Tea party etiquette

I had a little tea party
This afternoon at three
‘Twas very small, three guests in all,
Just I, myself, and me.

Myself ate all the sandwiches
While I drank up the tea
‘Twas also I who ate the pie
And passed the cake to me.

-Author unknown

               Ever since receiving a copy of this poem as a child, I have dreamed of the day that I would host my own tea party, though perhaps a less lonely one! Though I held a few during my teen years, it was not until last week that I hosted my very first ladies’ tea. I felt that January would be a good month because of the warmth and coziness associated with a tea and because I wanted to have something to look forward to after the highly anticipated holiday season had wound down.

               Anne Oliver’s book Finishing Touches gives specific guidelines for every type of tea from informal to formal and afternoon tea to high tea or the evening meal variety. I combined aspects from the dainty afternoon tea and the hearty peasant meal formerly known as high tea in giving my casual event.

               The following are some tips and hints I utilized in preparing for and providing my tea party.

Pick the guests:
-Decide on a guest list and send the invitations. I sent mine via email a few weeks in advance because my friends’ calendars tend to fill up so quickly; a reminder email went out a few days before the RSVP deadline.

Choose which foods and beverages will be served. My menu:
-mixed nuts
-a vegetable tray and hummus
-cucumber sandwiches (link)
-homemade ginger snaps
-homemade blueberry scones (link)
-petit fours
-a variety of black and herbal teas.
It turned out to be way too much food but at least there was something for everyone. For future reference, I noted that the ham, scones, petit fours, and cucumber sandwiches were the most popular items. No one drank any beverage other than tea.

Decorate the party room. I hosted in my living room to have adequate space for my eight guests.
-Pay attention to details. I used candles in hurricane jars, a wood fire, a vase of fresh flowers, cloth table covers and napkins, and hand painted mismatched tea cups and saucers.
-Make sure the room is uncluttered and clean; move items that do not contribute to the ambiance of the event.

-One’s house may need deodorizing if one has pets, uses a wood-burning fireplace, cooks with strong-smelling foods, or opts for natural cleaning methods instead of harsh chemicals.
-A Himalayan salt lamp lit for several hours will neutralize most odors, and a sprinkling of baking soda with some essential oils left to sit on the carpet, then vacuumed, will also help greatly.
-A scented candle or two does not hurt, but the best way to deal with odors is to eliminate them not cover them up.
-To further minimize any unpleasant background smells, make sure the trash is empty before the guests arrive.
-The best way to tell if a room has an unpleasant smell that one may have grown accustomed to from being exposed to it is to go outside for a few minutes and breathe deeply. Upon re-entering the room one should be able to tell if further deodorizing efforts are necessary.

Prepare for people:
-Have enough seats for each person and a place to set dishes and food
-Leave enough room between the chairs, tables, and food area for everyone to move comfortably
-Designate a place for coats to hang
-Sequester any pets in their own room with the necessary provisions. Guests come to see their hostess, not her pets.
-For an adults-only event, the hostess’s children should be cared for out of home so that the hostess can focus her attention on her guests.
-Boil the water for the tea and keep the kettle on a warming burner right up until the first guests arrive for fresh hot water.

Be the perfect hostess:
-Greet guests at the door. In severe or harsh weather, one should check often at the door and window to see if someone is approaching so that she can open the door immediately upon their arrival and they do not have to linger in the cold.
-Sit in a spot from which you can see all of your guests
-When speaking, make sure to make eye contact with each woman present
-Guide the guests through the process of obtaining food and drink; do not leave them to figure things out for themselves. In my case, the food was served buffet-style with each person filling her own plate and choosing her own tea bag, while I chose their tea cups and poured the water for them.
-Perceive their needs and meet them without waiting to be asked.
-Do not dominate the conversation; let the guests talk about what interests them. If the conversation becomes stale, sad, or otherwise unpleasant, find a creative way to move things forward to a more congenial topic.
-Stay on point. If the event includes a sharing of poetry, as did mine, make sure everyone has her turn and express appreciation for each person’s participation.
-Wrap things up when the guests are ready to leave, or around your stated ending time. No one wants to feel obligated to stay and entertain a chatty hostess who overstays her own welcome.
-Walk the departing guests to the door, make eye contact, and with a hug or a squeeze, thank each guest for having taken the time to come.

               To sum up: a hostess ought to focus on beautiful surroundings, delectable nourishment, and empathetic interaction for an enjoyable evening of entertaining. Breathe and be confident. My stomach was in knots before it started but by the time it was over I was having so much fun I wanted to overstay my welcome! Here’s to many more evenings of elegant entertaining.


4 thoughts on “Tea party etiquette

  1. Love this! We NEVER have tea parties and I would love to enjoy the company of a few friends in this way. Thank you for the wonderful suggestions and I will get right on planning one myself!


  2. At your next tea party, you could even make your tea bags yourself, it is quite easy and a very sweet attention to your guests. You can find the DIY on my blog : mariage nature
    Always nice reading you !


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