Last summer, when I went shopping in America, I was struck by how manic Americans are for all things British. I guess this is to be expected, what with Downton Abbey & all, so I thought this might be a great time to throw a tea party. Here’s what I’ve learned so far in my planning: tea parties are not just for little girls. The point of throwing a tea party is to hearken back to a more civilized time, where people spent time together, talking & socializing, without alcohol as a social lubricant.
Here are some other things I’ve been thinking about:
Be excited. Start by finding pictures online that inspire you. There are so many Pinterest boards dedicated to tea parties!
Create your guest list. Send them beautiful invitations, in the mail & everything. About 10 people is the right number. Encourage finery.
Location is important. But don’t think your house isn’t good enough! Just make sure you set the scene. However, if the weather is fine, outside is lovely. If you don’t have a balcony or a backyard, head to a local park. I adore Ottawa’s arboretum, & I would absolutely love to throw a tea party there.
Look & feel are crucial. Eccentric, chic aristocrat is a look I absolutely love. I’ve been collecting loner tea cups for years, with the perfect tea party in mind. Scrounge them up from church rummage sales, thrift stores, yard sales, your grandmother’s china cupboard (with permission!). You will need teacups & saucers, elaborate teaspoons, tiny forks & knives if you’re serving food that needs them, mini plates, & sugar bowls. Those are the very basics. Platters & cake stands get extra points.
Serve the right food. A selection of tea, cream, sugar, milk, non-dairy milk, & lemon are the very basics. Begin with finger sandwiches, fruit, crackers, & cheese, then move on to the cupcakes & scones with clotted cream. Sparkling rosé wine is always appreciated. For something a bit more exotic, why not dip berries in chocolate & sprinkle them with sea salt? Or try your hand at making some earl grey shortbread.
Dress the area. String up some bunting & Christmas lights. Use tablecloths, napkins, candles, flowers, & doilies, no matter where you are. Blow up some balloons.
Dress yourself. Now is not the time to wear something plain. Big skirts, fabulous hats, your highest heels can & should all be trotted out for a tea party.
Play some music. Go through your iTunes & create a tea party playlist. (Please do not include The Tea Party.)
Plan some activities. Ban conversation about television “reality” stars & social media. Bring poetry books that people can read aloud from (I love e.e. cummings & William Stafford), have some playing cards & maybe a backgammon set. A croquet set is a wonderful touch. I’ve been stalking one at Canadian Tire, waiting for it to go on sale. If you have travel Scrabble or any other travel board game, bring it along!.
Follow the formal rules. Tea is served at 4 PM sharp. The host pours unless she asks another guest to “be mother”. Pour from most senior lady to youngest, followed by any men in attendance. Or, alternately, just enjoy yourself & never you mind the fancy rules.
Enjoy your tea party! Take a moment to think of a more peaceful time, when people could share food in the afternoon. Of course, it helps that if they had servants to run the household while they were being leisurely! For those of us who don’t, at least give yourself an afternoon to be charmed away.