(vintage tea pot from Etsy found here)
While my oldest sister was visiting this summer she whipped up the most amazing ladies’ tea for a few family friends. She’s always been quite the entertainer, so I wasn’t surprised by how beautifully it turned out. I was amazed, however, at how quick and easy she made it look to put on such a spread. She says that living in London for the past ten years has definitely helped her master the art of the afternoon tea. Here are a few of her tips…
Maria’s Basics for a Successful Tea
To enjoy a proper afternoon tea you have to enjoy the finer things in life and a little old world charm. Seems obvious when you are cutting crusts off of 12 cucumber sandwiches. You want your guests to sit down and not think. The sugar is within reach, so are the lemon slices. When coming up with a guest list try to think of who will be happy to simply sit around and enjoy each other’s company.
Plan a simple menu: traditional roast beef with horseradish, cucumber, cheese, and egg salad sandwiches are staples. That said, don’t feel you need to dash out to buy anything. I think the best afternoon teas are inventive and have a touch of creativity. When I put on my most recent tea, I made sandwiches using leftover roast chicken, curry powder, and mayonnaise. Trying something like roast beef with a wasabi and mayonnaise spread may put a deliciously different spin on things. Even something as simple as adding a dash of dill and lemon to a cucumber and cheese sandwich can be nice. Look in your fridge and use what’s there.
The cutting of sandwiches is an important ritual of preparing the ultimate tea. Crustless sandwiches are the standard. You can gain some variety by using both a round loaf and regular sandwich loaf. That way you can have typical finger sandwiches along with some semi circular ones. A circular cookie cutter (which you can also use for scones) is handy too.
Once your sandwiches are made, make sure to double wrap them in cling film so the bread doesn’t go stale when you store them in the fridge. I don’t use tomatoes and I make sure my cucumber has been thinly sliced and drained on a piece of paper towel. No one wants a soggy sandwich. I always make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for any kids that may be joining. Attending a tea can be a fun way for them to learn some overstated decorum. Everyone enjoys being a bit too fancy once in a while. When setting your table keep your menu in mind. Do you need tongs? How many spoons? Always have napkins, remember teas are about being a little on the dainty side.
Scones – A Must
Scones are another staple for a tea spread. Ideally you would make a test batch to make sure your oven isn’t too hot in one area. Alternatively, I’d recommend turning the scones once during the baking process, particularly if you aren’t an avid baker and/or your oven has a tendency to be a bit dodgy. Also, remember scones are a vehicle for cream, jam, and strawberries – they needn’t be perfect as no matter what they’re likely going to hit the spot.
Tea should be steeped for two minutes. Use a timer! You will forget. Once the timer goes off make sure to remove the tea bags and cover with a tea cozy or towel. This will help the tea stay warm for quite some time. If it’s hot out, make a simple iced tea (in addition to regular tea) using cold brewed tea, ice cubes, and lemon and sugar to taste.
I always keep a mental timeline for my teas: visitors arrive, tea is made, savouries are presented, slight pause for more tea, delivery of any sweet treats, scones, and bite sized treats. Bite sized treats are important as everyone will want a little nibble of a few different things. Plus, it’s nice to have the option of going back for seconds or thirds. Store-bought brownie bites, bars, cookies, small cakes and truffles are wonderful sweets. In my mind, the perfect end to the perfect tea is a few sips of Champagne, cava, sparkling wine, or Prosecco.