Tea is to a tea party what beer is to guys' night in the man cave. Tea isn't the only requirement, though. A good tea party is about creating an old timey, gracious ambience, and that requires attention to detail. You don't have to live in a palace, serve lots of expensive food or hire a wait staff to do the honors. A tea party can be a late morning to late afternoon affair. It can be held indoors or outdoors, and it can include from as few as two people to more than a hundred.
You should also observe some practical rules:
- Send invitations -- A written invitation will set the perfect tone for a tea party. Remember, a tea party usually conjures visions of rose bouquets, lace, bone china, delightfully decadent sweets and cunningly crafted sandwiches. You may not be including all of those things in your party, but putting together an invitation that plays to those ideas will get people in the mood. Your invitation should also include the date, time, location and planned duration of the party. Request an RSVP, and send the invitations well in advance, too. Six weeks ahead isn't too soon.
- Consider a theme -- Beyond feeling nostalgic for the good old days, there are lots of reasons to host a tea party. It could be part of a larger wedding celebration. It could also be for a graduation, birthday party or retirement celebration. It isn't too hard to integrate a theme like retirement (think leisure activities like gardening or travel) or graduation into a tea party in the table decorations, invitations and food. You can also stick to classics like a spring fling with lots of flowers. If extravagance is more your thing, think along the lines of Alice in Wonderland/Queen of Hearts, a derby party or a Japanese tea garden. Picking a theme, even if it's just a color scheme, it will be easier to come up with good, specific ideas. Knowing that you'll be using a bouquet of light yellow roses as a centerpiece will make it easier to decide on things like the cake frosting and table cloth design.
- Establish a dress code -- Tea parties can run the gamut from dauntingly formal to hole-in-your-running-shoe casual. Mention the dress code in your invitations. You don't need to go overboard, but you can, say, recommend dresses for the ladies (oh, and maybe hats!), and dress slacks for the men. If you want things comfortably casual, let folks know that, too.
- Savory, sweet or both -- Tea party refreshments can be playful and understated with cookies and petit fours. They can also include more robust appetizer trays that add finger sandwiches and other two-bite specialties. You can also host a tea party that includes a complete buffet service. You should keep in mind that "tea" doesn't mean "luncheon," so your invitations should spell out what guests can expect. As important as the food will be, it's the presentation that will win the day at a tea party. Keep the serving sizes on the small side, and pay particular attention to the way food is plated. Stacking cold cuts on a platter may be good form for an office party, but you should include some creative flourish with tea party fare. Roll those cold cuts and include some greenery and nicely displayed fruits and cheeses. Tasty is good, but pretty and tasty is even better.
- Include entertainment -- Sipping tea to classical music may seem refined, but it gets boring fast. Make sure your tea party is a success by incorporating some entertainment into the afternoon. You can play games, include a craft presentation or even host a jewelry or fashion show. There's lots of potential for innovation here. If you know your friends' particular likes, you'll be able to come up with some great options.
- Don't forget the tea -- Yes, tea parties include tea, and even if you aren't a fan of the brown stuff, there are some variations that are sure to work for your party. You can go with serving classic teas like Darjeeling, oolong, Earl Grey and English breakfast, or opt for iced tea or sun tea. Iced, fruity teas work particularly well for a spring or summer tea party. You can try something new like chai tea, too. It's a blend of cinnamon, allspice and other spices served with milk. It's a bit like Christmas in a cup. If there will be tea purists present, make sure to brew loose rather than bagged tea, use boiling water (not just hot -- unless it's green tea), and steep the tea precisely. Otherwise, the tea police may cite you for beverage abuse.