How do I Host an Authentic English Tea Party?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

If you are looking to host a special Mother’s Day, birthday, wedding shower or other celebration, you might consider having an authentic English tea party. These fun and formal gatherings are based on the customs and niceties of Victorian-era England, and can be an exciting way to try out your hosting abilities. With an English tea party, the keys to success are in the details, so you can be as elaborate or simple as you wish.

A teapot.
A teapot.

The practice of an English tea party is attributed to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford in the mid-19th century. Customarily at that time, there were only two meals per day: breakfast and dinner. Duchess Anna, who according to some experts had difficulty getting through the day without more food, began inviting friends over for light afternoon snacks and tea. The idea caught on, and tea parties have been popular ever since.

Lemon curd.
Lemon curd.

A few weeks before your English tea party, consider mailing invitations to guests. In the age of email and text messaging, people often forget the simple thrill of receiving a pretty card in the mail. While you could order specifically engraved invitations, it is easier to buy a pack of nice cards from a paper or gift store, and personalize them yourself. For a truly authentic tea, request that your guests wear gloves and hats. If you wish a more relaxed gathering, ask your guests to wear whatever outfit makes them feel prettiest.

Tea is an essential part of an English tea party.
Tea is an essential part of an English tea party.

As it is a tea party, a primary concern is what tea service to use. One popular variety of teapot is the Brown Betty, a pleasingly round, ceramic pot made in England. For something more showy, teapots are available in a variety of beautiful patterns and colors. For an authentic English tea party, consider a porcelain teapot with a floral motif.

Honey should be included for guests to add to their tea.
Honey should be included for guests to add to their tea.

In terms of what tea to serve the most likely to be authentic is a black tea. If you are choosing from store-bought brands, English Breakfast, Yorkshire, Prince of Wales and P.G. Tipps all are excellent choices. If you wish to special-order tea for your English tea party, look carefully at the grade of tea. In ascending order of quality, the types of black tea are Bohea, Pekoe, Congou and Souchong. Souchong is quite expensive, compared to other varieties, but bears a smoky and deep flavor for truly special occasions.

Porcelain teapots may be featured during an English tea party.
Porcelain teapots may be featured during an English tea party.

As tea is not truly a full meal, you may want to have several varieties of bite-sized canapés and small sandwiches. Commonly used ingredients include smoked salmon or deviled eggs. For sandwiches, egg or chicken salad, watercress, cream cheese and walnuts and ham and tomato are all common verities. For an authentic look, stack the sandwiches in a pyramid and serve on a silver platter.

Ferns make great decorations for an English Tea Party.
Ferns make great decorations for an English Tea Party.

Desserts for an English tea party should be similarly small. Lemon curd or cherry tartlets are delicious and attractive, and can easily be made into individual portions. You may want to try making a traditional English tea sweet, such as a Bakewell tart or fern cake. A selection of cookies or an easy strawberry shortcake is also excellent ways to finish off a tea.

To set the mood for your tea party, simple touches can make your environment elegant and beautiful. Instead of using paper napkins, try inexpensive cloth varieties. Decorate with a few large ferns or vases of flowers. Consider a selection of Victorian-era classical music, such as Elgar or the comic songs of Gilbert and Sullivan. Keep in mind that formal does not need to mean stuffy or stiff, and remember that a relaxed and pleasant environment is always the best thing a hostess can provide.

Smoked salmon is a common filling for tea sandwiches.
Smoked salmon is a common filling for tea sandwiches.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments

Pippinwhite

I've been considering having an afternoon tea for some of my girl cousins. This article gives some nice pointers. I'd love to have a Brown Betty teapot. They are so homey and warm looking.

No deviled eggs on my menu, but I was considering a curried chicken salad. Maybe ham on tiny beaten biscuits.

I'd also like to locate a good, reliable recipe for a Bakewell tart. I suppose that will require more research. If I do it in the spring, a strawberry shortcake would be good too, since the strawberries would be in season. Scones would also be good, if I could locate some Devonshire cream to go with them.

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