The Three-Tier Cake Stand

The Three-Tier Cake Stand
The buffet table at a reception for the graduation ceremony for women students at King’s College Medical School, circa 1918, is laden with delicious savories, scones, and sweets on tiered stands. (Photo by Topical Press Agency)    

By the 1930s and ’40s, stands were being manufactured not just in silver and silver plate, but also in chrome, etched glass, and modern, colorful materials such as Perspex and Bakelite. Most middle- and upper-class homes would have owned at least one stand of a style and design to suit the décor and the hostess’s individual preference. But in the 1950s, as afternoon tea faded into the shadows (to be replaced by convenience foods and instant coffee), so, too, did cakes stands, and when the tea renaissance of the 1990s sent out its first ripples, it was almost impossible to find new ones. Tea lovers scoured antiques markets to salvage what was left from earlier days, but it took another 15 to 20 years for the silversmiths and porcelain companies to once again produce elegant silver and porcelain stands.

Tea lovers often ask how traditional tea foods should be arranged on the stand’s three tiers, and the honest answer is that there are no rules. However, some tearooms and hotel lounges choose to arrange the little sandwiches on the lowest tier, the scones in the middle, and the tiny, tempting, outrageously wicked pastries on the top, where they create quite a show. Those who are concerned that scones should be brought to the table while still warm from the oven place dishes of jam, butter, and clotted cream on the middle tier and deliver the scones to the table only when guests are ready. Others prefer to offer the warm scones as the first course and, therefore, place them on the bottom tier and savories on the middle one. It is the personal choices and individual creative touches to the tiered stand that make teatime such a timeless pleasure.

TeaTime contributing editor Jane Pettigrew is an international tea expert, who has written 14 books on the subject, including Jane Pettigrew’s World of Tea which explores more than 60 tea-producing countries, explaining their history, terroir, variety of cultivars, manufacturing processes, categories of tea made, local tea culture, and rituals, and features detailed maps and beautiful photography. A former tearoom owner, she is a much-sought-after consultant to tea businesses and hotels, a conference speaker, and a tea educator. Although her travels take her around the globe, she resides in London.

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