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How to Host a Tea Party

Homemade Chai

A tea gathering is one of the easiest, most relaxed events to host, and you’re welcome to leave Victorian etiquette behind and put your own spin on the party.

You don’t really need an excuse to plan one — getting together for good conversation and sociable noshing is always enough! — but there are some classic occasions for teas. A baby or wedding shower, celebrating Mother’s Day or a birthday, and welcoming a new neighbor or coworker are just a few times that are particularly suited to teas.

And warm weather means you can easily take your party outside.

Tea Party Basics

A teapot is the centerpiece of your gathering. Don’t have one? You can always borrow one if you’re not up for investing in one, or try local thrift stores to get a pot on the cheap.

Brewing loose tea requires a way to strain out the tea leaves, so make sure you have a strainer to catch them as you pour if your pot doesn’t have one built in. Of course you can always use tea bags if you prefer, and even if you’re brewing you might want to have some herbal or decaffeinated bags on hand for guests who prefer them.

Cups with saucers are the usual for tea, but don’t feel you need a matched set; mixing patterns and styles is charming and makes it easy to borrow some or bump up your collection by getting a few second-hand. You’ll also want teaspoons (again, they don’t have to match), and a holder for sugar, honey and milk on the table for guests to help themselves.

Finger foods are the classic for tea parties, and a mix of both savory and sweet is usual. Think small sandwiches, crostini or bruschetta, muffins, scones, cookies, and bite-size pastries.

You’re welcome to break tradition, of course, but including at least a few elegant nibbles is part of the tea ritual, and as a bonus they’re easy to prepare ahead of time and don’t require reheating. Display some of your offerings on a tiered tea tray if you have one, or just use a variety of platters (lining them with paper doilies is strictly optional!).

Here are some ideas for easy parties with recipe suggestions to get you started planning a tea.

Traditional Afternoon Tea

Brew up a black tea like Earl Grey or English Breakfast, and if you like you can also offer sparkling wine for extra elegance.

Nothing says classic tea like scones and jam; this easy recipe for Currant Scones is about as traditional as it gets; just remember that scones are best when really fresh so try to bake them no more than a few hours ahead (they’ll make the house smell wonderful!). Serve them with sweet butter and marmalade or jam.

Add some savory finger sandwiches. Cucumber Sandwiches with Strawberries and Watercress cut into quarters are a perfect choice, packed with spring flavors.

Cucumber Sandwiches with Strawberries and Watercress

Finally, choose one or two types of cookies. Buttery shortbread are great, or try a nut-based cookie like these Mexican Tea Cookies, one of my very favorites.

Green Tea Party

You can take your gathering in a different direction by serving green tea and putting an Asian dim sum-like spin on your treats.

This unique brown-rice Mango-Crab Sushi recipe packs great sweet-savory flavor and the pieces are conveniently bite-sized.

Mango-Crab Sushi

Spring rolls or summer rolls are excellent accompaniments to green tea as well. For a non-traditional (but fabulously flavorful!) version I recommend Rice Paper Rainbow Wraps; they’re vegetarian and stuffed with cool veggies like beets and kale.

And for a sweet nicely matched to green tea it’s hard to beat these Mandarin Coconut Cookies, and the recipe makes a generous 3 dozen.

Kids’ Tea Party

Round up the teddy bears! A tea party makes a great kids’ get-together or birthday celebration and it’s super-easy to pull off.

You’ll want a non-caffeinated drink to serve: This classic Summer Lemonade or Limeade is easy enough for even young kids to help make, and you can pour it from a teapot into teacups for fun.

If you want the kids to enjoy something savory, an easy route is to make up some nut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut them into quarters and pile them on a platter. Or follow this simple recipe for Hummus Tea Sandwiches if your group includes anyone with nut allergies.

Cupcakes are an excellent choice, and just about de rigueur if you’re celebrating a birthday. You can serve classic ones or minis. These Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cupcakes with Orange Cream Frosting are a favorite with both kids and adults.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cupcakes with Orange Cream Frosting

As an alternative, go for a fruit-based sweet. You can’t miss with the always popular Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries — make a double or triple batch if you want any leftovers!

Have you ever hosted a tea party? What are your favorite treats to serve with tea?