Saturday, May 22, 2010

Clean Cup, Move Down: How To Throw A Tea Party

I have talked previously about tea parties (of the tea, not tax, variety) and how fantastic they can be. A simple, friendly, delicious gathering that can be tailored for any season or occasion, it is a wonder that it hasn't become a huge trend yet.

In wondering this, I realized that perhaps people may want to throw tea parties, but think it is too large or too difficult a task, or simply have no idea how to approach it. Ergo, Rae's How-To-Party-Like-You're-Alice guide!

Tell Us A Story: Theme
If you're going to have a theme, decide on it right away, because everything else will be based upon it. Do you want it Wonderland-themed? Christmas-themed? Is it for a bridal shower or a birthday? Do you have a special desire for a Japanese tea, or something to celebrate spring? Everything you choose will be based on your theme--should you choose one. You don't have to; you can throw one as easily without a theme or rhyme or reason, and everyone will still have a lovely time.

The Best Butter: Eatables
What does one eat at a tea party? That is entirely up to you, but in general you want to keep a balance of things sweet and things savory, and all of them should be edible without utensils. Tea sandwiches, scones, tarts, and cookies are good options, though you can expand on that as you like. Homemade foods are the best, and recipes are available in myriad books and all over the Internet. If you have a theme, this is where you may begin to follow it, choosing cinnamon cookies for Christmas, pastel flower-shaped cookies for Spring, Victorian scones and tarts for a traditional high tea, and so forth. If you wish, you can end the party with Victorian-style ice cream sundaes, preferably in elegant dishes. If you prefer something less elegant, you may do that. You must only know the rules before you can break them. I do suggest putting a menu out, something with fancy script, so you don't get a lot of "What is this sandwich? What's in that cookie?" and so your table looks that much more high-class.

Take Some More Tea: Drinkables
The matter of tea is less obvious that you might think, and allows much room for creativity. Traditionally, you will have one or two pots of the same tea available, kept warm by a tea cozy. However, you may also allow each person to choose her own teabag, using the teapots for hot water. A good hostess should pour the water for each of her guests, at least for the first teabags. Presentation of a set of teabags is terribly important, and they may be fanned out in a shallow bowl or basket, or kept neatly in a tea box. If your party is during summer and perhaps outdoors, you may wish to avoid traditional hot tea altogether in favor of iced tea. This may make the entire affair much more casual, but it will surely be as enjoyable. Again, if you have a theme, consider it as you choose the tea: green tea for Japanese, Twining's Christmas flavor for the holiday season, and so on. Finally, as with the eatables, if you have many teas available I suggest having a fancy-script menu available for perusal.

Tea-Tray In The Sky: Teaware, Tablecloths, and Accessories
If you can match your teaware to your theme, do so. Use a tablecloth, preferably an elegant one, to protect your table, to hide ugly tables, and to force multiple tables to match if you are inviting many people. You will need at least one teapot, for tea or for hot water. You will want a sugar bowl (with sugar cubes, as sugar packets are rather too tacky) if any of your guests will want sweeter tea. A creamer will do to hold cream or milk. You will also want teacups (or glasses, though only if you're doing iced tea), and saucers. The saucers are necessary in case of spillage, and many guests place used teabags on them. The also look most lovely. You will want attractive plates or tiered trays to hold your edibles, and small- to medium-sized plates for the guests. Since you will likely need jam and butter for scones or other eatables, you will also need jam-knives and butter-knives, and perhaps a small plate or bowl to hold the butter. Many jam jars are attractive as-is, though you may wish to tie a ribbon around them. I don't suggest removing the jam from the jar, because it will make putting away the excess more difficult than necessary. For any necessary thing that you don't have, ask friends if you can borrow them (although I suggest only asking people that you intend to invite, or your mother).

There's Plenty of Room: Whom To Invite and How
The number of people you invite must be no more than the number of people you can comfortably sit. I suggest inviting females whom you think would enjoy tea, and preferably those who would get along reasonably with each other. Mailed invitations are ideal, but if this proves too difficult, a Facebook event invitation is entirely possible in our modern world. I do suggest making it a private, hidden event, for if someone sees the event who was not invited, she may be offended. In your invitation, be sure to specify the day, date, time, place, directions to the place, a way to RSVP, and some instruction for what to wear. My last party was merely a tea-themed tea party, and I only said to dress with tea in mind. One girl didn't own a dress and would not wear hair-bows, so I said, "Pirates drink tea, right? Dress as a pirate." Clothing specifications may be casual to formal and anything (truly, anything) in between. Lastly, if you have a theme, show it in the invitations.

Always Tea Time: When and Where To Hold It
If you can hold it at your home, that is ideal. Indoors is best for comfort, though if you choose to do it outdoors, make sure you have an indoor backup plan in case of rain. I must insist that you avoid outdoor tea parties when it is bitterly cold or ridiculously hot outside. Tea parties are best held in the mid-afternoon, though like all other tea rules, this may be broken according to your need. Just be sensible.

Very Curious: What To Do Afterwards
Wish your guests farewell, and then clean up the party. Gather borrowed items, clean them if necessary, and return them to their rightful owners. Post your photos on Facebook (you did take photos, didn't you?), tag your friends, and send me the public link in a comment...I want to see how this all turns out!

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