited for anyone.
However, here in the States, high tea is obviously not so common. But don’t let that discourage you from hosting your own at home! Invite a few friends over and buy a few ingredients, and you’ve got yourself a full on tea party.
Here’s a list of fifteen tea sandwiches you can make yourself using any bread you like – don’t forget to cut off the crusts and cut your sandwiches into small bites before serving. All ingredients can be added to taste:
1. Cream cheese and cucumber
Combine cream cheese with fresh dill and spread on two slices of bread. Layer with thinly sliced cucumbers and smoked salmon, if desired. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Ham, brie, and apple
Spread softened butter and a bit of dijon mustard on two slices of bread. Fill with warm or cold brie, deli ham, and thinly sliced apples.
Layer fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and sliced tomato on bread (focaccia works great but white bread is also fine). Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serve cold or toast the sandwich on both sides before slicing.
4. Radish and herb butter
Mix softened butter with fresh or dried herbs, such as rosemary, basil, or parsley. Spread on two slices of bread and layer with thinly sliced radishes.
5. Tuna salad
To make your tuna salad, mix one can of tuna with mayonnaise, mustard, dill, chopped celery, and any fresh herbs you like. Spread mayonnaise on two slices of bread and fill with tuna salad. Add freshly sliced tomato if desired.
6. Herbed egg salad and avocado
To make your egg salad, hard boil two eggs and let cool. Remove shell and mash with a fork. Mix in mayonnaise, dijon mustard, fresh dill, salt, and pepper. Spread a bit of mayonnaise and mustard on two slices of bread and layer with mashed avocado topped with egg salad.
7. Cheesy shrimp
Combine chopped cooked shrimp, cheddar cheese, chopped fresh garlic, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. Spread mixture on bread and close sandwiches. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes to melt the cheese.
8. Roast beef, parmesan, and arugula
Combine a bit of horseradish with mayonnaise and spread on bread. Layer with sliced roast beef, parmesan, and arugula.
9. Curried chicken salad
Combine shredded chicken with mustard, mayonnaise, curry powder, dried cranberries, and chopped green apple. Spread directly on bread.
10. Apricot, cheddar, and jalapeno
Spread apricot jam on two slices of bread. Layer with sliced cheddar cheese and thinly sliced jalapenos (add more if you like it spice!)
11. Nutella and banana
Spread Nutella on two slices of bread and layer with thinly sliced bananas.
Spread ricotta cheese on two slices of bread. Add your choice of sliced berries, such as strawberries or blueberries. Sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon.
13. Camambert and fig
Spread camembert cheese on two slices of toasted bread. Layer with sliced figs and drizzle with honey.
14. Smoked turkey and apple
Spread a layer of mayonnaise and dijon mustard on two slices of bread. Layer deli turkey meat with sliced green apples.
Spread mayonnaise on two slices of bread. Layer with crispy bacon, romaine lettuce or baby greens, and sliced tomato.
15. Salmon and Cream Cheese
Spread a generous layer of cream cheese on two slices on bread. Layer slices of smoked salmon and sprinkle with a little dill.
Check Is Tea Good For You And Learn More about Tea.