The Victorians might have been a stuffy bunch, but there is something to be said for the careful ritual of afternoon tea. The formality can make it more enjoyable, delight your guests, and perhaps be the beginning of a weekly tradition for you and your closest girlfriends.
Start with an Invitation. We’re not talking an email, a facebook message, or even a phone call. Get out some nice stationary, a fancy dip pen, or the graphic design program on your computer. Sending a paper invitation, through the mail, tells your guests you are honouring them with a thoughful invitation that really means something, not just an offhanded shout that they may or may not recieve, depending on whether or not they check their email regularly. Take some time to design something nice, include the place and date, and perhaps an extra token like a pressed flower to dress it up a bit.
Prepare the Table. On the day of, make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to prepare the setting. High tea demands certain niceties of decoration. You must have a tablecloth, something light like cotton or linen, and it can be dressed up with some lace doilies perhaps. A centerpiece of fresh flowers is a wonderful touch, and cotton or linen napkins for each guest.
Serving Pieces. The art of Teatime is best exemplified in the delicate and elegant serving accesories that go with it. Get out the china you never use – perhaps that set you inherited from your grandmother. Its too lovely to keep locked up in the china cabinet for fear of breaking it, and an afternoon tea is the perfect occasion to air it out, especially since the atmosphere of the event will instill a respect in your guests ensuring that nothing is carelessly broken. Silverware is also a must, if you have it. Many of these items can be obtained second hand for moderate prices these days, if you haven’t inherited a set. Look through second hand stores and antiques markets to chose the perfect china cups and saucers. Or let friends and family know you would like “tea party” items for Christmas and birthdays – an antique china tea pot, some silver tongs for sugar cubes, or a damask linen table cloth.
The Proper Ettiquete for Serving. After asking your guests whether they woyuld like cream and sugar, there is an order that must be followed. Cream goes first into the cups (we actually use milk, but call it cream, as real cream will curdle from the tannins in strong black tea.) Then the sugar cubes, and then finally the tea is poured in. For guests who don’t want tea, a large bowl of punch may be made available, and this is also part of the Victorian tradition, so don’t feel like you’re breaking the rules at all.
Menu. Of course a light snack must be included in the afternoon. Aside from tea – of which black varieties Darjeeling and Assam are the most recommended – you may also want to serve scones, tea biscuits, tea sandwhiches (cucumber perhaps?) and a desert such as butter tarts or a light cake. Search out some recipes for these in advance, and perhaps test them out in advance so you know you wil be able to get the recipes just right.
Now you have the plans for a perfect afternoon tea, a gathering rich with tradition to delight young and old, and bring you and your friends that much closer together.