A very British tradition, afternoon tea is the height of refined sophistication, but it’s a pursuit which is very rarely held at home. We at IDEAL think this is a real shame, as hospitality and hosting burns bright in the hearts of our national consciousness.
Enjoying an afternoon tea in one of London’s many hotels is great, after all who doesn’t like being waited on hand and foot, but as it can often reach over a hundred pounds per head, it’s not sustainable as a frequent hobby. Therefore, throwing your own high tea party could be the best solution. It’s time to throw some tea in the pot, some sandwiches on the table and throw your own do with our guide on how to host the IDEAL afternoon tea party.
If you want your afternoon tea party to reach hotel standards (or, whisper it, exceed them) you’re going to have to invest in some essential items. Fear not, as this only needs to happen once, and once your party gets a reputation as a roaring success, you’ll get plenty of use out of your outlay. A three level tier cake is a must, as there’s something ceremonial about this tall, proud centrepiece.
If you already own silverware, that’s great, but you don’t have to go out and spend excessive amounts on new items; just use your very best chinaware and crockery, and if you don’t own any teacups, charity shops are fantastic for old fashioned floral chinaware. Don’t worry if you can’t find a full complement of items, as a mismatched style actually works really well in the domestic environment. If your heart is set on a set, then personalise it for a really unique, fun finish with Countryside Art Customisable Mugs. Teapots and a cake slicer are other must haves.
The quirkier, the better we think, so don’t hold back. You’ll want to evoke the street parties of yesteryear with hanging bunting and lace doilies as placemats. Channel a Cath Kidson/paisley print style of design, with floral tablecloths or cushions to add that extra sprinkle of homely charm.
If you really want to transport people to another time and place, offer escapism in the form of a theme; and should you change the theme with each event, it will keep things fresh and exciting (and keep people coming back for more, too!). To get the ball rolling, we’re thinking an Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatters Tea Party is about as on point as you can get.
Should you be stuck for ideas, take inspiration from the season that you’re throwing your the event in. If it’s strawberry season, serve strawberry tea and make a centerpiece cake topped with fresh ones. Or why not throw a pink afternoon to commemorate breast cancer awareness month in October, for instance, and raise money for Breast Cancer Care.
THE ALL IMPORTANT SCONES
Whether you pronounce it scone or scoooone, insist on sultanas or prefer plain, put your jam on first or open with a layer of cream, it can’t be argued that scones are the very essence of an afternoon tea party. If you don’t serves scones then we’re afraid to say that it’s just having a cuppa with friends. Choose your pronunciation, and don’t falter. Pledge allegiance to a method and stick to it; ‘the Devonshire’ dictates that you should smother a scone in cream before adding jam, while the groupies of ‘the Cornish’ persuasion insist jam should be applied first. But most importantly, serve the very best version you can muster (or buy them in – there’s no shame in that).
YOUR FAVOURITE FINGER FOOD
The great thing about hosting your own afternoon tea party is that you can choose your favourite finger food, and get as playful or creative with it as you want. Apart from the scones as mainstay, with the rest of the spread you should think about creating different layers and textures. Sandwiches of different shapes, sizes and fillings make up the backbone of the savoury section, but don’t be afraid to serve sausage rolls, quiches and smoked salmon blinis.
Where cakes are concerned (and you should of course be concerned about cakes) get some inspiration from the Great British Bake off and try your hand at making something fancy like a battenberg cake – visually, as well as edibly, stunning – to really impress your guests. And although they’re technically French, here at IDEAL we can’t resist macaroons for a vibrant, eye catching dessert display. And don’t get us started on our love for madeleines.
It’s taken us this long to mention the headlining act, but the clue’s in the name….it’s called a ‘tea’ party, after all. So to make sure the brew doesn’t become an afterthought, it has to be loose tea leaves. Each type of tea requires a different length of infusion time and temperature, so check carefully first. Don’t assume all teas were created equal, as a rule. Filtered water provides the finest results, and generally it’s best to only boil the kettle once for proper aeration.
These days, you can’t throw an afternoon tea party without a glass/bottle or two of prosecco. Afternoon tea is a special occasion after all and nothing says special like a glass of fizz. In the summer months, we think a pink champagne afternoon tea hosted in the garden with strawberry cupcakes is ideal.
As with any party you’re hosting, don’t give yourself too much last minute work. ‘Hosting’ is not simply plonking refreshments down on the table and making youself scarce; quite the opposite in fact; your tea and snacks need to be accompanied by good conversation and attentiveness.
Save yourself some work by making cakes in advance and stashing them in the freezer. However, scones are best served fresh out of the oven, and as they’re such an integral part of the party, you should prep them fresh. Prep the filling for the sandwiches in advance – slice the cucumber in the morning, for instance – but don’t assemble them untill just before eating, as otherwise there’s a danger of soggy bottoms. And you certainly don’t want your party to be known for that.