Want to hold a traditional tea party but not sure what to do? Find the food, decor and (of course) tea that you’ll need to make it a success.
A traditional tea party is a perfect setting for an afternoon event that requires some formality, such as a wedding or baby shower…or in our case, a Christmas open house.
This tea party stems from the British tradition of “afternoon tea”. It involves tea served in a fine china cup and saucer, scones with clotted cream and jam, small watercress and cucumber sandwiches (without crusts) and bite-sized cakes and sweets.
Traditionally, this is a sit-down event, but there were too many people to do that for our open house, so our traditional tea party was served buffet-style.
This does add a little more work because the tea in the pots does not stay warm for very long and has to be replaced every 20 – 30 minutes.
Traditional Tea Party Decor
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Since the afternoon tea is a traditional event, the decor is usually traditional as well.
White tablecloths with lace or embroidery* set the traditional table.
This is also the perfect time to use your grandmother’s tea set that usually sits in the china cabinet.
Simple vases with roses and baby’s breath add a little elegance.
Since we were having a Christmas tea, we also included small evergreen sprays to add a winter touch.
China tea pots are a must for a traditional tea.
Using cups and saucers from the matching tea set is a very traditional approach.
You can also mix-and-match china patterns for a more eclectic look.
In our case, we had to mix and match since we didn’t have enough cups in one china pattern to serve everyone!
It’s All About The Tea
What Kind Of Tea To Use?
The first step to creating a traditional tea party is to make the perfect tea. I usually serve a black tea (like Earl Grey*) and a herbal tea (like peppermint* or apple cinnamon*) so that guests have a decaffeinated choice.
You could also use a green tea* or make iced tea if you would prefer.
How To Serve The Tea
Tea served from a proper tea pot always tastes better than hot water poured over a tea bag in a cup (although allowing guests to make their own tea in a cup is easier to manage if you are throwing a party for a lot of people).
How To Make The Perfect Tea
There is an art to making tea properly (and tea drinkers swear that this makes a difference to the taste).
- Fill a kettle with water and turn it on to boil. I like to use an electric kettle*. They usually heat the water faster, and they don’t take up a stove element.
- In the meantime, heat the serving tea pot by filling it with hot water.
- When the kettle water is boiling, empty the water from the tea pot.
- Add 2 tea bags to the tea pot (or 4 teaspoons of tea in a tea ball if you are not using pre-packaged tea).
- Pour the boiling water from the kettle into the tea pot (over the tea bags).
- After leaving the tea bags to steep, remove them from the tea pot. Leave the tea bags in the pot until the tea has reached your desired strength, usually 3 – 5 minutes.
- Serve hot, along with cream and sugar.
As I mentioned above, the tea does not stay warm in the pot for very long, so if it has been sitting for longer than 30 minutes, you will likely need to make a new batch.
While tea is always the star of the show, we usually serve a couple of other drinks so people have some choice:
- Homemade apple cider – If you are having kids at your party, they usually love this recipe.
- Mimosas – We don’t usually serve a lot of alcohol at our tea party, but Mimosas only require sparkling wine or champagne and are really easy to mix. You can also replace the wine with sparkling water for a non-alcoholic version.
- Coffee – For the coffee-lovers.
Scones and Clotted Cream
Scones with clotted cream* and jam are a must for a British tea.
You can buy them, but they are actually pretty easy to make yourself. If you’re looking for a recipe, my Aunt Mary’s scone recipe is the best I’ve ever tasted!
If you’ve never had clotted cream, it’s kind of like a mix between whipped cream and butter…and it is absolutely delicious on scones!
But if you prefer frosting on your pastry, these glazed lemon blueberry scones are also delicious. And always a big hit.
For a less traditional option, try these maple pecan scones.
It comes with a cinnamon butter recipe that is almost as good as clotted cream.
In any case, if you are doing a buffet, make sure to leave some space on the table for people to put down their plates so that they can add whatever toppings they want to their scones.
1. Remove the crusts from the bread
2. Cut the bread slices into quarters.
3. Remove the skin from the cucumber so that only the white middle remains.
4. Cut the cucumbers into very thin slices (about 1/8″ thick)
5. Butter the small bread slices. You can also add mayonnaise if desired.
6. Layer 3 or 4 of the thin cucumber slices on half of the quartered bread slices.
7. Add some watercress if desired.
8. Cover with another of the quartered bread slices.
You can use pretty much any bite-sized cookie, tart or bar as part of your sweet selection. Provide 3 – 4 options per person (in addition to the scones). Here are some ideas for sweets that work well:
- Mini cherry cheesecakes
- Lemon bars
- Mincemeat tarts
- Chocolate-dipped crescent cookies
- Whipped shortbread
- Old fashioned date bread
- Fruit tray (for the people who are trying to avoid sugar). Our fruit charcuterie board always goes over well.
Most of all, a tea is a great way for friends to socialize over some goodies (and what could be better than good friends and good food), so have fun with it!
Other tea party ideas you might like
Have comments or questions about hosting a traditional tea party? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on April 12, 2015 but was updated with new content on March 12, 2023.