Channel your inner Anglophile by hosting a tea party for your next special occasion. It makes a lovely theme for bridal showers or baby showers, birthday parties, Mother's Day, Easter, or even just a casual gathering of friends. One of the most quintessentially British customs, Afternoon Tea dates back to the 1840s, when members of "The Ton" or high society gathered in the late afternoon to socialize over cups of tea and light bites, thereby bridging the hunger gap between lunch and dinner. (It's often confused with High Tea, which was a heartier meal eaten later in the day by the working class at higher-top tables.) While there is a lot of room for creativity in planning your tea party, we're sharing some of the traditional components that will ensure yours is a success, from the beautiful table settings to the tea sandwiches. So gather up all your lords and ladies of leisure, and let's sip some tea. Pinkies up!
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Though the tradition of Afternoon Tea may sound quite formal, especially since it is synonymous with fine china and silver, the table is often laid out in a more casual self-serve style, with offerings traditionally displayed on three-tiered platters or large serving plates. Even if you don't have a matching set of china (like this cute tea set), you can often pick up mismatched vintage teacups, saucers, and plates at thrift stores, flea markets, or Etsy. Don't forget the teapot!
Ambiance is everything, and fresh flowers are a must-have on a tea party tablescape. A floral centerpiece can be as simple as a singular floral like roses or mums or a colorful mixed bouquet from the store, or you can arrange an assortment of blooms with specific colors. Here, we've chosen a palette of blue delphiniums, lilac-colored tulips, white poppies and mums, and creamy-hued astilbe. Candles (like these beeswax taper candles) make a nice sidekick for your floral arrangement, and also offer a bit of mood lighting. We also love the look of a beautiful linen tablecloth. Finally, add an extra special touch at each place setting by tying each napkin with a bit of twine and tucking a flower inside.
Since Afternoon Tea is technically a mini meal between lunch and dinner, the menu generally consists of various bite-sized finger foods that can be either savory or sweet. However, if you are serving your tea party closer to the regular dinner hour, you should definitely consider serving some heartier fare, as guests might be expecting a full meal.
When serving items on a three-tiered platter, the savory items like finger sandwiches generally go on the bottom layer, scones or breads go on the middle layer, and assorted sweets and pastries such as mini cupcakes go on the top layer. If you don't have a three-tiered platter, a few cute cake stands will work just as well. Some items you'd expect to find on a proper Afternoon Tea menu include:
- Finger sandwiches (cucumber, chicken salad, egg salad, smoked salmon)
- Scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam
- Tea cakes
- Biscuits and cookies
- Mini quiches
- Petit fours
- Fresh fruit
Below is a simple recipe for traditional cucumber finger sandwiches. Feel free to riff and put your own personal touch on it!
Cucumber Finger Sandwiches
Ingredients (makes 16 triangle sandwiches):
- White bread, 8 slices
- Cream cheese, softened
- 1 English cucumber, peeled and sliced
- Chives, chopped
Peel the cucumber and slice it into thin discs. Set the slices on a paper towel, sprinkle them with salt, and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes. (This will pull a lot of the water content out of the cucumbers to avoid making the sandwiches soggy.) Meanwhile, spread a thin layer of cream cheese on all of the bread slices. Sprinkle the chopped chives onto the cream cheese. Blot the cucumbers dry with a paper towel, and arrange them on half of the bread slices. Top the cucumbers with the remaining bread slices. Cut the crusts off of the sandwiches, and slice them into triangles. If desired, garnish with edible flowers.
It's nice to offer guests an assortment of teas to choose from. Black teas like Earl Grey or English Breakfast are staples at Afternoon Tea, but you could also serve green tea, oolong, or tisanes (herbal blends that are naturally caffeine-free). Ditch the teabags, though. A pot of loose-leaf tea will yield a stronger flavor.
Some tea suggestions:
- Earl Grey
- English Breakfast
- Green tea
- Chamomile (or other floral blends)
- Iced tea (nice on a hot day)
Make sure each guest has their own teacup and saucer as well as a spoon for mixing. Also, be sure to set out milk and sugar, so guests can customize their cup of tea according to their personal taste.
Even if you're not an ardent fan of "Bridgerton" or "Downton Abbey," we guarantee you and your guests will enjoy sitting down to sip and socialize over Afternoon Tea at this very lovely tea party table!