‘Proper’ tea served the ‘proper’ way is something of a lost art. If you’re planning a tea party, or just catching up with friends, consider learning how to properly serve tea. There’s nothing wrong with taking the time to get a classic just right.
The arrangement of the table is how we present our courtesy, good taste, and friendliness. Laying a ‘festive’ tablecloth on the coffee or dining table is the first step. Plain white linen is not recommended. Instead, a pattern that suits the event is suggested – something floral or colourful. Of course it’s an essential that you – the hostess – ensure that whichever table you use has enough room on it for decorations, tea, and settings for all of your guests.
Centrepieces are a great way of bringing the antique / vintage aesthetic to the event. Flowers are a classic option. Furthermore, if your tablecloth is floral, you can match the flowers at the centre of the table to those on the cloth. Something important to remember about centrepiece flower arrangements is size. They should never be so large as to leave the table cramped, nor so tall as to block any of your guests from talking to one another.
Candlesticks and candelabra can serve a function as well as providing decoration. Traditionalists will say that candlesticks shouldn’t feature for tea parties unless they are the main source of light at the occasion. However, a lot of antique silver candlesticks and candelabras have beautiful styles that you might think are worth using them for. If you do choose to use them and light them, ensure that your candlesticks are so far away as to fail to provide light, but also not so close as to become too distracting or even dangerous.
The Tea Set
Obviously, the tea set is essential to a proper tea party. If you’re not a fan of tea – or if any of your guests are not interested in tea – there are other alternatives. Coffee and punch are excellent routes to explore if you’re looking to broaden your horizons. Even if tea is not served at all, a tea set is the perfect addition to the table to keep the aesthetic focused. Ensure a tray is used to serve any beverages, whether they are just for decoration or not. Having drinks trays at either end of the table is a good way of ensuring the table itself doesn’t get too crowded.
If you’re looking to serve tea as ‘properly’ as possible, then even the location of items on the tray is important. The teapot itself should be on the right hand side of the tray, with the cream jug and sugar bowl on the left. If your tea service has a slop bowl, then that can be placed at the centre, ideal for discarding unused cold tea.
Cups and Plates
The appearance of the cups used for your tea – or other beverages – is essential. Naturally, the cups need to be free of any chips, scuffs, or discolouring. It’s also important to use teacups that are appropriately sized, and matching to your tea set. Ceramic, china, and silver tea cups are all options to consider.
Here are some other quick rules for cups:
Never touch interior surface of a cup, whether it is yours or someone else’s; use the handle or the exterior surface.
Do not stack cups to avoid any toppling or damage, the maximum would be two stacked together, but even then, it’s best not to stack them at all.
Spoons and Napkins
There is an easy rule of thumb for spoons and napkins: do not stack. Not only does stacking lead to accidents, but it also makes it difficult to pick up just one and not many by accident. Instead, a small selection of napkins that complement the design of the table cloth are required.
Consideration to Others
Any food served should not only be aesthetically pleasing, but also be small and dainty, bite-sized food. Finger food is kind at a tea party.
Dishes can be used to not only accessorise the table – if more decoration is needed – but also to serve foods like fruit or nuts.
Not everyone likes milk and sugar in their tea, and for these guests, lemon wedges should be readily available on the table within clear view.
Before your guests arrive, you need to check everything. Food should be available to refill any dishes served, flowers, candles, and any other decoration should be pristine. The layout of the table itself should also be perfect, perfect meaning symmetrical. The balance between aesthetic appearance and practicality also needs to be appropriate.
With all of this in order, your guests are free to arrive. Notice how they’ll appreciate the efforts you’ve gone to to ensure that everyone gets a taste of the ‘proper’ tea party that you’re more than ready to provide. Good luck, and remember – pinkies out!