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Holiday Tea Party: Relax with your Friends at an Afternoon Tea

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Host a holiday tea party that is traditional, informal or fun. First, learn the traditional rules, then adapt them to fit your lifestyle.

An afternoon tea is an excellent idea for a holiday gathering. Easy and inexpensive, a tea party requires tea, coffee and snacks. It is a low cost and less stressful alternative to an evening party, which usually requires a lot of food and multiple beverages.

What is a Tea Party?

A tea party is a sit-down gathering with a small group. Sweets and finger foods are served. Today, coffee is perfectly acceptable at a tea party.

  • Without a formal table setting, a tea party allows guests to casually nibble on snacks while they visit.
  • An afternoon tea party makes it easy for guests to attend more than one event during this busy season. They will have more than enough time to get ready for an evening party.

A formal tea party can be a daunting prospect, but a more casual version is a perfectly acceptable way to entertain. Resources, such as the, say that a tea party can be as informal as “a pot of tea and cookies.”

Afternoon Tea is Not “High Tea”

Do not confuse a tea party with “high tea.” High tea is a traditional English meal that was served at the “high” table, meaning the dining room table. It was served on the cook’s day off and usually consisted of leftovers and cold foods. It was served at about 5:30pm. It is comparable to an American “colation,” or a light buffet of cold sandwiches and salads.

Afternoon tea is the traditional “tea party” and is served between 3:00 and 5:00 pm. Its purpose is to serve simple finger foods and relax, talk and eat. It is a refreshing break from the formality of place settings and allows guests to feel comfortable and enjoy tasty treats.

The Traditional English Tea Party

Before planning an informal tea, it is a good idea to learn the basics of a formal tea party. Then you can add or eliminate items to reflect your lifestyle, while maintaing the basic elements of a tea party.

  1. The invitation is traditionally elegant and formal and sent by mail.
  2. The tea and snacks are placed on a white or lace tablecloth.
  3. Food is in the center, with napkins, dessert plates and tea cups on each side.
  4. The tea is served at the end of the table.
  5. A layer cake is common. It is set apart from other snacks with its own serving station, complete with a knife to cut slices, dessert plate and forks.
  6. The host or hostess serves the tea.
  7. The theme should be seasonal.

Your Own Afternoon Tea Party

  • You can just as easily invite your friends in person, by phone, e-mail or texting.
  • You may dispense with the white linen. Use colorful linens or placemats, doilies, a paper tablecloth or whatever is easiest.
  • Coffee mugs are just as acceptable well as teacups, and easier to handle.
  • People like self-serve so that they can discreetly grab more goodies from the table.
  • Even formal teas do not require a layer cake.

The Menu

The menu for a tea party is easy and fun to plan. The only rules are as follows:

  1. Servings should be refreshing and light between meal snacks.
  2. Food is primarily pastries and sweets; however, there must be one “savory” item on the menu.
  3. Snacks should be finger foods – small, and easy to eat without cutlery.

Tea party recipes are readily available in cookbooks as well as on the Internet. Here are some examples:

  1. Savory:
  • Sandwiches of meat or cheese that are easy to cut into small squares or triangles
  • Crackers and cheese or other cheese spreads
  • Mini-quiche hors d’ouvers
  1. Sweet:
  • Traditional English scones,
  • Small tea cookies
  • Cup cakes
  • Mini-cheesecakes
  • Tiny pastries, like tarts
  • Petit fours
  • Chocolate truffles

Keeping Your Menu Simple

  • Plan your tea party with your guests in mind. Serve foods that your friends like.
  • Foods suitable for tea parties are available at the grocery store if you are too busy to prepare the snacks.

For the Daring Host/Hostess

If you are adventurous and have money to spend, visit “A Hot Tea Party.” This site features famous tea party caterers, Japanese and Moroccan tea ceremonies, French service and special tea recipes that you can order. You may want a unique theme and decorations.

Serving Hot Tea for a Group 

Most of us know how to serve coffee to a crowd – get a big pot. The question is, how do you make lots of hot tea, when teapots are so small?

You could take several teabags and put them in a hot liqud server. However, it is worth the effort to make tea correctly. I found the easiest method in The Good Housekeeping Cookbook:

  • Several hours before the party:
  1. In 2-quart sauce pan, heat 4 cups of water to boiling
  2. Pour boiling water over 2/3 cup loose tea leaves
  3. Cover and let stand 5 minutes
  4. Stir and strain in fine strainer into large pitcher or tea pot
  5. Keep at room temperature
  • Serving the Tea:

Pour about 2 tablespoons of the concentrated tea into each cup, and fill the rest with hot water, from a large hot water server. Makes 24 cups of tea.

A Holiday Tea Party

A Holiday tea party, whether formal or casual, should be a relaxing opportunity to enjoy treats and conversation. Don’t forget, the purpose of a tea party has not changed since your childhood: have fun. Enjoy a retreat from the stress of Holiday entertaining.