If Downton Abbey sparked your secret longing for tea trays and finger foods (not to mention dishy household staff swanning in with the goods), you can capture that vibe by hosting a perfectly lovely tea party of your own.
Mother’s Day, birthdays, spa days with your besties, bridal or baby showers — they’re all good reasons to indulge in tea and picture-perfect nibbles. I have suggestions for food, drink, and gracious touches to make your tea party complete. And just in case you’re fresh out of household staff, I’m going to make this super easy for you to DIY.
Must read: Hot Tips for Hosting the Perfect Brunch
- According to the Tea Etiquette Guide, traditional tea is served in the afternoon. But rules are made to be broken, so I’m turning this into a tea party brunch held somewhere between late morning and early afternoon.
- If you have the space and the weather permits, hold the party outside. (Provide umbrellas for shade or have everyone wear wide-brim hats.) Otherwise, bring the outdoors in with loads of cut flowers and branches.
- Did Great Aunt Jane leave you her tea set? Dust it off and set it out. Or hit up a thrift store for random tea cups and saucers. No need to go all matchy-matchy.
- For Pinterest-perfect displays, set out the food out on trays and cake stands embellished with berries and edible blossoms.
You’ll also need:
- Small plates
- Dessert forks (optional)
- Cloth napkins
- Tea – loose or bags
- Tea strainer
- Hot water
- Brewed coffee
- Sugar or honey
- Thinly sliced lemons (not wedges) for the tea
Pretty Party Nibbles
This easy tea party menu is built around finger foods that can be eaten in one or two bites so you don’t have to fuss with knives and forks. Looks count in tea party food, so play with garnishes to easily glam things up.
Try these sandwich ideas, pictured above.
- Brie + balsamic strawberries + fresh basil
- Sliced hard boiled eggs + crumbled bacon + chives + horseradish mayonnaise
- Shrimp salad + pimento-stuffed olives
- Hummus + tomatoes + parsley
- Cucumber + herbed cheese + lemon zest
- Smoked salmon + cream cheese + capers + pickled red onions
- Sliced apples + chicken salad + chopped pecans
Make-ahead tip: You can make sandwiches up to one day ahead of time. Spread the bread with a thin layer of butter to keep the toppings from making the bread soggy overnight, and wrap well with plastic wrap so the edges of the bread don’t dry up.
In addition to the tea sandwiches, you should include at least one classic brunch-type dish on your menu. Mini quiches fit the bill beautifully, combining the cuteness of tea food and breakfast-ness of brunch food. As for what kind to make, it’s easy to take a basic mini quiche recipe and change it up with a variety of add-ins to suit your tastes.
Make ahead tip: Bake and freeze ahead of time, then reheat at 350° F for 10 to 15 minutes.
There’s an unwritten rule that it’s just not tea without scones. Don’t bother fact-checking, though, because it’s unwritten. To be in compliance, you’ll want your menu to include sweet, biscuit-like scones with plenty of jam and butter or clotted cream. Be sure to cut them smaller than usual because you’ll be serving several other tea tidbits as well.
Make-ahead tip: Scones can be baked and frozen ahead of time. Reheat on a lined baking sheet in a 350º F oven for about 5 minutes or so. Watch Chef John make classic Scottish scones with currants.
When you’re trying to figure out what to serve, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “What would the Duchess eat?” Here are a few lady-like answers in the dessert category.
- Mini Coconut Cupcakes with Passion Fruit Icing (pictured above)
- Lemon Curd Tarts
- Lavender Shortbread Cookies
- Chef John’s Classic Strawberry Shortcake
- Lemon Berry Tartlets
Tea and Other Drinks
Offer an array of bagged or loose leaf teas to choose from. Popular varieties include black teas such as Earl Grey, English breakfast, and Darjeeling; scented Ooolong teas such as jasmine and green teas; and herbal teas such as peppermint and chamomile. Read all about how to brew tea.
Make-ahead tip: Freeze fruit, flowers, and juices to use as stunning ice cubes. (Be sure the flowers you use are organic and edible.) These floral ice cubes, for example, are perfect! Watch the video to see how easy they are to make.
Tea Party Favors
Take-homes are a thoughtful way to help your guests extend the pleasures of the day. These gift ideas range from no-brainer to downright crafty.
- If you’re baking cookies for tea, bake a few more and package them up as sweet reminders.
- Make and label a custom tea blend, and wrap it up along with a tea strainer. Try instant Chai Tea Mix, or Orange Spice Tea Mix, or Friendship Tea.
- Use permanent fabric dye to stamp a plain cotton tea towel with a whimsical design. It’s a gift that keeps on giving every time they use it.
- Take a crash course in party planning 101.
- Browse brunch and tea party recipes.
- Get recipes and tips for hosting a bridal or baby shower brunch.
- Check out all things Brunchworthy.