"Taking Tea" is a daily tradition in some parts of the world and a decadent luxury in others. However you see afternoon tea, I don't know anyone who doesn't love the opportunity to set aside a busy life to enjoy a cup of tea, beautiful flowers, luscious treats, and a wonderful visit with friends.
I love a spontaneous gathering of two or three friends over a cup of herbal tea and some yummy cucumber sandwiches. But with the popularity of afternoon tea, many tea rooms and restaurants require reservations weeks in advance, making spontaneity difficult.
Afternoon tea is traditionally enjoyed between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. The British tradition of serving tea with milk and sugar has been set aside and now plain, flavored tea, coffee, or iced tea is perfectly acceptable. The crusts are cut off of soft bread slices to make small sandwiches of smoked salmon, cucumber and butter, or egg salad and watercress. English scones are served with butter, clotted cream and strawberry jam. The light meal is finished with sweet cakes, tarts, petit fours, and other pastries.
When served in a hotel or cafe, this afternoon treat is sometimes called High Tea, which gives a more elegant meaning to the simple meal.
However, High Tea really refers to a light meal served between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., often taking the place of a supper. Included on the menu would be cold sliced meats, sandwiches, and cakes.
Entertaining Guide, Donna Pilato, has some recipes and menus, tips on brewing and serving a proper cup of tea, and some fun afternoon tea traditions. She has a wonderful article on Hosting a Tea Party.
When you're ready to plan a tea party, see our pretty tea table settings, gather together your tea serving pieces, and assemble a rose centerpiece with the help of our step-by-step tutorial.
Each person's tea table will be set in a different way, reflecting the occasion and the style of dishes you own. Use your own china and serving pieces as inspiration.
- If you have plain colored china without any decoration, you can choose either plain colored or patterned napkins and tablecloths. Your colors can be delicate and feminine or bold and contemporary.
- If you have patterned china, you'll want to choose colors that complement your china. The pattern of the dishes will set the tone for the setting. If the china is very floral, your linens will probably need to be plain colors. If the china has a geometric pattern, you might be able to find linens that complement the pattern.
Our tea tables draw their color schemes and centerpieces from the dishes themselves. One of the patterns is classic blue and white, one is a very floral antique English china, and the third is a contemporary cheery yellow fruited and floral pattern.
Once you've seen our tea tables, get out your own dishes and see what you can put together. Then invite some friends over, brew a pot of tea, and enjoy the afternoon.
See a tea table set with classic blue and white china.
Use colorful new china for our Lemon Tea Table.
Take out your best china for a special occasion tea party.
You can find blue and white china in antique stores, department stores, and discount home goods stores. The traditional and beautiful patterns fit into almost any interior, both classic and contemporary.
Depending on the pattern chosen, you can probably use almost any color of table linens. Pink and yellow would create a feminine look while another hue of blue, orange, or red would look wonderful in a more contemporary home. If the pattern chosen is intricate and busy, keep the table linens simple and let the china itself be the center of attention.
Spode's Blue Colonel is an elegant blue and white pattern trimmed with gold. Their Blue Italian pattern, made continuously since 1816, is a classic.
For our blue and white tea table, we've put together a two-tiered serving piece using 2 different sized Spode plates. You can make your own with a dinner plate, a stemmed or tumbler drinking glass, and some white floral clay.
- Spread a bead of white floral clay along the top rim of the glass. Place the glass upside down in the center of the largest plate with the clay keeping the glass in place. Add another bead of clay to the base of the glass (now the top of the support) and place the smaller plate on to of the glass. If you need to camouflage the bead of clay, tuck in some individual leaves or wipe off any clay that seeps out.
Other serving pieces can be seen in our Guide to Traditional Tea Serving Pieces.
Our blue and white tea table is decorated with pink roses and white and purple iris. You could also use peonies, ranunculus, stalks of blue delphinium, blue, white, or pink hydrangea, or almost any color of roses.
If you don't have the time or resources to put together a flower arrangement, pile fresh strawberries or raspberries into a beautiful crystal or silver bowl and garnish with mint leaves or small flowers. Be sure to have a bowl of whipped or clotted cream or sour cream and brown sugar for your guests. The centerpiece won't last through your party, but will be enjoyed by all!
You might want to check out more resources about tea and tea parties.
- This Guide to Coffee and Tea tells the difference between afternoon tea and high tea.
- Read Adventures on the High Tea for a report of tea at Le Royal Meridien King Edward Hotel in Toronto.
- And learn How to Clean Tea Stains from a China Teapot.
Villeroy & Boch's French Garden Fleurence, with its colorful fruits, fresh flowers, and trellis border, is the centerpiece for our "Lemon Tea Table."
Yellow, green, rosy pink and delicate blue offer lots of tones for a color scheme for a summer tea party. This china is slightly casual in style, so would be great for a less formal affair. We've chosen a white tablecloth, but a soft green, yellow or delicate stripe would work well, too. Napkins and candles should be color coordinated with the china.
We've used a platter of beautiful fresh lemons for our centerpiece. A footed glass serving piece would add height to the table, if needed. Tuck in leaves for color. You don't need to stick with lemons, though. Add cherries, kumquats, small apples or pears, or create a pretty floral centerpiece using the colors from the china. Stems of yellow roses, yellow daffodils, cheery daisies, stock, green hydrangea heads, yellow freesia, and stock would look lovely.
Just for fun, plan your tea menu to coordinate with the china. Lemon meringue tarts, lemon-shaped sugar cookies, and even a lemon-scented tea would really carry the theme.
Learn more about Afternoon Tea on these links:
If you are fortunate enough to have some beautiful antique china, a tea party is the perfect time to use it. My parents' china, Coalport's India Tree, is an elegant floral china with lots of colors and a classic design. I save it for special occasions just like this!
Its many colors look beautiful on a white linen cloth, but it can be toned down a bit with linen colors taken from the china. We've used pink napkins and pink roses for the pretty centerpiece. But bolder colors can be chosen if men will be joining you for tea.
When you bring out your best china, it's time to polish your silver serving pieces for serving the treats. Keep in mind that some foods can tarnish silver, so it's a good idea to use a cloth or paper doily to the tray under the food. Then garnish the plate with a few leaves, berries, or flowers. On this table, lemon leaves decorate the scone tray and a mountain of fresh raspberries provide a colorful accent.