BY PHOEBE SEIDMAN '25 & BEATRICE MAXWELL '25
Ever wonder where tea parties came from? In the early 1840s, the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Russell, complained of a “sinkful feeling” between a formal luncheon and dinner, so to quell her cravings, she had tea with some light appetizers around 4 pm. The duchess was friends with Queen Victoria, and once the queen attended, the tradition spread. Tea consumption shot up dramatically once these tea parties became popular, solidifying them as a key ritual in many homes to this day. Through the careful implementation of these simple steps, you may find yourself hosting the perfect tea party in no time, whilst maintaining appropriate decorum of course.
First, impeccable manners and dress are necessary at a tea party. As the host, you must carry yourself with poise and remind your guests to do the same: semi-formal or smart casual attire is a must—picture cocktail dress or collared shirts. You must maintain such decorum throughout your social gathering, ensuring you always graciously accept a gift from your attendees and express your gratitude for their company. You should also drink your tea quietly, without letting your spoon clink on the side of your glass. Finally, use proper table manners—that means no licking fingers, utilize appropriate utensils, and, contrary to popular belief, keep your pinky down.
To host a proper tea party, your tea and food must complement each other. Similar to pairing wine and food, putting thought into what flavors work together is of utmost importance. Black tea pairs nicely with heavier food, so it is a good beverage to pair with finger sandwiches, which contain meat. Green teas, on another note, go with lighter and more fruity flavors, whereas strong herbal teas complement simpler flavors such as scones. Generally, the food served at tea parties is light, not filling. Even in the Victorian era, cucumber sandwiches held the honor of being the best finger sandwiches at tea parties. Sweet and savory pastries, cookies, scones, and fruits are also popular picks. If you find yourself drawn to a more elevated ambiance, however, consider serving mini decorated cakes and elaborate tarts.
First impressions are everything, so while deliberating upon a theme for a proper tea party, consider the venue, food, time, and guests. Your theme must cater to your guests’ preferences; for example, if your friends are interested in foreign matters, a Parisian theme with pastries would satisfy your company. However, with an elderly group, a simple array of English treats will work just fine. Another thing to keep in mind is the location; most tea parties are hosted outside your own home, but, as with everything, context is key to deciding upon a location. A garden party is an excellent option to enjoy mild weather and integrate a floral theme, or you can create a relaxed atmosphere in your sitting room, decorated accordingly, of course. Choosing a theme for your tea party is an important step in the planning process, but it is also critical to note that you should feel at home in the ambiance you create. As the host you must allow yourself the space to accomodate for your own aura on occasion.
By following these simple instructions, you can successfully host a tea party worthy of the Mr. Darcys of the world. So, when you need a classy way to enjoy an afternoon with your friends, remember these helpful tips and tricks.