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Hosting a Tea Party

Hosting a Tea Party
The Ritual
A quintessentially British respite, the English tea party dates back to the mid-19th century. It was then that a hungry duchess, knowing that dinner would be fashionably late, first requested bread, butter and little cakes with her late-afternoon tea. The British remain devoted to their 4:00 break, taking tea on everyday crockery and heirloom silver, in cozy tea rooms, venerable department stores and the finest luxury hotels. It's a ritual with universal appeal that transplants beautifully.

Afternoon tea is an ideal format for entertaining. Everyone responds to the warmth of the brew itself, the finger foods, the use of time-honored accessories mixed with new finds and the reviving pause in routine.

The Menu and the Mood
Our menu honors tradition with classic tea sandwiches and flaky currant-studded scones. If you'd like, add your favorite cookies or bite-sized tarts and pastries to the offerings. Create a cream tea by serving strawberry preserves and clotted cream or whipped cream alongside the scones.

Now is the time to set out your most treasured cups and saucers, linens and trays, whether antique or modern. Borrow an idea from hotel service and arrange the food on tiered stands—sandwiches on the bottom, sweets on top (the etiquette is to eat your way up).

Decorate simply and in season, and have music playing as guests arrive. Harp or piano solos set a proper ambience, as would the wild tangos and swooping waltzes that were once the rage at hotel tea dances. Or opt for selections from the 1920s and 30s, the decades that best reflect the nostalgia of British tea shops.