When planning a tea party for the first time, keep it really simple because if you stress yourself out too much, you’ll never want to host another. Gradually work your way up to making more intricate preparations. To start, invite a small number of guests over for a “sweet tea,” which only includes desserts, instead of a “full tea” with multiple courses. Simply brew a pot of tea and buy little store-bought cookies and cakes to arrange on a pretty platter. Just be sure to throw away the containers before your guests arrive! Planning a tea party does not always have to involve elaborate preparations. You could call a few friends and invite them over to share a pot of tea and enjoy a slice of cake that afternoon.
If you don’t have many tea supplies yet, improvise with what you have and even ask guests to bring their own teacups. Ladies in Victorian times carried their own teacups to afternoon tea in an elegant padded box because owning a porcelain teacup was a symbol of high social standing.
When your guests arrive, you want to be as relaxed and available to chat as possible so try to do most of the preparations beforehand. Here is a timetable with suggestions for planning a tea party:
Two to Three Weeks before the Tea Party
- Ideally, send out pretty handwritten invitations to guests or simply type an e-mail or make a few phone calls. Be sure to include any special requests related to the theme such as asking guests to wear a hat or bring their own teacups. Include the date, time, address, telephone number, an RSVP or Regrets Only date, and the theme if there is one so your guests will know what to wear and/or bring.
- Brainstorm any ideas for decorations and party favors related to your chosen theme.
- The specifics of the menu do not have to be planned yet but at least sit down and come up with a rough idea for the types of tea and foods to serve. A more formal tea will have three courses. The first is the savories course which includes tea sandwiches and other appetizers. The second course consists of baked goods like scones, fruit breads, and crumpets. And finally, the sweets course is when the cakes, cookies, pastries, and other desserts are enjoyed. If your tea party is small, you may simply choose to place all of the food on the table at once and arrange it on plates or platters. If using a tiered server, sweets are displayed on the top level, scones in the middle, and sandwiches on the bottom. Place the side plates by the server or platters and encourage guests to help themselves to each course as they wish.
- Start shopping for any tea equipment or other table supplies that you may not yet own or arrange to borrow items from a friend.
The Week of the Tea Party
- Finalize the menu and decorations (if applicable) and create a shopping list for any items that you still need. Plan a trip to the store during the week when you have the time.
The Day before the Tea Party
- Make the cake and other desserts ahead of time if you wish as well as any other foods that will keep well overnight. Some baked goods (such as zucchini bread) actually seem to become moister and taste better the day after baking.
- For the dishes that cannot be made the day before, complete some of the preparations like measuring and chopping ingredients.
- If you wish to use them, make place cards for the table setting.
- Also prepare the party favors if you have decided to include them.
The Day of the Tea Party
- Gather the tea kettle, teapot, cozy, tea leaves, and infuser (or strainer) together and place them by the stove. Fill the kettle with cold water and measure the tea leaves.
- Set the table and fill the sugar bowl, milk pitcher, and lemon dish. Arrange any of the appetizers or desserts that have been made ahead of time on the platters but keep them in the kitchen until you are ready to serve them.
- Pop any last minute dishes into the oven before changing into your tea party outfit.
- When the guests arrive and are settled, set out the first course as you boil the water for the tea. As you steep the tea, be sure to set a timer to remind you to remove the leaves.
- Serve the tea and enjoy your tea party. Brew more pots of tea as needed and serve the additional courses if applicable.