Don’t you just love experiencing something delightful and delicious and then thinking, “Hey, I could totally do that at home!”? This week, I enjoyed a beautiful high tea at a new-to-me whimsical tea house called Neverland, which reminded me of an article I wrote a while ago, published by The Joyful Life Magazine. Is there anything better to pair with the reading life than tea and cakes? Obviously not! So, I thought “How to be a High Tea Hostess” may contain some helpful nuggets for YOU, dear friend, especially if you’re planning a party, shower, or gathering at home this summer…
“But indeed I would rather have nothing but tea.” Jane Austen
As a bona fide English girl, it seems fitting to share my love of a quintessential high tea with you. Whether you are a tea-lover or not, the opportunity to gather with friends around a beautiful table and nibble on delectable morsels of pretty food at a leisurely pace is a treat indeed. And there is a perfect version of high tea to fit everyone’s taste.
The origins of high tea harken back to early 19th century England, where a member of Queen Victoria’s court, Anna Stanhope, Duchess of Bedford, took objection to the lengthy wait between the noon meal and evening dinner at seven or eight o’clock. Who could blame her? Therefore, in an effort to stave off ‘hangry’ behaviors, small meals of sandwiches, cakes, and tea were served between three and five in the afternoon. Thus, the birth of high tea.
“Tea to the English is really a picnic indoors.” Alice Walker
Surely, it is fair to say every little girl is enamored by the thought of a tea party. Whether it’s with a circle of dolls and teddy bears or with family members and ‘real’ teacups, most children feel grown-up and proper drinking tea with pinkies held aloft. And so, high tea for adults seems to be a natural progression.
There are a plethora of ways to recreate this delightful ritual within the comfort of your own home. Whether it’s an intimate family function, a few of your best girlfriends, a teen tea for your daughter and her besties, or a gathering for a group of sweet seniors who would surely appreciate a special teatime, here are a few ideas to help you plan your very own high tea:
PICK A THEME
First, you need to decide what theme would best suit your guests. Here are a few suggestions:
You can even have a sport, dance, movie, flower, or color theme—the options are endless!
*Invitations: Once you have a guest list and theme, you can send out invitations. Depending on how much time you have to invest and how techy your guests are, you could either send by email using an image to compliment your theme or write out a suitably decorated invitation on cardstock—what a sweet gesture that would be! Either way, request an RSVP. If you want a dress code (tea dresses, casual, glamorous), you’ll want to let guests know in the invite.
*Place cards: Once you receive your RSVPs, make simple handwritten place cards. Use your theme for inspiration. (eg. Bookish: bookmarks, Spring Fling: pressed flowers.)
*Menus: It’s lovely for guests to be able to read about what they are eating, especially if you choose to label each food with something theme-appropriate. (eg. Hollywood Glamour: ‘popcorn cheeseballs’ and ‘red carpet cheesecake’.)
SET THE TABLE
Once you know how many guests to expect, you can have fun gathering china and serving crockery for your high tea table:
*Tablecloth: This is one of those occasions to bring out the tablecloth because it makes everything feel fancier.
*China: Depending on your theme, the ideal china cups, saucers, and plates might be the set you inherited from Great Aunt Maude but never have the opportunity to use. Otherwise, you could borrow from family or friends, or even hunt garage sales and thrift stores for pretty mismatched bone china for a vintage feel.
*Cake stands: Featuring tiered, regular, or large plates, these can be ideal for serving tiny finger foods. Have a good selection on hand, and borrow if necessary.
*Fresh flowers: Beautiful blossoms always add to a table setting, so consider your theme and have fun adding blooms to match.
*Napkins (‘serviettes’): These are a must—paper is fine. Bonus points for linen or cotton, if you have them tucked away in the back of a drawer.
*Music: There will, undoubtedly, be constant chatter but some music in the background adds to the ambience. Again, select the tunes with a nod to your chosen theme. (Vintage: classical, Parisian Chic: French music).
*Silverware: Be sure to have enough teaspoons on hand, as well as a knife for cutting dainty squares into even daintier pieces.
PREPARE PRETTY FOOD
Honestly, high tea is all about presentation, from sweets, breads, and teas to garnishes, imagination, and teeny-tiny portions. The rest is up to you. Here are some typical options:
*Finger sandwiches such as cucumber and cress or smoked salmon and cream cheese—always without crusts
*Cakes: mini-cupcakes, squares of cheesecake, small slices of Victoria sponge or brownies
*Sweets: fudge, nougat, truffles, chocolates
*Fruit: chocolate-dipped strawberries, melon balls
*Tarts: tiny sweet fruit tarts or savory cheese quiches
*Scones: sweet or savory, with small pots of jam and lemon curd
*Teas: the more, the merrier. Earl Grey is popular, but include at least one herbal option, too
Lastly, if you want a low-fuss version of high tea, there is nothing more wonderful than a traditional British “cream tea” option. Quite simply, that involves procuring a pot of tea along with freshly baked scones, strawberry jam, and clotted cream (or thick, whipped cream). Slice the scone in half, add a blob of jam and spread generously, then top with a dollop of cream. Perfection!
Sometimes, the simple pleasures in life can bring so much joy. Whether you embark upon a themed high tea party with all the trimmings or invite a friend over for a simple yet delicious afternoon cream tea, I hope you’ll consider gathering and enjoying the blessings of one another’s company.
“The very act of preparing and serving tea encourages conversation. The little spaces in time created by teatime rituals call out to be filled with conversation. Even the tea itself—warm and comforting—inspires a feeling of relaxation and trust that fosters shared confidences.” Emilie Barnes
Feel free to share your tea suggestions or experiences with us in the comments below!
Raising my teacup to you,
(The full-length version of this article was originally published in The Joyful Life Magazine)
P.S. I include a delicious sweet recipe in my monthly bookish newsletter—as well as a book giveaway and other goodies! If you’re not already signed up, I’d love you to join us HERE!
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