Saturday, 28 April 2012

Vintage Tea & Treasures - *Pop-Up* Jubilee Tea Room at Granchester Village Hall

On Sunday 27th May 2012, I will be at this fabulous Vintage Jubilee event in Granchester Village Hall to bring this beautiful Cambridgeshire village home made cake and loose leaf tea. 

I will be co-hosting the afternoon teas with the fabulous ladies at The China & Cakes Company and we will all be adorning out pinnies to serve you a smile and a good old gossip with our delicious freshly baked treats. 

This is a fundraising event organised by the lovely Caroline Biggs (@cambridgelass on Twitter) to raise much needed funds for the Cambridge Folk Museum

We will be there from start to finish (11am to 4pm) come rain or shine, and if the sun does come out to play, which we hope it will, you can come and join us at our beautiful pop up tea room, either indoors for a civilised cuppa or outside on the grass for a sun soaked treat. 

Either way, come and say hi and meet us and try our layer cakes or cupcakes for this very royal affair. 

Bring your pocket money for a cup of tea and a good wedge of mouth watering cake... You won't be disappointed. 

There will be lots of afternoon tea, ice cream, gorgeous stalls as well as games and entertainment for you to enjoy, including stands with local lovelies: 

Not forgetting a fabulous chat from village resident, Dr Mary Archer, who will be talking about the history of Granchester and The Old Vicarage at the Church from 2pm, which is completely free of charge to attend...

 ... Just be sure to return to us for a refreshment afterwards instead of other establishments for this one day... it's all in the name of charity : ) 

Entry to this fair will just £2 per adult and Children free entry, so hope to see you there. 

And not forgetting that we are also hosting a secret tea tasting tea party on the Saturday (26th May) with the lovely Kandula Tea at a top secret Cambridgeshire location... spaces still available, so come and join the fun!

Miss Sue Flay 

Friday, 27 April 2012

The Not So Glamourous Side of Being An Afternoon Tea Hostess

This thought crossed my mind yesterday whilst packing up the tables at my latest privately booked secluded tea party, that if somebody walked rough the door right now, they wouldn't see a calm and cool tea party hostess sat down sipping a cup of tea and giving herself a well deserved pat on the back for a successful baby shower afternoon tea...

No. Instead, they would be greeted with the hostess bent over a village hall table, folding the table legs in with both hands, arse in the air, granny knickers in full view under her floaty summer dress. Not lady like at all. But the only stance I could take with a bad back killing me after being on my feet for a full 15 hours of baking, setting up venue and taking it down again.
Not forgetting the shopping for the event, sorting tea party props,  setting the table, serving tea, endless washing up, floor sweeping and chair stacking.

So bending over with my bloomers on view made me chuckle loudly with the realisation of how un lady like I was being (NOBODY should see that!), especially after having just read a chapter or two on the etiquette of being a lady in preparation for the lovely Mr William Hanson and our collaboration in September. 
I need a few hours with Mr Hanson to sort myself out.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't me moaning, I absolutely LOVE hosting The Secluded Tea Party and the day I fall out of love with it will be the day I stop hosting.
But I do have to admit, there are very few glamorous moments in the world of afternoon tea.

Elbow deep in sticky scone dough, attempting to master the art of clearing away used loose leaf tea leaves without clogging up any sinks, lifting boxes of china up and down 3 flights of stairs to the car-then to the venue and then in reverse whilst trying not to sweat off your eye liner or blusher at the same time, scraping smeared on jam and clotted cream off side plates before washing them up and getting all over yourself whilst doing it (no matter how carefully you try!), the tears and hissy fit your other half suffers when a cake doesn't look as you imagined.... Or worse still, your ginger bread is sloppy and won't work, queue a full on toddler-style fist slamming and bottom lip wobble whilst he jumps in to save the day....which annoys you even further, as then it isn't all your own work!
Not forgetting the fabulous photo shoots surrounded by children fueled with sugar (Ah, didn't think through the part where they were actually allowed to eat the cake and then proceed to run around the garden for 3 hours before they crashed!) or the romantic countryside shoot just before it snows... in minus 7*c temperatures and you gain a set of blue fingers and black toes that take a week to thaw... Great ideas at the time hehe. (But LOVELY Photos that come out of them, which then makes it WORTH it!)

When I had my 1950's Inspired make up lesson for my birthday last year, I thought i would be making myself up beautifully for every tea party, however i'm lucky if I have time to get my eye liner on in some sort of presentable fashion before I have to get back to slicing 5000 cucumbers and mashing a million hard boils eggs in preparation for those fiddly finger sandwiches that have to be served 5 minutes AFTER your guests arrive, otherwise they end up dry and crusty before they have even started. The finger sandwiches were not a stress that I had anticipated, but those little beggars are an art in themselves hehe.

Not forgetting the fabulous outdoor venues I have used for The Secluded Tea Party.
My lovely friend Jamie runs Apocalypse Paintball near Royston and we have been very lucky to have been allowed to run amok in the woodland there.
But with woodland comes the Unglamorous toilet quandary... It's portaloo versus squatting in the woods....
There are portaloos here, but bare in mind that manly paint ballers use these. Enough said ; ) 

And just adding a little more here, after a complete and unnecessary freak out and childish hissy fit over a cake last night. Yes, you heard me correctly, if you can imagine a toddler in the terrible twos phase, hurling themselves on the floor shouting abuse in an uncontrollable manner at a victoria sponge. If I could have thrown it, I would have. The only reason that stopped me doing this was the thought of even more mess to clean up afterwards. Jam and buttercream does not come off the floor easily, so this would be the only thing that stops me from covering my kitchen in baked goods. 

Meanwhile, the pup and the Mister are both quaking with fear in the attic waiting for the shrill noises and infrequent crying fits to stop and allow them to go back to the lounge and relax. It sounds funny, but at the time it's the world's biggest tragedy to the baker and it always happens just before a photo shoot where you need a beautiful & photogenic cake to show off your fabulous baking skills, but it comes out looking like Freddy Krueger has made it in a murderous frenzy. 

The not so glamourous world of cake making and afternoon tea.... in all it's honesty.
I have to admit, this is just a FEW of the stories I could regale to you all... some stories are just not there to share.. And will NEVER be shared. 

What happens at The Secluded Tea Party stays at The Secluded Tea Party...
Usually ; ) 

Have you had similar experiences as a hostess or baker, or perhaps your other half scares you witless when they freak out or put you through similar situations? ... Please do leave a comment below and share your stories and thoughts!.....

Miss Sue Flay 

Monday, 23 April 2012

Romantic Afternoon Tea Photo Shoot With Debbie Wallwork Photography

In early February, the day it snowed and was so cold it would make your toes go blue and your breath freeze with every mouthful of cake you took in the open air, I took part in a romantic valentines and engagement inspired photo shoot where our toes did indeed go blue and our breath did freeze with every mouthful!... hehe

But it was worth it!

My lovely friend, Debbie Wallwork, had asked me to put on an afternoon tea spread for a romantic photo shoot she was planning, involving my delicious afternoon tea treats as part of the shoot. Naturally, I agreed and as cold as it was, we got some stunning photos and the beautiful Cambridgeshire farm that we used was perfect for the event. Even though it looked like a spring morning, it truly wasn't.

My best friends, Pete and Ellie, agreed to take part in the photo shoot for Debbie, as we wanted a *Real* Couple and no fake models in the pictures. I am so glad they did come along and persevere with us and I can’t thank them enough, we all had such a giggle and Debbie’s lovely partner in crime fuelled us all with hot Ribena and lot’s of gloves and hats to keep us warm, which was more than welcomed : )

Debbie Wallwork Photography specialises in wedding and event photography, as well as boudoir and even beautiful new born baby photo shoots. Her photos are beautiful and she did The Secluded Tea Party proud with her camera on this very cold day. She encouraged a few engagement style photos as well as some very fun pictures with the happily married couple, of which I think they both enjoyed as much as we did.

My Sparkling Jam Jar Drinks went down well with the happy couple whilst they got to explore the straw bale Tea Party table and enjoyed playing with all the goodies laid out for them to tuck into.

Pete was nervous before this morning, telling Debbie that every time he has his photo taken he closes his eyes, thinking it could be the flash that put him off when he was younger and has always stuck with him. She calmly taught him a few tricks and it worked a treat, he was happy as larry after this and got stuck into it all with real enthusiasm, I am so chuffed that both him and Ellie enjoyed this, they were so much fun.

As a real couple or group wanting to have their own photo shoot similar to this, we can arrange this sort of set up at a venue of your choice or at one of our preferred venues to make it as pretty or as traditional as you like, so do consider it as a relaxing way to get used to the camera and have some fun with it.

You can even have some live music playing in the background to calm those nerves and make it feel really special, as we did for this couple. It was a home away from home... even it was -5 degrees hehe.

To enquire or book your very own engagement shoot (HOW romantic would it be to have a lovely lady or gent arrange this in order to actually propose to their loved one?!) or as a hen party photo shoot or even just with friends, family or loved ones... It's a fantastic experience, complete with tea and cake!

Just email Miss Sue flay at

And to see a sneak peak into a few more of the photos....

Miss Sue Flay


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Bea's of Bloomsbury Classic Move Nights

These are not two titles that I would have ever considered putting together in a blog post, however the fabulous and clever team at Bea's of Bloomsbury have the perfect secret location in the heart of London to show us a film or two... with cake of course!

The mister took me down to London for a rare whistle stop tour of our capital city to enjoy a few delights along the way, including a pit stop at Fortnum & Mason, a takeaway box of Macarons from Lauderee and lunch in Greenwich, where only Pie and Mash with the local Cock-er-neys would do!

It was a fantastic way to spend my birthday (Well, actually, the day AFTER my birthday) and glad we did it as I had properly gone into misery mode on my actual birthday sulking and feeling old and withered haha. Toys were thrown out of my pram, my bottom lip wobbled all day and it rained to add insult to injury. 

So London was the perfect pick me up for a thundery and rainy Tuesday. 

The sole reason we were there, thanks to the mister for being so thoughtful and knowing me and my geekery all too well by now (hehe) ... he had booked us 2 tickets to join the lovely Bea and her friends at a very secluded location in the form of an old archway under a train line by London Bridge. 

Why would we lurk in an old railway tunnel with a bunch of strangers in the name of cake I hear you cry? Well, we ask ourselves the very same reason sometimes, when we find ourselves in these weird and wonderful and downright random locations for a new experience, but it makes life so much more exciting! 

Bea's of Bloomsbury are running Classic Movie Nights throughout the summer and we managed to grab a seat for the very first event, which hosted a showing of "Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark" which is the very first time I have seen this film all the way through, believe it or not!
Now, I would have preferred the Goonies, but we have seen that so many times, we thought we would give this a go for something we would actually enjoying getting into and I LOVED it! 

So thank you Bea for introducing me to this classic film!

I would say there were around 40 of us in this tunnel, all curled up under our coats and blankets tucking ourselves into comfortable and very colourful deck chairs, thoughtfully provided by the Bea's of Bloomsbury team so as not to get cold bottoms on the floor. Those were a welcome addition as we thought we may be fighting for a rug on the floor, thankfully this wasn't the case. Hehe. 

This was my first experience with Bea's of Bloomsbury and I was gutted not to have been able to sample any of their cakey treats, but this just gives me another excuse to go back to London and have tea at Bea's. 

They did serve lots of gorgeous food though, including sweet or salted popcorn, chicken wings, chili cheese hot dogs with homemade brioche hotdog rolls (My first experience of this hugely filling snack.. I am in love!!!) and funnel cake of which I had never heard of, but got to sample a tiny piece of before deciding I was too stuffed from my hotdog to give a whole plate a go!

Funnel cake is similar to doughnut batter, dropped into oil and fried off, it produces long strands of doughnut type cake batter and is covered in icing sugar. It smelled and tasted amazing and I may well have to try and find this again one day, or even better still, give it a go at making. 

There was such a great buzz in this room and everybody chatted and enjoyed the clandestine feel to proceedings. 

Bea is unassuming and very modest about her plans for the summer, but I think she is just brilliant. Not only am I fan of her cook book, which I am currently baking my way through, but I am now hooked on underground cakey film nights and I fear I may be back again before the summer is out. 

If you love food, drink, random gatherings involving all 3 with a film thrown in for good measure, I highly recommend you get your fingers clicking on the Bea's of Bloomsbury website and book your tickets for a very modest £5 per person for entry, just take pocket money for drinks and lots of good food. You will want to try everything, so make sure you don't eat before you go!

Films they will be showing every Tuesday evening over the summer, with doors opening at 6.20pm, will be classics such as The Princess Bride, The Goonies, Singin' In The Rain, Some Like It Hot and Casablanca. 

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Cost Of Afternoon Tea - Jumping On The Bandwagon?

On driving home from a cake decorating course with my lovely friend, Cat of Cakes By Cat in Ely, I strangely tuned into BBC Radio 2 for the VERY first time in my life, only to catch the very amusing Jeremy Vine having a good old moan about the cost of afternoon tea.

The subject of afternoon tea fascinates me, being self taught in tea knowledge, afternoon tea etiquette and even in the art of baking. I find it easy to sit on the sidelines and just watch these arguments and rants about this topic, but I feel it's my time to have a go at chipping in here. Here goes my second rant. 

High Tea was said to be the very last meal eaten by the occupants within the third class deck on the Titanic over 100 years ago and we all know that tea and the history of afternoon tea dates back even further still. It was a way to fuel up between meals originally for the servants of rich households, to fill that empty void between breakfast and dinner whilst racing up and down the stairs carrying out their daily chores around the manor or castle. It was enjoyed luxuriously much later on by the more wealthy.

Over the last couple of years, afternoon tea has made a huge comeback and it is impacting on us all, with many people setting up their own afternoon tea based businesses across the country. It's great to see, however, it's not so great to see it when it's done badly or without thought. And I have experienced many over the last year who have simply jumped on the bandwagon and gone with the trend, naturally. 

It turns out there has recently been a discussion through Which?, that has FINALLY flagged up the topic of extortionate prices tagged to high tea or afternoon tea, specifically in hotels which mostly seem to be jumping on the afternoon tea bandwagon left right and centre. I've no problem with this if it's done well.

It's a subject that I had noted some time ago whilst attempting to enjoy an afternoon tea tier at a luxury hotel last summer with a friend whilst we wildly swatted away wasps and insects that were desperate to join in, what turned out to be our rather stressful afternoon nibbling on baked delights from this lovely 4 star hotel in Cambridge. Although this was not the hotels' fault, it was nature taking us on, as it usually does whilst eating al fresco. 
To be completely honest, I couldn't fault the food at this particular hotel and it was in fact really good value for money and a delicious afternoon tea which had been thought through and wasn't as generically turned out as some establishments I have been to in the region. They offered us battenburg cake, coffee cream filled eclairs, various delicious finger sandwiches, buttery biscuits and fluffy scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream. The time had been taken to create this tier and we waited patiently for this to arrive at our table. It was more than worth the wait. 

For £18 per head, in my opinion, this was value for money. We were not rushed, we stayed a good 3 hours chinwagging and catching up on the last few weeks and we bathed in the sun on the patio before being allowed to take our loose leaf tea indoors to sink into their comfy sofas for a little "nappette" afterwards. Eating all this afternoon tea is tiring don't you know?!

The staff were knowledgeable and even discussed gluten free afternoon tea options for another friend of ours, should we wish to come back with her again another day. Nothing was too much effort and we left feeling as though we had been on a mini holiday, even if it was just for a few hours. This is how afternoon tea in a hotel should be taken and experienced.


In my day job, I work for a very large retail company and I have to deal with customer complaints. I have no idea why I am still so chirpy, I really don't haha. But not so long ago, I had a complaint from a lady who had purchased an afternoon tea for two package with a hotel in London. I won't name names.

She had booked herself and her 85 year old grandma in for afternoon tea as a treat for her birthday, however when she arrived, they were shown to a rickety & outdated wine bar with high chairs and vom-inducing spiraled coloured carpet from the 70's. Her grandma struggled to get up onto the chairs, however for the quick wait whilst the hotel prepared the tables in the adjacent dining lounge, they managed and got her up on the chair to wait a while. Or so they thought. 

But when the waiter served their napkins and cutlery at the BAR and advised them that they would be eating here, the customer was more than unpleased and rightfully so, I would have been fuming.

They sat through dry and tasteless, very & hard crusted stale sandwiches and pastries that were soggy bottomed and inedible. They paid £30 each for the privilege and got to share their end of the bar with a drunk businessman and her grandma struggled to get comfortable, so they didn't stay long. 
It was stressful for them both and this had been advertised to them as sumptuous and luxurious and all the other ridiculous words used to describe a plate of baked goods and a pot of tea. 
Far from the expectation, which was just gutting to hear. 

Needless to say, I was the right person to discuss this with and I managed to find out exactly who this hotel was, precisely what level of service she received and much much more. I refunded her money completely and made sure that our buying team for this experience was made aware right away, this is just disgusting and exactly my point here.

Hotels and coffee shops are jumping on the afternoon tea bandwagon. And they are doing it badly.

Not all of them, some are fantastic and doing a little digging this week, I know several people who have been to London and spent an afternoon in luxury hotels spending in the region of £50 each on afternoon tea and they didn't regret it one bit. It's fantastic to hear that some are getting it spot on. But the ones who are fleecing us and luring us in with the right words, but not delivering the goods are making me angry.

I don't go to many hotels for tea, because there are so many fabulous independent tea rooms out there to try that I would much prefer to pay £18 for a countryside retreat complete with roaring fire in the winter or rose garden or beach view in the summer. But I know that isn't always everybody's cup of tea.

Most Cambridgeshire tearooms that I will go to and try would cost me between £12 to £20 per head, depending on where I go. this is reasonable, so long as I enjoy the experience. Any more than this and I would now seriously consider reading good old honest blog posts and not hotel review sites, etc for their opinion. I want to hear the brutal, honest truth and it seems bloggers are key here, more than ever. 

The argument that Jeremy Vine and Which? have put forward is that the ingredients for afternoon tea can only cost you £4 or £5 max to buy yourself in the supermarkets and this may be true, however what you do have to consider is that when afternoon tea is done perfectly, the love, attention and time it takes to make the delicate finger sandwiches and to bake the most jaw dropping cake takes a lot more care than you can imagine.
Time is what you pay for with a good home made afternoon tea tier. 

It's a lot of love that goes into this sort of affair, as well as the attention to detail. Fresh flowers in a milk jug or a vase, music matched perfectly in the background to help relax you, crisp white linen, fine or mismatching china picked to match your miniature cake-based feast, quality silverware to spread the cream on your scone.

If it's served on generic white china and you are handed scones made with buckets of Bicarbonate of Soda which makes your tongue fizz, then I wouldn't be happy to pay anything over £10 per head. If that.

However, the more you see, the more detail you are provided with, the more knowledgeable your host is, the more rare your loose leaf tea, the more I would expect to pay.

You get what you pay for. 

Of course, I host my own afternoon tea parties, not being the cheapest, not being the most expensive, I charge what I need to earn a living.
However, much to my partners dismay, I pour my heart and soul into my afternoon tea packages and I am always on the search to better my product, my hosting, my table, ensuring that I make myself unique and that I listen to my customer. Every tea party is different, which is why people will come back time and time again and suggest me to their friends and family. I think listening to the customer goes a long way and it will gain respect from your customers, no matter where you are providing afternoon tea, be it in a hotel, as a private caterer or a tea room or coffee shop. 
It's important now, more than ever, to get this right. You have a lot of competition out there and it's going to get bigger this year still.

Afternoon tea is a treat. Not to be rushed. 
If you take tea in a place where the staff are rude to you and rush you to leave your table for the next customers, this is not going to be value for money if the price is high. You need to be allowed to take your time, have a second wind if you desire and cannot manage the entire tier in one go. You should be offered fresh hot water to top up your teapot and you should be given a little advice or knowledge with your tea selection, it adds to the value and you know your waiting staff know what they are talking about. 

I want to know YOUR best and worst experiences of afternoon tea or high tea. 
Have you been to a superb countryside or coastal tearoom that you can't stop raving about? 
Or have you been to a fabulous hotel who bowed down to your every whim?
Perhaps you went for afternoon tea and ended up at Fawlty Towers?... How did you react? 

Will the upcoming Jubilee or Olympic events change the way afternoon tea is taken or priced? With more tourists coming into the country this year for various reasons, will they now be stung for the price of a sandwich and a slice of cake?

Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts on this topic.

Are you a tea room host or hostess who has trouble filling your tables, but need to make the money back on this offering? 

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Miss Sue Flay