You don’t have to travel to London to have afternoon tea, you can throw your very own adult tea party right at home!
Whether you’re hosting a bridal shower, birthday party, baby shower, sweet sixteen, or just want an excuse for a cute ladies luncheon, I’m sharing exactly what you need to bring your tea party to life, from traditional teatime foods to easy affordable décor. Grab your best gal pals, it’s time for an at home tea party.
What’s the difference between afternoon tea and high tea?
Did you know that there are two kinds of tea times? There’s Afternoon Tea and High Tea, and they both have different times, beginnings, and accompaniments. The difference between afternoon tea and high tea is what time they occur, and what accompaniments are served.
Afternoon Tea is typically served around 4pm. It’s what most of us associate with teatime: a fancy tiered serving dish with bite sized tea sandwiches and tiny desserts to snack on while you sip tea. Often, afternoon tea even involves sparkling wine.
Whereas afternoon tea started as a staple in British society, High Tea was enjoyed at the end of the workday by the working class, around 5 or 6pm. Given the time of day and limited access to fancy food items, High Tea is a heartier spread. Meat dishes, vegetables, breads, and cheese are typically served at High Tea.
I opted for Afternoon Tea for my setup.
How to Host a Tea Party at Home
The great thing about hosting a tea party at home is that you can decide how elaborate you want to be with everything, including the China, food, and teas. Here’s everything you need to throw a tea party.
Once you’ve landed the date for your at-home tea party, it’s time to send some invitations!
Usually when I host people, my invite is just a casual text message. But, for a special occasion like a birthday or shower, you’re going to want to send out proper invites. These could be paper or digital invitations.
Digital invites tend to be a little more affordable than printed ones, and you get the convivence of easily tracking RSVPs. My digital invite website of choice is Paperless Post; they have cute, elevated designs and the “opening” experience is like that of a tangible card.
For paper invites, I love Minted. I get my holiday cards from them every year, but they also have a large assortment of greeting cards and invitations that you can personalize, right down to envelope liners. There’s flexibility on quantity, so you can order as little as 10 cards if you’re hosting a more intimate tea party. Minted also offers free address printing, which not only saves time, but the designs always match the invites so that you can keep the *aesthetic* cohesive from start to finish.
Tea parties typically always start during the day, so a good rule of thumb here is to have your tea party between 12pm – 2pm for more of a luncheon type of afternoon tea, or 3pm – 5pm for more of a traditional version.
Choose Your Menu
As mentioned above, Afternoon Tea and High Tea have different menus. For this tea party, I focused on Afternoon Tea menu items.
Traditionally, an afternoon tea menu consists of three courses, usually served on a tiered tray:
- First course: finger sandwiches
- Second course: scones, butter or clotted cream, and jam
- Third course: sweets
Plan on at least 2 sandwiches, 2 scones, and 2 desserts for each person. If you don’t own a tiered server, try this one. It comes as the frame only and fits standard dinner plates you already own.
You don’t have to make every item in your tea party from scratch. For example, I only made the tea sandwiches, then purchased pre-made scones from Target and mini desserts and macarons from Whole Foods.
Tea parties are becoming increasingly popular, so you can also do a quick Internet search for Afternoon Tea wherever you live. Many tea rooms offer to-go options, which helps save time from having to prepare a full tea party menu on your own.
Here are a handful of classic tea sandwich recipes in case you want to make them on your own:
Since you’re in control of the budget for your tea party here, you can splurge on expensive tea or grab a pack or two from Trader Joe’s. Fortnum & Mason is a higher end British tea brand, or you can find Twinings, another popular UK brand, at most grocery stores.
Your guests probably have varying tastes, so be sure to provide a variety of teas. Although you can offer well-known black tea options like English Breakfast or Earl Grey, you also can totally serve your favorite tea, even if it’s not common. Or better yet, use your tea party as an opportunity to try something completely new and have a fun little tea tasting! Include a non-caffeinated option like lemon or ginger tea, too. There are lots of times when I want tea without an energy jolt. Some of your guests may not be able to have caffeine for various reasons.)
You can set your tea options out on a small plate or display them in a tea box. There’s no right or wrong here, it’s really your preference.
If you’re serving loose leaf tea, make sure you have tea infusers for your guests to steep their tea.
Set the Table for Your Tea Party
Decorating the table is always my favorite part of any event I host. For this spread, I wanted a vintage tea party vibe. However, I do not own any vintage tea sets or teacups and didn’t want to spend a ton of money on these very specific items.
Instead, I used a mix of our Kate Spade dinnerware from our wedding. I also incorporated some fun paper goods from Talking Tables to get an eclectic, mismatched vintage feel. I found this paper goods brand on Amazon a few years back when I threw my mom a surprise tea party for her birthday. They have the cutest stuff for both child and adult tea parties, from vintage prints to Alice in Wonderland-themed items.
If you don’t have fancy China, don’t worry. Use what you have, then incorporate fun paper items like I did here. Or, if you want to avoid using real plates altogether – go for a full paper plate spread for zero washing post-tea party!
Here’s everything you need to set your tea party table at home:
- Teacups and saucers
- Cream and sugar (I like sugar cubes because they just feel fancy to me!)
- Small bowls and tiny spreading knives for jam, butter, etc.
- At least one teapot with hot water
- Tiny stirring spoons for your tea
- Tiered server with your tea party food items
- Tea bags or loose leaf tea options
- Tea infusers, if serving loose leaf tea
The main star of your at-home tea party (other than the tea of course) is the tiered server with your snacks! You don’t need a tiered server for each person; place one of two in the center of your table so that you guests can grab their bites buffet style.
If you have a much larger group of guests and don’t want to buy multiple serving trays, then set the food on everyone’s individual plates. Do this before your guests arrive. Also, let the tiered server act as an interactive centerpiece if they want to grab more of something.
Other Things to Consider
I’m always a big fan of flowers everywhere. So, pick up a few flower bouquets that match your plates or theme. Then, arrange the flowers and place them throughout your entertaining area.
Music plays a big part in ambience. Set up a Bluetooth speaker and play your music high enough to hear but low enough so you can enjoy the conversation. Classical music always works, as does the Bridgerton playlist on Spotify (pop song covers done in classical). If you’re hosting a holiday tea party, try Christmas music to keep things festive.
I’m not big on favors. However, if you want to give your guests a little take-home treat here are some elevated tea party favors hat won’t get immediately tossed into the trash bin:
- Vintage teaspoons
- Tea infusers
- Mini jars of jam
- A vintage teacup and saucer. You can use these during the tea party and let your guests know they can take them home.
- Loose leaf tea from the party (if you served it that way) – pour into these little baggies
- Mini bottles of champagne
Last but not least, don’t forget to dress the part! A tea party is the perfect excuse to pick up a feminine floral dress. These sweet floral dresses are all perfect for hosting or attending a tea party:
PRO TIP: Whenever I host, I like to set up whatever I can in advance. Set your tea party table the night before so that you have one less thing to do on the day of the event. This is one of my go-to Thanksgiving hosting tips, too!
If you’re planning a tea party and use any of these tips, I’d love to know in the comments how it turns out!