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What is a Tea Sandwich?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 16, 2024

A tea sandwich is a special type of light sandwich commonly served during afternoon tea, and designed to serve as a snack, rather than a serious meal. Numerous tea houses in Britain offer tea sandwiches, and establishments serving British style teas around the world also usually have several varieties on the menu. When prepared well, a tea sandwich is light and flavorful, with an even texture that lacks sogginess or lumps of ingredients.

A true tea sandwich has several basic characteristics, beginning with the type of bread used. Dense, thin sliced breads are used to make tea sandwiches, and the bread is traditionally white, although rye and pumpernickel are used sometimes as well. A tea sandwich is also crustless: cooks cut the crust of the bread off after the sandwich is assembled, so that the ingredients run all the way to the edge of the sandwich. Size is also a factor: a tea sandwich must be small. Traditional tea sandwiches are made by cutting a single sandwich into four triangular quarters, although fancier shapes made with cookie cutters are also available. Finally, a tea sandwich is always prepared with a thin layer of butter, cream cheese, or a similar spread on the bread, to prevent the sandwich from getting soggy.

Many cooks prepare bread and fillings for tea sandwiches ahead of time, but do not assemble the sandwich until the last minute. This further reduces the potential for soggy bread, a very undesirable trait. The sandwiches are usually served on a tea tray, and a variety of sandwiches will be presented at once, so that multiple flavors can be sampled.

There are a number of common fillings for the tea sandwich, including the quintessential cucumber sandwich. Cucumber sandwiches are made by spreading a thin layer of butter on white bread, and then creating a layer of peeled, sliced cucumbers. The cucumbers are usually patted with towels to remove some of the moisture, and the sandwich is sprinkled with lemon juice and pepper before the upper part is put on, for extra zesty flavor. In some cases, watercress is added to the butter for an extra dimension of flavor.

Other fillings for a tea sandwich might be things like deviled eggs, curry chicken, peppery cheese, ham and cheese, smoked salmon, liver paste, and seafood mixtures. In all cases, the ingredients for the filling are finely chopped and mixed with flavorful accents like chives, curry powder, mustard, pepper, capers, and garlic. The filling is spread thinly and evenly across the bread and is sometimes pressed to ensure that it is even before being cut.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By pastanaga — On May 24, 2012

@umbra21 - Afternoon tea has become really popular recently. I guess it's the new brunch. It goes really well with the cupcakes that everyone seems to be making.

A bunch of tiny cupcakes and finger sandwiches artfully arranged on a tier is a really lovely sight and can make for a really nice present. I did something like that for my mother on mother's day and she was blown away by it.

It's simple and people really appreciate the effort.

By umbra21 — On May 24, 2012

@croydon - If you need an excuse to make a bunch of party tea sandwiches, you should throw a party for your friends or maybe an afternoon tea style get together.

If you make a lot of different kinds people will be pretty impressed, and you'll be able to indulge your liking for them as well.

It's actually not that difficult to make them, particularly once you're making them for a large group. Just make up the fillings in different bowls and then work in a crew with a couple of other people. One spreads the bread with butter, one with the filling(s) and one cuts off the crusts.

If you want to make little, fancy stacks, you might want to get some toothpicks with little flags on them to stick through the sandwiches.

This is making me want to throw a party myself.

By croydon — On May 24, 2012

I absolutely love tea sandwiches! We usually call them finger sandwiches though. They are one of the reasons I like going to catered events, because you hardly ever get a chance to eat a wide range of them anywhere else.

I mean, I guess I could make them myself, but it is such a lot of effort to go to for a few sandwiches.

And I really like being able to pick between a lot of different fillings.

The only problem is that they almost always make them out of white bread, which isn't all that great for you. If they would only make them out of a grainy bread or maybe a very high fiber white bread that would be a lot healthier.

I think with traditional vegetarian and fish fillings they are generally pretty healthy as well.

My favorite is the smoked salmon. I hardly ever get to eat smoked salmon, except in those little sandwiches.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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