How To Host A Tea Party: ideas on what to serve at a tea party, including some recipes, and tips about hosting.
Today I’m sharing tips on how to host a tea party at home. Tea parties are one of my favourite get togethers. They’re full of delicious foods, lots of tea, and usually are a delightful way to spend an afternoon with good friends.
What Is A Tea Party
Tea parties originated in England and were often referred to as high tea or afternoon tea. This light meal of tea and sweet and savoury snacks began as a way to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner, which was served later in the evening, as late as 8pm. Afternoon tea is traditionally served between 2 and 4 pm in the late afternoon, and is an elegant affair.
Today a full tea party usually includes tea, scones, savoury tea sandwiches, and sweets.
What To Serve At A Tea Party
- Black Tea
- Green Tea
- Herbal Tea
- Iced Tea
What is a tea party without tea? It’s always great to start with a black tea. Look for a traditional Orange Pekoe, English breakfast, or Earl Grey. These teas are classics and always well received.
It’s also nice to offer guests some other options, including herbal and decaf tea options. You might pick up an assorted box of tea bags and let guests choose their favourite from an assortment of teas.
In very formal tea party settings you would be served a pot of loose leaf tea, with an additional pot of hot water to add as needed, and usually a strainer for the loose tea.. In less formal settings a regular tea pot and tea bag will do fine, or you might even let guests steep their own cup by cup. Don’t have a teapot. A thrift store is place to find an old one, and traditional tea cups too. You will also include milk, and a sugar bowl. Sometimes lemon and honey are also offered as an accompaniment to tea.
Another nice option for warmer weather, especially if you’re outside in the garden is some ice tea options.
- Plain Scones with Butter, Jam, and Cream
- Flavoured Scones
Traditionally an afternoon tea menu will always include scones served with butter, clotted cream, and jam. Clotted cream is rather hard to find outside of England. You can find it sometimes in speciality stores. If not, try serving with whipped cream. Whipped cream is not quite as authentic, but certainly very delicious.
If you are serving only tea and scones this is called a cream tea. For a full afternoon tea you would serve scones, as well as other savoury and sweet options.
The most common jam to serve at high tea is strawberry, but any berry flavour is a great choice. You might also try some lemon curd, a great option for the lemon lover, and usually available with the jams at the grocery store.
The scones are best if fresh baked. Plain scones or raisin scones are traditional, but you can experiment with all kinds of flavours. My favourite easy scone recipe is our Easy Food Processor Scones -click here for the recipe. You don’t have to make your own though, you can pick them up at a bakery if that’s easier for you.
You might also like these chocolate scones for the chocolate lover -recipe here.
Along the lines of a scone course, sometimes you will be served a crumpet at a tea party. It’s toasted with butter and usually served with honey or jam.
Savoury Tea Party Food Ideas
- Tea Sandwiches -Cucumber, Tuna, Egg Salad, Chicken Salad, Ham and Cheese, Salmon
- For Children -Peanut Butter and Jam, Cream Cheese and Jam
For an afternoon tea there is a course of savoury snacks served at a tea party, which includes a variety of options. The most classic of which would be tea sandwiches. These come in all kinds of varieties, but are usually dainty and small snacks. They often have the crusts removed and are cut into very small manageable pieces. Sometimes they are open faced as well. Try cutting each variety into a different shape -some square, some triangle, some rectangle for variety.
Small buns or mini croissants or toast cups are also an option for small sandwiches. These can be a great addition to add some interest to the selection.
Cucumber Sandwiches are a tea party classic. You might also see egg, tuna, or chicken salad. Another popular choice would be ham and cheese, or salmon.
You might also like our Easy Turkey and Cranberry Mayo sandwiches recipe here. They’re perfect for a tea party.
Also try our Chicken Salad cups recipe here. It’s a favourite and guaranteed to impress your guests. Make the chicken salad ahead of time and store in the fridge until ready to serve. The toasts cups can be made a day ahead and stored in an airtight container as well.
How To Keep Them Moist
Most tea sandwiches are best served the day they are prepared, but they will keep a few hours so that you don’t have to do everything last minute. Just be sure to store the sandwiches in an airtight container so that the bread doesn’t dry out. Buttering the bread will help ensure that the fillings don’t make the bread soggy.
Don’t feel like you have to overboard on sandwiches. Even two kinds will create a nice afternoon tea, when served with scones and sweets as well. And remember that for afternoon tea you could usually count on 4 individual portions of sandwiches per person.
Ideas for Children
For kids, peanut butter and jam are a great choice. You might try using a cookie cutter to cut the sandwiches in pretty shapes like flowers or hearts. Another sweet option is cream cheese and jam.
More Savoury Food Tea Party Options
- Cheese and Crackers
- Veggies and Dip
- Sausage Rolls
- Scotch Eggs
Although finger sandwiches are the most traditional option for a tea party there are other savoury options. Think small bites like cheese and crackers or veggies and dip, or even quiche, salad, or soup. Sometimes you might find the addition of some British favourites like sausage rolls, or scotch eggs. If you want to make your tea more of a hardy meal these can be great additions. Feel free to adapt your menu to suit your needs. There’s no real rules, and you’re free to make your tea party as traditional or untraditional as you want.
Everyone’s favourite part of the tea party has to be the sweets! And there is usually quite a few delicious options at a traditional tea party. I like to include something for everyone, so I often think about having something kind of plain and vanilla, something for the lemon lovers, something with berries, and something for the chocolate lovers. These are just a general guideline. You don’t have to have that many options, and if you and your guest prefer one thing or dislike another go with that. If everyone is a chocolate lover, how about a chocolate themed tea party?
- A Vanilla or Plain Sweet
- Something Berry
- A Chocolate Sweet
Keep It Small and Dainty
Like the sandwiches the sweets are usually small and dainty too. Often things are served in individual servings like tarts, mini cakes, and squares or cookies. You could also include a larger cake and serve slices, like a traditional Victoria sponge cake, but individual servings are dainty and easy for guests to help themselves.
Another sweet that’s sometimes included at tea time is trifle, because it’s so characteristically British -and delicious. For a tea party, these are usually served as a single serving, in a small bowl or glass. Traditional trifle is a great addition or for something different, try a chocolate trifle -find my recipe here.
Because shortbread is such a classic British cookie -or biscuit as they’d say it’s often included at a tea party. These are easy to bake and can be made with so many different flavours. Another favourite for a tea party are these jam jam cookies -see your recipe here.
Sugar cookies are a great addition too -find our favourite sugar recipe here.
Rather than a pie, small tarts are best for a tea party. You might like our Brown Butter and Raspberry Tarts -find the recipe here.
Fancy peitete fours are often served at a tea party. These treats might be best picked up at the bakery. Or for a homemade version, cupcakes are always a great addition.
Although British, a tea party is a great time to serve fancy French pastries. Although not as traditional any macarons, eclairs, cream puffs, Madelines, or other fancy French pastry treats are another great addition. Try our homemade Pecan Madeline recipe here.
A tea party is often served in the dining room, but how do you host a tea party if you don’t have a dining room? A living room, or kitchen table is a great choice too. In fact you don’t even have to be seated at a table for this meal.
A garden is a great setting for a tea party as well, if you the weather is nice. And a tea party picnic -like the one we put together here is a fun idea too. Find our Tea Party Picnic here.
We’ve even hosted a tea party at a camp site -check it out here.
If you don’t have formal dining room don’t worry.
Tea Party Decor Ideas
When you’re considering how to host a tea party, you must think about the tea party decor. A tea party is a great excuse to get a little fancy with things like a table cloth, real cloth napkins, vintage tea cups, and teaspoons. But again, if you prefer more informal you can make it whatever you want it to be.
Vintage teacups and pots are an easy item to find at your local thrift store. If you don’t have a matching tea set, don’t worry. The teacups don’t need to match, so it’s a fun item to pick them up as you see them.
Most if not all of the foods at your tea party will be finger foods so there’s usually no need for much cutlery. Guests may need a tea spoon for their tea, and knife to spread butter, jam, and cream on their scones.
Set each spot at thee table setting with a plate, or side plate and a tea cup.
A centre piece of flowers on the table is always a nice addition. There isn’t too much need for much else on the table, since the food and the tea are the stars of the show.
Three Tiered Tray
If you do love the old traditional feel, afternoon tea is traditionally served on a three tiered tray. The bottom layer is savoury and sandwiches, the middle layer is scones, and the top layer is sweets. In fancy hotels when tea is served is this way there’s usually one or two people’s servings per tray, and they each get one of each item. At home you can use this method also, or serve everything on platers or a cake stand so guests can help themselves. I usually find guests can eat a surprising number of those little tea sandwiches. 😉
One of the great things about a tea party is that it’s all usually made ahead and served all at once. So beyond making more hot tea as necessary, the host can enjoy the party too.
You can make many of the tea sandwich fillings and sweets the day before your party -or pick them up at the store. And, you can set the table the day before as well.
The morning of the tea party, make your tea sandwiches and wrap them tightly, and add flowers to the table.
After you’re dressed and ready for the party, put out all the food on trays, and wrap with plastic wrap until the guests arrive. Right before your guests arrive, also fill your kettle and boil it. Have teapots ready with tea bags. When guests sit down to eat, serve everyone a cup of tea.
Make sure you have milk (milk is served with tea rather than cream) and sugar on the table for guest to help themselves. You might also include lemon wedges and honey as another option for guest to add to their tea.
As the tea party continues check that the tea stays hot and make fresh pots of tea as necessary.
Party favours are never necessary but always a nice addition to any party. A great party favour for a tea party would be a vintage tea cup to take home. Another nice option would be a box of your favourite tea, perhaps with a few homemade cookies with it. Any small item that goes with our theme of a tea party would be a lovely take home gift. These are especially nice if you’re tea party is for a baby shower or a birthday celebration.
With all these ideas on how to host a tea party at home, life really is a party!
More Inspiration On How To Host A Tea Party
Check out all our other tea parties: