A friend of mine once asked me, “What should I keep in the pantry for tea parties?” She wanted to give more tea parties but didn’t want to spend hours planning and preparing. My advice to my friend was to do as much as possible of the planning and preparation in advance! That helps the tea host or hostess be almost ready all the time.
Although it is a lot of fun to put on a big, fancy, to-do, it is also easy to get carried away! Tea is supposed to be a relaxing and refreshing time, for advancing friendships or just sitting quietly with a good book. The easiest way to avoid stress and offer a relaxing tea time to your guests is to keep it as simple as possible. Your guests won’t mind: what can be a more pleasant surprise than to run into a friend and invite them over for a cup of tea and a plate of goodies while you talk the afternoon away? Save the huge menus for when you have the time and energy to pull them off.
In order to be able to pull together a simple tea party with minimal stress and work, it’s a good idea to keep certain items and products in the house, set aside in what some people call a “tea party pantry” so that they are there when you need them. They don’t need to all be in the same place, since some great items should be frozen! I do encourage you to label them if there is a chance that someone will grab them for something else. My “tea pantry” is stored in part of a cabinet, part of the freezer, part of the fridge, and various large paper grocery bags! Apart from tea, a kettle, tea pot, mugs or cups and saucers, and a tea strainer, your tea party supply can contain any or all of the following:
- some bottled water, if your tap water is full of minerals or bad-tasting (it will affect the flavor of the tea)
- sugar cubes
- packaged fancy cookies (short-breads are a good basic cookie)
- store-bought jam and lemon curd
- imported clotted cream, or Mexican crema or table cream (in the International food section in some grocery stores)
- packaged scone mixes
- dried fruit like cherries, cranberries, currants and/or apricots
- store-bought chutney, tapenade, and gourmet spreads or sauces
- boxed cake mixes, pudding mixes, and canned pie filling
- confections like chocolate chips and candied ginger
- ready-baked crumpets, cream cheese and unsalted butter, which you can store in the freezer
- loaf of pound cake or fruit cake, which you can open, slice, re-wrap in plastic and store in the freezer
- frozen appetizers like mini quiches, mini veggie turnovers, rolled sandwiches, and turkey sausage
- frozen puff pastry, pie dough, crumpets and tart shells
- frozen desserts like mini cream puffs, mini eclairs, and ice cream bonbons
You know those gourmet sauces and foods that come with gift baskets, and you wonder what to do with them? When you get them, put them in your tea pantry! With all of the things in the above list, you only have to buy fresh milk (if you don’t already have some), sandwich bread, cucumber, and some seasonal fruit and flowers, and you can throw a complete tea party with only an hour’s notice (or even less, if you make toast instead of scones). You can also have a simple “tea and sweets” in as much time as it takes to make the tea and open a few packages!
For a traditional afternoon tea, you’ll need bread (see suggestions below) with jam and cream, savories (tea sandwiches and other bite-size appetizers), and sweets (desserts). For a cream tea, you’ll only need scones or crumpets with cream and jam. Keep everything small and dainty in size, butter and trim the crusts off of all bread slices for toast and tea sandwiches, and avoid overly messy finger food. (i.e. Buffalo hot wings and jalapeno poppers are too messy for a tea party!) Cookie and biscuit cutters can be used for cutting tea sandwiches as well as cookie and scone dough. Here are some menu suggestions using items from the above list:
Bread: scones (from a mix), pre-packaged crumpets (heat in the toaster) or toast – trim off the crusts and cut into triangles. You can stir in dried fruit, chocolate chips, or chopped candied ginger to the scone mix before baking. Serve with clotted cream, table cream or whipped unsalted butter, jam and/or lemon curd.
Savories: cucumber sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, sausage rolls (puff pastry strips filled with sausage, rolled up, and baked), chutney or tapenade spread on toast rounds or squares, frozen mini appetizers (defrost and bake as needed), cream cheese mixed with some spicy gourmet sauce and used as a sandwich spread.
Sweets: packaged cookies, cupcakes (boxed cake mix), tart shells filled with pie filling or pudding, sliced pound cake or mini desserts (thaw as needed), pie dough or puff pastry turnovers filled with jam or pie filling (bake as needed), frozen ice cream bonbons.
Of course, I don’t recommend serving all of the above items at the same tea party; you’ll overwhelm your guests! For a successful party, all you need is one item from at least one category, a nice pot of hot tea or pitcher of iced tea, some flowers on the table, plates, napkins and spoons, and you’re set. I hope you can see how do-able, and rewarding, it is to put on a tea party!
Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.
For more info: How to make a pot of tea, part 1 and part 2
How to make iced tea
“How to build your tea party pantry”
“What every woman should know: Afternoon tea dainties”