A British-style tea party sounds like a posh affair, but you can pull it off if you want to go formal with your party. There’s so much more to a great tea party than just tea. Part of the magic is in the elegance, and the rest is in the details – the crustless sandwiches, the gorgeous mini-desserts, and the cream for your scones. Some may say tea parties are pretentious, but if you’re really fancy, it’s one way to embrace who you are. If you only wanted to fancy it up a bit for a change, here are some ideas for throwing a formal tea party:
1. Decide on a theme.
Are you thinking Queen Elizabeth or Queen of Hearts? Either way, you would want to ensure that your decorations and dress code match. If you want to give your party a royal treatment, make your guests wear formal dresses and fascinator hats. Take the fashion of the Queen, or Princess Diana be your inspiration.
Alice in Wonderland is a classic tea party theme, whether for adults and kids. Tell your friends to dress up as their favorite character, then decorate with clocks, playing cards, and keys around the room. Another great theme is Downtown Abbey, where you can use fancy chinaware or mix-matched teacups, and then have some trivia games related to the show.
2. Send invitations.
When you’re having a formal party, you can’t just text or message your guests on Facebook. You have to design an invitation cohesive to your theme and have it printed and mailed. Make sure to include any requests in the invitation, like the appropriate formal wear. Send it two to four weeks in advance to help guests plan appropriately. You may also need to ask your guests to notify you of any allergies or dietary restrictions when they send their RSVP.
3. Find a pretty tea set.
Teapots are a must-have in a high tea party, as it brings a traditional, English feel. If you already have a collection of fancy teapots, then you’re good to go. But if not, you don’t have to break the bank to buy some to make your party look elegant. You can easily get a pretty, but reasonably priced floral tea set . You may get a Blue Willow tea set or a plain British Royal set for a classic feel. All these sets include the essential plates and cups.
Check how many cups of tea one teapot can make so you can assess how many teapots you need. As a guide, a teapot-full can serve one to three people. Also, check if you already have enough cups, plates, saucers, milk jugs, teaspoons, sugar bowls, and more.
4. Keep decorations minimal.
Since it’s a tea party, you don’t need a lot of decorations, unlike when you’re hosting your kid’s superhero birthday party. You only need to pull out your nicest tablecloths or buy some, pick some visually appealing dessert and appetizer plates, plus your pretty full-on tea set. Flowers or a cake stand would be perfect centerpieces. If you have a theme, don’t decorate your walls full-on with some elements of the theme – keep it minimal and as much as possible, functional.
5. Set up a stylish table.
While the real centerpiece will be your cakes and desserts, it’s essential to keep the buffet table stylish as well. Decorate with a clean tablecloth and beautiful florals. Use vintage tea tins as vases or formal ceramic vases, depending on your theme. To maintain the floral feel, dress up your dessert display with fresh roses, ranunculus, or peonies.
Add dimension by stacking flower arrangements and props on top of books. Choose classic novels or old, hard-bound dictionaries and encyclopedias with leather to make sure it looks good as a centerpiece.
In addition to flowers, decorate your table by hanging pretty lace parasols overhead for the perfect tea party ambiance.
6. Serve some real English tea.
Tea is definitely the star of the party. So, your typical Lipton tea just won’t do. Get a few different types of loose tea so you can brew a couple of pots at once. But you can always use bagged tea for convenience. You can count on If you decide to serve loose tea, put it directly into the pot or use a tea diffuser to keep it free from sediments.
At the minimum, go with one black tea like Earl Grey or English breakfast tea, a green tea, plus some non-caffeinated options like chamomile, herbal tea, and white tea. And also, make sure that the teas you serve pair well with the food.
- Earl Grey – this goes well with shortbread and scones
- English Breakfast – this classic goes with pretty much anything
- Chamomile – it goes with scones and fruit
- Assam – it works with savory sandwiches
- Peppermint – pairs with non-mint recipes
- Darjeeling – good for fruity and chocolatey desserts
- Iced tea – great for a hot day with savory dishes
Then along with your tea, offer some sugar cube rather than the boring loose sugar. Do this by pressing loose sugar into molds. You may also add a dash of food coloring to make your spread more appealing.
You may want to have some booze ready, too. Yes, it’s a tea party – but it’s still a party, so that means you must have something stronger than tea for anyone who wants to partake some. A few bottles of prosecco or champagne should do the trick.
7. Serve finger foods, cake, or desserts on a cake stand.
Apart from tea, the cake is the most important thing at a high tea party. It’s the centerpiece for your buffet table and a focal point for your party. It’s also a great anchor for whatever theme you choose. If you’re going formal and traditional, get a classic serving stand with a domed lid . This is perfect if you have a vintage or retro theme.
But now, it’s becoming more popular to serve in a tiered cake stand with lots of cupcakes and various desserts rather than one large cake. Some even display their finger foods and sandwiches on another tiered cake stand, along with the centerpiece. If you have a traditional theme for your high tea, get a white ceramic stand, or an iron stand. If you want a modern feel, go for a round acrylic display stand, or a square cake stand.
8. Serve authentic British desserts.
If you’re hosting a formal tea party, prepare some authentic British cakes and desserts, like a Victoria sponge cake, fruit cake, Battenburg cake, sticky toffee pudding, trifle, or Bakewell tart.
Remember, it’s not a tea party without cakes. It’s up to you if you will serve large, centerpiece cakes or individual cupcakes, or both. You can go for the classic pound cake and decorate it according to your theme.
The key to serving desserts on high tea is to serve beautiful treats. They must look as beautiful as they are delicious. For desserts with a high-end look, serve petit fours – these things are always pretty. You can also serve French macarons, gourmet donuts, cake pops, or cupcakes topped with rose petals or real rosebuds.
9. Master the art of a perfect scone.
English-style scones are also a must-have for every tea party. It’s served with an assortment of jams, whipped cream, and butter. It’s best to be authentic by serving clotted cream, salted butter, raspberry jam, and marmalade. You can make a DIY Devonshire cream instead of clotted cream. Make sure the scones are flaky like biscuits and round for a real English-style tea experience.
If you haven’t tried baking them, try practicing before the party so you can perfect it. It’s best to enjoy them on the day you bake them. But if you don’t have the time, you can bake scones up to a week ahead and store them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. On the day of your party, reheat your frozen scones in the oven at 350F for 10 minutes.
10. Serve some fancy, delicate finger sandwiches.
Though desserts are the showstoppers, finger sandwiches play an essential role. They provide the savory flavor that complements all those sweet treats and tea. There are certain rules to follow when serving sandwiches for a formal tea party. It would be best if you use thin slices of bread with crusts trimmed. It’s also helpful if you cut them into triangles. Then, make sure to use different types of bread for other sandwiches so it won’t look like a sea of beige. Remember to keep everything finger food-sized so guests can enjoy every item before feeling full.
Classic tea party sandwiches include cucumber and cream cheese, egg salad, shrimp cocktail, or smoked salmon. You can also opt for gourmet toasts topped with goat cheese, honey, and figs. You may also want to serve tea sandwiches open-faced for a different presentation.
11. Don’t forget the tea party extras.
There are extras you might want to add to enhance your theme for a formal party and keep the elegant feel. For instance, doilies and napkins are some small touches that can make all the difference.
Here are some things you can add to your table to give your tea party a touch of class:
- Place cards – These things can make your guests feel welcome. You can write them yourself if you’re good at calligraphy for a more personal touch, or you can print them according to your theme.
- Candleholders – Like flowers, candles can enhance your theme and add a romantic feel to your theme.
- Table runner – Don’t forget the table runner – it takes your tablecloth to the next level. It’s an extra detail that can bring your tables together if you’re using a few different cloths.
12. Make a playlist to set a classy mood.
Select music that is suitable for your formal theme, but makes sure it’s not too loud to drown out the conversation. You can’t go wrong with some classical or jazz music.
If you have a working vintage turntable, that would be perfect for impressing your guests. Or maybe have someone play the piano, cello, violin, or any classy instrument on the background to make it even fancier.
13. Prepare some fun but light icebreaker games and activities.
Suppose you’re worried that the conversation won’t flow as freely as the tea, plan ahead with some party games. You can play the game “Who am I?”. Give each guest a sticky note with a character or a person’s name on it and stick it to their forehead or hat. Then, they must ask other guests yes or no questions until they figure out who they are. You can also play a cozy mystery game. It’s a perfect game for a tea party because it has less violence than hard-core murder mysteries.
If you’re not into games, keep your guests’ hands busy with some accessible arts and crafts, given that your guests are artsy. You can have them paint their own ceramic tea as a souvenir for the party. If you’re meeting with literary fans, ask each guest to bring one of their favorite poems to read aloud and perform to the party. This adds a fun way to add a little literary appreciation to your high tea event.