What could be more relaxing than enjoying an afternoon catching up with friends, sipping hot tea, and indulging in elegant small bites? Tea parties are back—they're even a predicted Pinterest trend for 2022!—and they're an excellent way to easily make an average weekend (or an event such as a birthday or bridal shower) feel celebratory and chic.
If you're looking to host a tea party or preparing to attend such an event, you'll want to be sure to brush up on your teatime etiquette beforehand. We spoke with three leading etiquette experts who shared insight on everything from a proper teatime menu to suitable attire.
Meet the Expert
- Jules Martinez Hirst is an etiquette expert and instructor, and the co-author of the book Power of Civility.
- Lisa Mirza Grotts is a self-proclaimed "new school" etiquette expert with over two decades of experience.
- Courtney Fadler is an etiquette expert and with licenses from the Emily Post Institute in Business Etiquette and Children’s Etiquette.
How to Host
If you're hosting an afternoon tea party, impress your guests by doing a bit of quick research into how this type of celebration came about. "If you really want to show you're tea savvy, make sure to call it by its proper name," etiquette expert Courtney Fadler notes. "The true tea we think of from the Victorian era with tea and scones is called 'afternoon tea,' not 'high tea' as some hotels and restaurants often advertise."
Demonstrating your knowledge includes hosting your tea party at the proper time of day, too! "Afternoon tea was invented by the aristocracy of the Victorian era and was traditionally served around 4 p.m. to bridge the long gap between lunch and the later dinners of the era," Fadler adds. "If you want to really impress your tea guests, say we are 'having tea' not 'taking tea,' just the same way the Queen does as well!"
Where you choose to host your tea party in your home is up to you. If the weather is nice and you have patio or porch space, outdoors is certainly suitable. If you're limited to the indoors, gathering around the dining table can make for a welcome, formal touch. Are you a small space dweller? Setting up a tea party in the living room is just fine, too—just be sure that you have enough chairs for every guest to sit comfortably; no one should have to balance a teacup while sitting on the ground!
What to Serve
Tea parties are all about enjoying elegant, bite-sized delicacies. Etiquette expert Lisa Mirza Grotts is a proponent of serving a "modern/vintage mix-up: Add soup shooters, quiche bites (good for showers), and edible flowers," she suggests.
Choosing to display goodies on a traditional tea tray is an excellent way to get into theme further. Guests eating off the tray should "work from the bottom to the top," Fadler notes. As etiquette expert Jules Martinez Hirst explained, savory sandwiches should be placed on the bottom, scones in the middle, and dessert treats on top. Traditional, delicious sandwich options to serve include crab salad, curried egg, and pesto chicken, she adds.
And don't worry too much about utensils while enjoying your teatime treats. "Believe it or not, it really is appropriate to use your fingers," Fadler notes. "Be sure to offer a fork or spoon for desserts, though."
One of the perks of hosting or attending a tea party? Getting to sip tea out of a proper teacup rather than your usual to-go mug. But there is an art to doing so properly, Falder says. "When having tea, take care to stir from the top to the bottom of the teacup. Pretend the teacup is a clock and stir from 12 to 6 and back again, taking care not to bang the sides of the cup with your spoon."
What To Wear
Perhaps your host has requested traditional tea attire for her event. Not sure what this entails? Martinez Hirst weighs in. "Tea fashion consists of dresses, hat or fascinator, jewelry and gloves," she comments. "If this is an outdoor tea party, a parasol is the perfect finishing touch. The key is to dress up. Make sure that the clothes, shoes, and hat you choose to wear matches the ambiance of the tea venue or tea party."
For a more casual tea, a colorful sundress, cardigan, and sandals is also acceptable. Avoid denim and opt for pieces that are on the modest side. The more cheerful looking in design, the better.
How to Decorate
Tea parties are an excellent opportunity to break out the pastels and lace, Grotts shared. "[Set] your table with pastel place cards, cookies, and plates," she noted. "Next, serve your tea with mismatched china teacups and silver teaspoons. Lastly, decorate the table with a vintage lace table cloth. You can go to your local fabric store for remnants if you don't have one."
Martinez Hirst suggests adding flowers and candles to the tablescape, too. Dreamy!