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Let’s Tea Party! How To Host Your Very Own Afternoon Tea

Posted on 11/22/2023

Post and image by Melissa D., Tea Consultant

Have you ever watched a movie or show that depicts a classy tea party?

The guests are often seen indulging in the finest teas while surrounded by a myriad of ornate petit four cakes, charmingly small sandwiches, and towering tiers of confectionary delights. Food and drinks are carefully chosen and arranged to create an atmosphere of sophistication and elegance. Such parties are a hallmark of posh society & culture.

The tradition of tea parties dates back to the 19th century, and it continues to be a popular way of social gathering today.

Hosting a tea party can appear intimidating when first considering the amount of time, work, and etiquette involved. But don't worry, we are here to simplify the process and provide guidance on which teas and food to use, where to find them, and how to serve so that you can focus on enjoying a wonderful time with your guests.

Afternoon tea has been and remains the epitome of elegant tea that we envision today.

Being a gracious host means providing the best in hospitality.  A considerable factor of being an accommodating host is taking out the guesswork for your guests. The more you clarify what the expectations of the event are, the more at ease your guests will be.  One of the best ways to do this is to send an invitation!

Some hosts still send paper invitations in the mail for afternoon tea; it’s a timeless and sweet way to remind your guests of the traditional elements of the event. Of course, there are plenty of fun e-cards and other ways to invite guests. Get creative!

First, you should pick a time. Timing is everything; most afternoon teas are held between three to five in the afternoon. Of course, the most traditional time is four o’clock.  That being said, your tea party may be held at any time in the afternoon, if you wish.  

Next, it's fun to choose a theme for your tea party!  Be sure to let your guests know.

It is essential to inform your guests if you intend to have a dress code. Many people enjoy a fanciful afternoon tea with a stylish dress code. Make sure you set your guests up for success with proper expectations to keep everyone comfortable. Be sure to include this expectation in your invitation.

Many traditional afternoon teas have shimmering silver tea sets, however, porcelain is also beautiful!  You can even have a mix-and-match set.

Here at Upton Tea Imports, we carry the Chatsford Teapot in an assortment of colors, which can serve anywhere from 6-8 people at a time, making it ideal for tea parties. 

Regardless of which tea set or eclectic collection you have, you can always make it your own with original touches.

Bring out your best plates and cloth napkins. Serve with style using doilies, platters, and tiered trays.  Fresh flowers are always welcome on the table.

A three-tier is all you need to host a tea party, be it a minimal or a lavish afternoon event. It is an absolute essential.  

Consider having three courses. The first course serves more savory fare such as small sandwiches, mini quiches, and savory pastries. Place your savory fare on the bottom tier.

The second course, which would be fitting to serve on the second or middle tier, consists of scones with jams and clotted cream. It is important to remember that it is considered polite to break your scones into smaller pieces with your fingers before eating them. 

Between the counties of Devon and Cornwall, there is some debate on whether to use cream or jam first on your scone. Both versions are served throughout England, and you can make your own choice, according to personal preference.

Speaking of jams, please browse through our selection of artisanal jams made by third generation preserve makers in Vermont.  With delectable flavors such as Tropical Pineapple, Carmelized Fig with Pear and Honey, Raspberry Hibiscus, and Classic Orange Marmalade, you’ll be sure to find some favorites for your tea party.

The third and final course: sweets! Have you ever heard the phrase, “Life is short, eat dessert first”?  Well, that need not apply to afternoon tea! Located on the top tier, the desserts are the final course.  These can be petit four cakes, macarons, chocolates, tarts, and sweet pastries.

Once you have your menu lined up and the table staged, it’s time to make the tea!

Most afternoon teas serve black tea, usually a Ceylon, Assam, or Earl Grey.

At Upton Tea Imports, we have an abundant selection of black teas. To get you started, we suggest TA40: Tippy Orthodox GFOP Assam, TC102: Lover’s Leap OP Ceylon, and TE14: Earl Grey Supreme.  All of these suggestions can be made neat or the English way (with milk) so they are versatile for your guests.

Make sure to also include lemon slices, sugar, cream/milk, and honey for your guests so they can make the tea according to their preferred tastes.

When serving your guests, make sure you allow extra space in the cup for them to add milk, sugar, etc. Don’t fill the cup to the brim.

Here are some fun facts if you are attending an afternoon tea.

  • Never put your pinkie up at afternoon tea.
  • Always follow the tiers on the tray from the bottom up, and never grab a sweet during the first course.
  • Afternoon tea is served with finger foods for a reason. Don’t use cutlery.  Have fun and eat with your hands, gracefully.
  • Don’t lift your saucer off the table or carry it around.
  • Stir your tea quietly, and take the spoon out when done.
  • Most importantly, enjoy the time shared with your dear friends and family.

Now you are ready to host or attend an afternoon tea!

Here is a fantastic recipe for making homemade scones.

Ingredients (makes 8 scones): 

- 2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour 

- 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar

- 1 tablespoon baking powder

- 1/2 teaspoon salt

- 6 tablespoons (85 grams) cold unsalted butter, cubed

- 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy whipping cream. Save a little extra for the baking process.

- 1 large egg

- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1.) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F (204 C).

2.) In a large bowl, mix together your dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

3.) Add cold cubed butter. Using a fork or, if you’re fancy, a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until you have a small crumbly texture.

4.) In another bowl, combine and whisk the wet ingredients: whipping cream, egg, and vanilla extract.

5.) Combine the wet mixture with the crumbly dough.

6.) Add any dried fruits, such as cranberries, sultanas, or raisins.

7.) On a clean flat surface, put a little flour down and then work the dough into a ball.

8.) Push the ball of dough into a flat circle.

9.) Cut your dough into 8 pieces of the same size.

10.) Place your scones on a baking sheet and chill them in the freezer for 5-10 minutes.

11.) After your scones have chilled, give them a quick brush of cream or milk on the top and add more dried fruit or sugar.

12.) Bake for 20 minutes, or until slightly golden brown.

13.) Remove from the oven and let cool on a drying rack.

Voila, you have made scones. Pat yourself on the back!

While these are guidelines for a swanky afternoon tea, it’s always important to remember that it’s your party and you can choose any theme, tea, and fare you wish to serve.  The point is to have fun and share a beautiful time with your guests.

 We hope that this has been inspiring and that you indulge in a great afternoon tea! Please drop us a line and let us know about your tea party.

As always, thank you dear reader.  Happy tea drinking!

Works Cited

“The Real Difference Between British Afternoon Tea and High Tea.” The Spruce Eats, 24 May 2022, www.thespruceeats.com/afternoon-vs-high-tea-difference-435327.

Pannunzio, Lu Ann. “Afternoon Tea Etiquette: 12 Dos and Don’ts.” The Cup of Life, 5 Oct. 2020, theteacupoflife.com/2019/07/afternoon-tea-etiquette.html.

Danielle. “The BEST Scone Recipe.” Live Well Bake Often, 7 Sept. 2020, www.livewellbakeoften.com/scone-recipe.

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