How to Throw the Perfect Tea Party

Growing up in a family who look upon teatime as a revered ritual, I long ago experienced the delights of a proper tea party. There is nothing better than a decent high tea (except perhaps BBQ pulled pork) and all the delights of an English tea room. The best are, of course, in Bath with its Georgian cream houses, cobbled streets and cute little nooks and crannies at every corner, but there are also some pretty tea houses in London too...

Mad Hatter's Tea at The Sanderson Hotel
I went here for my birthday a few years back and it was absolutely lovely! There were little brown bottles labelled 'drink me,' teas with interesting flavours such as 'strawberries and cream,' Alice in Wonderland themed crockery, menus slipped into old books, sugar cubes in music boxes and napkins folded neatly with a riddle. Adorable!

High Tea at The Browns
This is a more pricey option but great for a special occasion. The interiors are simply beautiful and the atmosphere is much calmer and more relaxing than other busy, more bumbling tea rooms.

Afternoon Tea at The National Portrait Gallery
Going for tea here is great as after a wander through all the beautiful collections the gallery has to offer, you can pop upstairs for teatime in the gallery's restaurant which has views across St Paul's and The Houses of Parliament. Now that's what I call a perfect little trip into town!

Tea Emporium in North Finchley
This opened relatively recently just up the road from me. With reasonable prices, mismatching floral china and a cute interior which includes bunting, it's a perfect local tea room. I really hope it stays open!

There are plenty of other tea rooms I hope to explore, such as the Tea Rooms at Stoke Newington, Kettner's in Soho and Mari Vanna in Knightsbridge (this one is essentially a Russian restaurant but it's set up like a living room and offers high tea - have a look, it's so sweet!). Are there any nice tea rooms you've been to that you could recommend? Let me know in the comment box below!

This is all very well, but no one has the time nor the money to spend their weeks frequenting tea rooms. If you want to recreate this wonderful experience in your home, I've put together a little guide just for you! Imagine dainty Royal Albert china teacups, scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, row upon row of neat little cucumber sandwiches stacked up alongside slices of mouth-watering double chocolate muffins towering above on gold-rimmed cake stands... ahhh bliss! So if you're as tea-obsessed as I am, imagine no more and read on my fellow Hatters and you shall learn how to throw a tea party worthy of Wonderland!

Step 1: China
This is perhaps the most important part of hosting an afternoon tea. Depending on what style you're going for, teacups can range from plain creams to complete sets to mismatching florals, but all must always have saucers. There is nothing so terrible as a tea stain on fresh white linen, and you wouldn't want to embarrass your guests by risking this awkward situation. I'm slowly making up a collection of tea sets as we already have a full cream and gold set and I quite like the mismatching look. I've been buying single sets here and there mostly from Camden Market - this is a great place to find some really beautiful second-hand tea sets. Portobello would also be a good call if you're looking for something without a hefty price tag.

Sugar dishes and milk jugs are also very important additions to your tea party. A small spoon should always be placed both in the sugar and on each saucer; nobody wants soggy, clumped sugar! An easy way to avoid this is to have a small dish with sugar cubes with a pair of tongs. Cake stands also make lovely additions plus they ensure the table doesn't look too cluttered. My tea parties haven't quite reached the level of tea infusers, but if you want to use loose leaf tea make sure you include these with a base or strainer to save your guests politely chewing on stray leaves.

Having a good teapot is of the utmost importance. Something with a sturdy handle and a long spout is favourable as they make for easier pouring, however there are plenty of quirky and wonderful designs out there so don't be afraid to branch out! A note on teabags in teapots: add one per person, then one extra for the pot, so if there is four of you, you should put five teabags in the pot.

Step 2: Tablecloths and Serviettes
Having a nice clean tablecloth is definitely an aspect that will reflect well on the host (that's you, yay!). Unless you're making a statement by not using one because you're going for a shabby-chic look and the whitewashed wood effect of your coffee table perfectly matches the look you're going for, it is crucial. Whether white and lacy, canary yellow or mint green with polka dots, a tablecloth really adds a refined touch to your table.

Serviettes are also an important addition to your tea party. I anticipate by now, dear reader, that you are beginning to understand that we are talking of serious high teas here and am hoping that questions involving... kitchen rolls (!!!) will not arise. If they do, quell them immediately! Now a serviette (yes I mean a napkin, please forgive my poncyness) is a wonderful thing. It folds in all kinds of beautiful ways. My sister and I experimented with these early on in our lives studying an array of napkin folding books and trying our hand at new inventive techniques (I ski). There is indeed nothing at all wrong with a simple fan, however even a double fan folded in half (as in these photos) is a tad more imaginative. I, personally, am a huge fan of the lotus or the boat/Sydney Opera House. Google them. They're purtyyyyy.

Step 3: Food

An array of different sweet and savoury foods is a good idea, however try to keep the majority of it light; it's only teatime after all! Small bite-size sandwiches filled with smoked salmon or cucumber are common, but the most famous of all high tea treats is the scone. I have found that clotted cream can be a little tricky to find (I eventually stumbled upon it in M&S... of course), and it may be an expense that you don't feel is necessary. Scones with butter and strawberry jam are indeed very lovely, but if you're planning on pulling all the stops out then some clotted cream is an absolute must!

Cupcakes, muffins or biscuits are all also treats that are warmly welcomed at a high tea table. Depending on the style of your tea party, you may want to make themed buttercream cupcakes or if you're going for an extra-cute look, pink wafers or party rings may be your preferred choice. If you're feeling particularly adventurous, there's no cake better suited to a cute tea party than the rainbow cake (yes that is that glorious coloured layered thing). Just a warning though, before you take on this task be sure you have 6-7 cake dishes of the same size. I did not and it took  f o r e v e r.

Forest fruits are good additions to the tea table as they refresh and lighten the palette after heavy, dense foods.

Step 4: Pretty Additions
I'm the sort of person that tends to get rather carried away with a theme so this is the part that really excites me! Every year my sister takes away some of the decorations I've crammed onto the Christmas table and every year I sneakily put them back bit by bit. Muahaha. But on a serious note, don't overcrowd your table. You don't want your guests to feel squashed and unable to butter their muffins (no innuendo intended).

I've had steampunk themed tea parties before where I sprinkled tiny cogs all over the tablecloth, adorned plates with pocket watches and even dismantled an old kitchen timer, did it up and placed it on a corner of the table so that there was a constant ticking. How annoying :D

For a classic tea party, the extras may simply include a vase of fresh roses. So simple but they make such a difference. As we tell our boys; flowers go a long way!

Another optional extra might be to pop cushions all around the tea table and seat your guests on the floor which could be quite sweet. Of course this only works if you have a low table. Don't let's be silly!

And there you have it! You're all ready to host your first tea party. Good luck!

Clean cup! Clean cup! Move down!

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