How to serve high tea at home

Written by jason belasco
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How to serve high tea at home
(Tea Pot and cups image by Vitalij Geraskin from

We all know the game of choosing the right setting to meet someone to talk. Lunch may be too rushed, dinner may be too formal and having "drinks" may be too loud and crowded. When you want to impress a guest (or a number of them), and pizza and beer just doesn't do it, high tea is one of the alternatives. High tea is a more formal event then merely brewing up a pot of tea to share with girlfriends as you talk. Learning how to serve high tea at home helps to ensure that your next tea party is a successful one.

Set a Time and Create the Atmosphere

The official time for a high tea party is 4 p.m. High tea combines tea with heavier amounts of food than may be served at a traditional tea party. High Tea Time is more malleable to allow for the best time for your guests to be free, so you'll have extra time for cricket, or Imperialism, or whatever it is you need to do that day.

Aahhh...a pleasant atmosphere

As important as time is atmosphere. Set aside an area of your house--or apartment, or box, or whatever--that will be roomy and private. Of course, comfy chairs are a must, and should be set around a centrally located table ... you know, for the tea and stuff. Splurge and get some seasonal flowers. Arrange them so that you and your company can see and be surrounded by them, but do not have to work around them. Use doilies under your plates, bowls, cups and so on. Got a particularly nice tablecloth you don't mind liberating? Some attractive napkins yearning to be seen? Use them. Also, choosing pleasant music fills the air in ways that smells and sights cannot. Lean toward (perhaps wordless) tunes that accentuate relaxed conversation, and steer away from the intrusive. Mozart? O.K., Busta Rhymes? Not so good.

Obtain the Proper Equipment

The things you'll need to serve tea are also an important part of the atmosphere. The objects you use can greatly complement the music and decor you've chosen. First, the teapot is the centrepiece of the event as it is where all of the tea resides to steep (gain its potency). Most connoisseurs go for the ceramic type, often decorated with flowers or other dainty designs. One of the most popular kinds of teapots is the stout, plain brown pot called the "Brown Betty." You can find teapots at many tea-friendly shops, as well as online.

Naturally, you will need enough teacups and saucers, teaspoons, dessert plates, dessert forks and spoons, spreading knives, and cocktail napkins for your guests. You may lay these out at every seat place, or you can provide them at a side station.

A creamer for cream or milk (whichever type you feel is appropriate, be it whole, half-and-half or something else), and a sugar bowl with its own spoon are indispensable. In addition to all of these, the need for bowls or plates on which you spread your desserts, sandwiches or even ice cream goes without saying.

Oh, and whether you have inherited a full tea set from Gramama Floogen-Flagle or merely have mismatched knicknacks, don't sweat it. Unless you're planning on Martha Stewart dropping on by, don't worry about your accessories--they'll give the tea personality. Smack anyone who says otherwise.

Choose Some Teas

The most important element of a high tea is, of course, the tea itself. With many varieties of tea, you can offer anything from Orange Pekoe to something along the lines of "Fruity Enlightenment Wafting Plum Mint Medley." When serving tea, it is always best to offer as many different types as you can get your hands on, and let your guest(s) choose. If everyone agrees that a particular one will be delightful, then stick that in your Brown Betty. If not, give each guest his or her own, and let the teapot keep the water.

Tea comes in two forms. Loose tea can be purchased in bags like ground coffee, and looks like fine or lumpy tobacco. Tea balls or teabags are the familiar packets of thin, white paper surrounding a cup's worth of tea.

If you go for the loose tea, and your guests do differ in taste, another important thing you'll need is a tea infuser for each guest. These are the small, steel or silver balls that have many holes and are on chains or at times look like a spoon with the encasement (tea infuser) at the end of the spoon handle. You pack the loose tea in an infuser, close it and place it in the teacup for the steeping.

Select Food to Accompany the Tea

The food served at a high tea is generally light snacks and desserts--basically, anything that can be held between the finger and thumb. If it's late enough, a small, hot dish may be served, but in general (and especially in warmer months), all dishes are served cold.

Many recipes are available such as game, chicken and/or ham, which make popular choices as a spread or as finger sandwiches. Salads and fresh fruit are also options. The delicacies that are most associated with teas are the sweets. Various cakes, breads, fruit tarts, custards, cream puffs and other sweets. Use a bit of each, and display the foods in the sort of presentation you think will receive gasps (of joy).

Invite Your Guests

So you have the time free, the open space to sit, the lovely atmosphere, the things you need to make and drink cups of tea and snacks to munch on. The last element is your guests. The key to this whole enterprise is relaxation and conversation. You can choose to invite one guest or multiple guests.

In any event, once the guests arrive, activities such as reading some poetry, catching up on old times, playing a word game or simply talking are appropriate.

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