Hosting a tea party is one of the most elegant entertaining ventures that you can undertake, and one of the simplest. You don’t need to keep entrees hot or even concern yourself too much over the food-and-serving logistics that typically go into a dinner or lunch party. What you do need for a perfect tea party, however, are great friends, a few pretty decorating touches, brewed tea and tasty finger foods. Fancy tablecloths, porcelain teacups and saucers, and even a proper matching tea service are wonderful extras, but strictly speaking, they are not essential (nor are the strict and stiff rules that have governed formal tea parties traditionally). Here are some of the basics to ensure your tea party is fun, easy and gorgeous.
If your tea party is part of a baby shower or bridal shower, then paper invites are still a must. However if your tea party consists of a few close friends, give them a call, an email, even a text will do. Be sure to remind them a few days in advance of the event as well.
A cup of tea, properly made, is not a bag of tea plopped into a cup with boiling water poured over it. You have to brew it. First off, you need a warmed-up teapot. Swish a little just-boiled water around in it, discard. Add loose-leaf tea (or tea bags) according to the directions and proportions listed. Let it steep for a few minutes, then it will be ready to serve. Offer “regular” tea (orange pekoe, breakfast, black tea) but also have an herbal tea option, too. And have milk, honey, lemon slices and sugar at the ready.
The beauty of a tea party is that you don’t need anything fancy, but it is the little details that matter. Keep things easy by setting up food and tea buffet-style. Borrow a teapot if you don’t have one, find a few platters for serving if you don’t have a tiered stand; cups can be charmingly mismatched too and mugs are fine if that’s what you have. Unsightly milk cartons should not be on the table; decant into a milker or even a glass jar with a narrow mouth. You’ll need lots of teaspoons, and a small dish to hold the used ones. Paper napkins are perfectly acceptable, but we recommend you choose the cocktail size.
Tea party decorating can be as bold or demure as you like. Florals and pastels, be it tablecloths or teacups, will strike a traditional note, but there’s nothing to stop you from setting an all-white tabletop and adding in bright turquoise or hot pink accents or going dramatic with dark blues and greys. Flowers are a must, even a small posy in a low vase will make a big impact.
If you’ve ever been for an afternoon tea at a restaurant or hotel, there is almost always crustless tea sandwiches, scones and pastries. The loose idea is that the finger sandwiches take the edge off your hunger, the scones are a sort of middle course and the pastries are dessert. Sticking to this tradition will make choosing food a snap, but anything goes at a less-formal party, as long as you don’t need utensils. If you have a guest who has food restrictions, you don’t have to serve a whole separate menu for her, but it’s the height of graciousness to offer one or two things she can eat.
A guiding principle of a tea party is that the host mingles and enjoys her guests. You should not be endlessly in the kitchen, poking your head out only to bring a tray of food fresh from the oven while everyone enjoys the festivities without you. Cold and room-temperature food is essential. When offering tea sandwiches, keep in mind they dry out very quickly so they need to be covered tightly even while being made, some people drape a slightly damp clean tea towel over them. Of course, a little last-minute serving is necessary, especially for refrigerated items or if a guest asks for a cold drink. A fun and long-established tea party tradition is that you can deputize a friend to serve the tea. He or she asks how guests take their tea, and pours it out to them as requested.
Ready to host your own perfect tea party? Here are 5 pretty items guaranteed to make an impression on your guests.