Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, "A woman is like a tea bag; only in hot water do you realize how strong she is." Today's women have proven their strength, and are now settling in to enjoy one of life's greatest pleasures ... the tea party.

The joys of tea go far beyond the health benefits it provides (protection from certain types of cancer, heart disease, and stroke). Tea parties are a fun theme for many formal and informal gatherings, from bridal and baby showers to birthday or retirement parties and holiday celebrations. Or even a time just to catch up with good friends and relatives. It can be held at any time of the year, any day of the week and in almost any location. As long as you get your planning right, it is possibly the easiest of all social occasions to host!

In the process, many have also found that calm conversation over fine bone china, etched with delicate flowers, is an effective key to renewal, revival, and relief. With a little planning, you too can lift the hearts and spirits of the overbooked, overextended, and just plain overburdened ladies in your life.

On a cold winter's afternoon a bright open fire is one of the things to have, if possible, and near enough to it to look cozy should stand the prettiest of tea tables with cups and candles. In the center should be a bowl of flowers. Scattered around are plates of sandwiches, cakes, bonbons and salted nuts or crystallized fruits, while at one side the tea stands.

Just be sure to acquaint your guests with one another if they have not already met; and furnish your table so invitingly that those who come will remain to chat over the teacups, and pay compliment of forgetting the time of day.

What Do You Need to Host a Tea?

The decision to host an English tea, is the decision to create an atmosphere of gentility. When making the decision to host an English tea, keep in mind that a tea is a very formal, elegant affair. You should pull out your best linens, your best china, and your good silver.

First and foremost, you need company. Keep in mind that the tea ritual was designed to be a cozy and intimate gathering. Limit your guest list to six of your favorite people, or at least limit your guests to the number your house can accommodate with ease..

Send invitations two weeks ahead of time. Written invitations are always elegant. An over-the-phone or e-mail invitation would just not be in keeping with the Victorian theme. Hand Write addresses on all envelopes. And don't forget an RSVP date and your phone number.

Encourage your guests to wear hats, for hats are an integral part of afternoon tea. Light some candles, but keep the electric lights on, for this is still an event held in the afternoon. And most of all, enjoy yourselves! Afternoon tea has been practiced for centuries by everyone from farmers to kings.

Choose your menu and have it printed if you would like and place at each person's place setting at the party. For a nice touch, cut them out with fancy crafting scissors.

Pre-plan gifts (party favors) for your guests. These can be something inexpensive that you found at the local discount or dollar store, or something you've made for them yourself (for homemade gift ideas, visit our Gifts for Your Guests Page). Suggestions for guest gifts: picture frames, small vases, candy dishes, holiday decor, teacups, teaspoon & teabags, small glass dishes filled with sugar cubes (wrapped with sheer fabric & ribbon with a sugar tong or small spoon attached).

Make sure you have the following on hand: a teapot, teacups and saucers (they do not need to match), a tea strainer and small dish to deposit the tea leaves, a pitcher of milk, lemon slices, jam, sugar and artificial sweetener, small plates, utensils and napkins. And don’t forget your sugar bowl, creamer, and a plate displaying lemon wedges. Some people may take honey with their tea; if so, serve in a small jam jar with a small serving spoon.

On the day of the tea, bring refreshments in on trays or a cart and set the table so that guests may serve themselves. The hostess should always pour the tea and pass it to each guest.

What Kind of Tea Shall It Be?

Cream tea, or light tea, is a simple repast consisting of scones, jam, and Devonshire cream. It is ideal for girl talk on a rainy afternoon with your closest friends.

Afternoon tea, or low tea, is traditionally served between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. It was invented by Anna Maria, the seventh duchess of Bedford (1783-1857) when she experienced "a sinking feeling" in the middle of the afternoon. The menu consists of light fare-finger sandwiches, scones, assorted pastries, and a layer cake or trifle. Hold this elegant tea in a comfortable setting such as a living room or den. In warm weather, move the party to a lawn or deck.

High tea is a hearty sit-down meal traditionally served after 6:00 p.m. Originated by the English working classes during the Industrial Revolution, high tea consists of robust meat dishes, bread and cheese, and a dessert of cake or pie.

When setting up for your tea, pay attention to the details. Try some classical music – anything by Mozart or Beethoven is a good choice. Relaxing and amiable, classical music allows for background sound without stifling conversation. Fresh flowers can liven up any table, and doilies set over the tablecloth will add a Victorian air.

Which Cup of Tea Shall It Be?

All tea, regardless of it's variety, comes from one Asian plant, the Camellia sinensis and its hybrids. It is the processing that determines whether the tea you drink is black, white, green, or oolong.

Black tea is fully fermented, or oxidized. Its green leaves are plucked and left to wither. They are then twisted so the natural enzymes are released and oxidized. Next, they are dried until the leaves turn black and develop their full-bodied flavor, which can range from flowery and fruity to nutty and spicy.

White tea is generally processed by steaming and drying the youngest, unfermented leaves of the plant. The most popular of these rare teas are White Peony, Snowbud and Silver Needle.

Green tea is unfermented. The green leaves are first spread out to wither and are then steamed, rolled, and dried. While the Chinese variety is known for its mellow flavor, the Japanese version is often described as "grassy." These teas are high in nutrients and minerals and are thought to provide great health benefits.

Oolong tea is semifermented. The oxidation period is halted after 2 hours and the resulting flavor is a compromise between black and green teas. Oolong teas are produced almost exclusively in China and Taiwan.

Blended teas are combinations of different teas, and flowers, fruit, herbs, or spices are often part of the mix.

Herbal teas are not really tea at all since they derive from plants other than the Camellia sinensis. These caffeine-free drinks are also referred to as infusions and are, like green teas, lauded for their medicinal properties.

What to Serve, What to Serve?

Traditionally, tea sandwich, scones, and pastries are served. Go to our Recipe Page to find something perfect to serve at your afternoon tea.

Planning an Afternoon Tea Party

An afternoon tea party makes the perfect occasion for almost any celebration, and it's possibly the easiest of all social occasions to organize and host! The key to success is all down to the planning!

If you are considering hosting a tea party in your home, the following tips and guidelines may be helpful:

Planning:

* As with ALL social events, good planning is absolutely essential! An afternoon tea party is the perfect event for the hostess who may not be completely skilled in the kitchen to prepare a more complex menu.

* Send out invitations two weeks ahead.

* Do not invite more guests than you can comfortably cope with.

* Good timing is critical for the perfect afternoon tea party. Do as much preparation ahead of time as possible, but don't be tempted to make the sandwiches more than an hour before serving.

* Ensure that you have a plentiful supply of boiling water - use a tea urn, if necessary.

* Be sure to have adequate stocks of china, serving platters, tea pots, cutlery, furniture and tablecloths.

* If you are planning an outdoor garden event, always be prepared for a change in weather.

* If time and kitchen space are in short supply, don't be afraid to buy in a selection of cakes and pastries from you favorite bakery.

The Menu:

The quantity and variety of the refreshments must depend on the size of the gathering. For an intimate group, the simpler things are the better. But if this is more of a function, then something more elaborate is in keeping. Tea made with a kettle of boiling water and a tea-ball is all very well for three or four persons, but one cannot serve more without a delay while the water slowly comes to the boiling-point.

The urn is the best thing to use for a large number of guests. Have the tea made in the kitchen and carefully strained; then put it in the urn and light the lamp and it will keep fresh for hours. Have cream, sugar, and sliced lemons on the table. And be sure you use teacups, not coffee-cups.

A typical afternoon tea party menu comprises a selection of dainty, bite-size sandwiches, scones with cream and jam, and a selection of traditional cakes and pastries. The following menu is such an example:

The food can be served buffet style with guests helping themselves. If the party is being held in the garden, it is preferable to lay the food out indoors where it will be less affected by insects and heat.

Seating should be quite informal in small groups around neatly clothed tables arranged with a small canter flower arrangement. If you have some fine family china or silverware, this is a perfect opportunity to show it off!

How to Make Proper Tea:

We have an entire Page just to answer that!

But for now, here's some suggestions ...

When preparing your tea, be aware that tea itself comes in two forms – loose tea, which is basically shredded, dried tea leaves, or packaged tea, which comes in its own teabag. If you decide to offer your guests loose tea, you will also need to supply everyone with a tea infuser (Available in specialty shops and at Starbucks). tea infusers are hollow, perforated balls that hang in your cup. The loose tea is pinched into the ball, which opens on a hinge, and then the ball is hung into the hot water, allowing the tea to steep.

Otherwise, teabags may be used individually. Simply provide a teapot full of hot water so that guests may steep their own tea in their cups. How hot to make the water? Bring it to a boil. One thing to note is that if your water does not taste good, then your tea will suffer as a result. If you do not like the taste of your water supply, try using bottled or filtered water instead. A simple rule for measuring tea is about 1 tsp. of loose tea for every 6-8 oz. of water. Otherwise, teabags are pre-measured.

For steeping times, be aware that different teas require different amounts of exposure to the water. Green teas require 1-3 minutes, white tea 4-8 minutes, oolong tea 1-8 minutes, black tea 3-5 minutes and herbal teas about 5-8 minutes. Of course, this timing is again, up to the individual, for the longer a teabag steeps, the stronger the tea will taste.

When serving tea, be aware that not everyone, and certainly not the English, take their tea the same way. Some prefer a milky cup, while others adhere strictly to lemon and heaping teaspoons of sugar. Be sure to serve your tea with the usual variety of counterparts; fresh lemon slices arranged on a plate, a sugar bowl of white, granular sugar, or even cubed sugar, and a small pitcher of milk.

Afternoon Tea Etiquette

And we also have a Page for that, too!

When Is A Good Time To Tea?

Anytime is a good time to "tea." Whether alone with a good book and a fire blazing in the fireplace; a peaceful retreat on the patio to listen to the birds sing; a special sharing time with daughters or granddaughters; a sweet gathering with two or three friends; going to a favorite tea room; or even a time when a friend is hurting and needs a shoulder to cry on.

You might want to consider taking tea basket to someone in the hospital, a bereaved neighbor, a new mother or to welcome someone new into the neighborhood. This can become a "Basket of Blessings." You will need to purchase a large fireside-style basket and fill it with all of the essentials to make this occasion memorable. You will need a teapot and a tea cozy, 2 cups with saucers, 2 teaspoons (for stirring), a tea plate for your sweets, a flower vase for a fresh flower, a candle and matches, a small cloth bag with two tea bags, sweetener and powdered creamer. A thermos filled with boiling water and a tea cloth. The idea is for them not to have to do anything but enjoy the moment and feel pampered. You can be assured they will feel so special that you took the time and thought to do this for them and your spirits will be lifted as well.


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