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All about Tea
How to give a Tea

A tea is a special experience. You are creating a scene, an elegant way of life. The guests should feel relaxed and very pampered when they leave. You should use your best linen, damask, or lace tablecloth and always have fresh flowers as a centerpiece. Purchase enough extra blooms and greenery to decorate your serving plates. Silver teaspoons and china cups make the occasion more special as do candles and crystal and silver serving dishes. If you have enough crystal serving plates for all your guests, wonderful! If you do not, there are beautiful paper plates with matching napkins that will do just fine. To set the mood, play a CD of chamber music or soft tea tunes! Several CDs are available just for this! Purchase lovely place cards and write the names of each item being served. Set the place card beside each item so your guests know what is being offered. You won’t have to answer the same question for each guest!

I like to give each guest a gift as they leave – a velvet bag with a teabag and gold teaspoon inside, a small loaf of fruit bread wrapped in plastic wrap and tied with a ribbon to which a tea bag is attached, a menu card printed on special half page invitation cards with a ribbon tied at the top and a tea bag attached, or a recipe booklet which includes all recipes served at the tea. Or you could make favors with a Victorian flare for each guest as a memento of the tea. Placecards are always a nice touch if you have tables for a sit down tea.

I have suggested in invitations for teas that the women wear hat and gloves if they own them. About half of the women will arrive in elegant suits, hats and gloves, some of the hats being pulled out from the back of the closet. They seem to love to dress up for the event, even at 3 p.m. on a lazy Saturday afternoon. But here you must be flexible, because with today’s lifestyle, many women no longer own hats. Also, with some groups, you may find that there will be women who don’t even own a dress. Your job is to make the suggestions then go with the flow and make every guest feel welcome and special.

I like to give my guests a brief history of tea before they eat. I also point out the various teapots, tea cozies, and other items that have special meaning to me. I use my great-grandmother’s teapot on the tea table along with the first teapot I owned. I tell where I bought certain items. The women always seem to enjoy hearing the history of tea and the history of my various pieces.

For afternoon tea, cookies (biscuits in Britain), scones, tea sandwiches, fancy chocolates, petit fours, crumpets, muffins, and fancy breads and desserts, such as trifle, are served. The sandwiches can be vegetable like thinly sliced tomato or cucumber on buttered bread or chicken, ham, egg or tuna salad on bread with the crusts removed and cut into triangles or pretty shapes with a cookie cutter – hearts for Valentine’s Day, stars for Christmas, etc. Traditional tea spreads for the scones or crumpets are Devonshire cream, orange marmalade, strawberry jam, honey, cinnamon and sugar, apple butter, strawberry butter, raspberry preserves, apricot preserves, apple chutney, or lemon curd.

When you have tea at the Ritz or other fine hotels, your tea fare is brought to you on a three-tiered silver server. The lower level holds the tea sandwiches; the middle level holds the scones; and the top level is for the fancy dessert items. You begin eating from the bottom and go to the top, so when I set up a tea table buffet, I put the tea sandwiches and other savories first on the table, followed by the scones and fruit breads, then end with the elegant desserts.

I have found that using a large commercial coffee maker (not a used one that tastes of coffee) to heat the water then filling the teapots from that makes it easier to keep the pots full for the guests to try the various teas. I try to offer at least four teas with at least two pots of each tea. You can use teabags in the pots, but if you want to be traditional, you will use loose tea and make sure you have enough lovely tea strainers for the guests to use as they fill their cups. I like to offer at least one light fruity tea for the younger guests or for those who aren’t sure they really like tea! You can find a variety of wonderful British teas at

Giving a tea is a lot of work, but if you plan and are organized, everything will come together at the right moment. Make sure you keep a checklist so you don’t forget anything on the day of the tea. You will feel much more relaxed if you can go down your list and know you won’t have any last minute unpleasant surprises. Following is a checklist I used for a tea that served 40 people. Use it as a guide but do your own thing with recipes that are comfortable for you. You will feel a great sense of pleasure and accomplishment when you see others enjoying themselves so much. You can do it!

Organizing for a Tea

  • Tea music and CD player –
  • Bread with teabags attached –
  • Recipe booklet –
  • Floral arrangement and extra flowers to decorate serving dishes –
  • Crystal plates and cups –
  • Spoons and forks –
  • Napkins –
  • Placecards with names of things served –
  • Paper plates and plastic wrap (to allow guest to take items home to spouses or those who couldn’t attend) –
  • Teapots, creamers, sugars –
  • Tea cozies –
  • Tea strainers –
  • Lace Tablecloths –
  • Coffee urns –

Food Items

  • Tea –
  • Milk for creamers –
  • Pumpkin bread –
  • Applesauce bread –
  • Sausage balls –
  • Gingerbread muffins –
  • Salami –
  • Coconut bread –
  • Moulded chocolates –
  • Rum truffles –
  • Shortbread –
  • Fantasy Fruitcake Squares –
  • Peanut butter fudge –
  • Cheese ball/crackers –
  • Devonshire cream –
  • Strawberry jam –
  • Lemon curd –
  • Date-Black Walnut Bars –
  • Lemon cream and ladyfingers –
  • Simply Spirited Spread/cinnamon bread –
  • Pavlova –
  • Esther’s Orange Marmalade Cake –
  • Chicken salad –
  • Ambrosia trifle –
  • Cucumber sandwiches/garlic and onion cream cheese spread –
  • Chocolate mousse –
  • Texas caviar and tortilla chips –
  • Ripe olive-onion tarts –
  • Scones –
  • Waldorf salad –

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