How To Host A Traditional Tea Party
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?
Harney & Sons Earl Grey Imperial Tea*
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.
Wanda, I came to this post from Pinterest. I love giving, and going out for, afternoon teas. It’s such a treat!
Hi Jean…I couldn’t agree more! There’s something about afternoon tea that just makes you want to sit and relax for a little bit. Thanks for stopping by!
High tea was the working mans tea as it was served on a dining room table (a high table) It consisted of meats breads and of course a pot of tea. It is often confused with “afternoon” tea and is which is what you are referring to. This is the tea that consists of finger sandwiches, scones and dainty pastries. People seem to think that “high” means elegant, but it is quite the opposite.
Hi Rochelle…Thanks for the clarification! I will update my post.
If you have a tea cosy its amazing how long the pot stays hot for.
Thanks, Anne! I’m not sure why I never thought of that 🙂
This is such a feel good post! Loving these ideas. ❤️
Thanks, Ashley! It was a fun party 🙂
Wanda, awesome information! I clicked on Pinterest sort of recognized the site and then your beautiful smile appeared. Scott wondered what I was laughing about. 🙂
Ok I’m doing a bridal shower tea and can do sweets no problem, what kind of sandwiches? Can’t do PB and banana because of the peanut allergy :).
Scones, was going to buy some … Maybe I’ll try recipe this weekend.
Congratulations and keep the info coming.
Hi Martha…that is too funny 🙂
My mother is actually the traditional tea expert and she just happens to be here visiting…She says she usually serves 3 kinds of sandwiches – roast beef with mustard, smoked salmon with cream cheese and cucumber with watercress and mayonnaise. All with thinly sliced bread and the crusts cut off. Then she covers them with a damp tea towel until they are ready to be served to prevent them from drying out. She also says that she has resorted to buying the scones if she runs out of time…and they make really good ones at Soby’s (you can order them in advance and they will make them fresh for you…just heat them at 325F for about 20 minutes before you serve them). Hope that helps! Good luck with your bridal shower!
Can you make this into a printable form so I can download it? Or do you have a pamphlet to order it? Please let me know. Thank you.
I have scoured Pinterest and Amazon for months looking for a GREAT tea pot. So far nothing. Any suggestions on where to look for a real tea time pot? Barb
Hi Barb…it probably depends on what style of tea pot you want, but all of mine have come from British china makers. For earthenware tea pots, I like Portmeirion. You can see the styles they have by going to their website (https://www.portmeirion.com) and searching for “teapot” (all one word). If you find one you like, I would probably buy it somewhere else, though…the prices on their site are a little high (you can usually find them on Amazon if you search for the pattern name). For finer china, I like Royal Albert. You can search for “tea pot” (two words) on their site (https://www.royalalbert.com) to see if they have any patterns you like. If you’re willing to spend a little more money, you could also try Wedgwood (https://www.wedgwood.com). Finally, if you’re willing to spend a little time looking, another option is Replacements (https://www.replacements.com). They carry china patterns that are no longer made and have hundreds of tea pots available. Again, their prices are sometimes a little high, so if you find something you like you might want to see if you someone is selling it on Ebay. Hope that helps and good luck with your search!
No sure exactly what pot are you looking for but lots of English china ( including tea pots ) on EBay.
The English almost never use teabags, preferring loose leaf tea instead. This is for good reason! If you have never used looseleaf tea, you have been missing out! Whole looseleaf tea is head and shoulders above the broken and stale nasty bits that go into teabags. High quality loose tea can be purchased easily online nowadays.
To make a pot of looseleaf tea, preheat the porcelain pot, as above. Add 1 tsp per cup of loose tea to the pot, plus ‘one for the pot’. This means that a six cup teapot would get 7 teaspoons of tea leaves. Pour water, just off the boil, into the pot to fill. Steep 3-5 minutes and serve. For a tea party, I recommend using a ‘brewing pot’. (A utilitarian teapot the tea is brewed in, then strained into the fancy pots for service) This prevents overbrewing.
Thanks for the suggestions, Brandie!
I simply adore tea time. the china, the food and the company of friends.
I love loose tea, especially the English kind, although the Oriental ones are lovely too.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful post for us lovers of Tea Time Afternoon.
I enjoyed all of the comments which are also educational on the subject of Afternoon Tea which is a British aristocratic pursuit. Therefore buffet and cupcakes don’t go together with the tradition of Afternoon Tea. A manageable number of guests seated at several low tables pouring their tea from a China tea set laid on the tables set with table cloths would’ve done well. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Sharmini…As I mentioned at the top of the post, I realize that having people seated at tables is the traditional approach to afternoon tea. But when you are entertaining in a house that was built in 1910 (ie. it’s not open concept) and is less than 700 square feet in total size, it just isn’t possible if you want to invite more than 5 people 🙂 Besides the seating arrangement, the rest of the party was very traditional…they did have their tea poured from a china tea pot, served in china tea cups and there wasn’t a cupcake to be seen. Most importantly…everyone had a great time!
Thanks 😊🙏🏽 very much Wanda. Yes, considering the space you have to work with, it sounds like a great tea party. No cupcakes is the way to go for a traditional tea party.
I have a question rather than a comment: Where in the world would someone living in Marshalltown, Iowa be able to get clotted cream? I’ve wanted to try it for years, but have never figured out how to get some. I enjoyed all aspects of your tea party plans, especially the recipes. Thank you very much. Peggy Davidson
Thanks, Peggy…if you happen to have a Whole Foods or World Market store near you, they usually carry it. Otherwise, you can order it from Amazon (but it is more expensive than you would normally pay). Just search for “clotted cream from england” and a few options will come up.
Clotted cream is simple to make, especially if you have an instant pot. Search the internet for clotted cream recipes. They’re almost all exactly the same. It tastes some time but not hands-on time. I have used ultra pasteurized cream without any issues, if you can’t find any that isn’t.
Thanks for the tips, Diane!
That was a very fast reply! Thank you for getting back to me so soon. I think there’s a World Market in Des Moines, about an hour from here, but I’m not sure where there is a Whole Foods. Maybe in Ames. Thank you for your wonderful site. It is inspirational.
I have just come across your tea party post and I am inquiring about the pink tea set you have pictured, the one shown along with the dark colored tea cups. Can you tell me if that tea set can still be purchased?
Hi Espe…That tea set is Royal Albert Lavender Rose. It’s a discontinued pattern but you can find it in a lot of places (etsy, ebay, antique shops, replacements.com, etc). So if you really like you should be able to find it.