Tea Time: Tips for Table-Setting & Tasty Treats

Array of tea mugs hanging from hooks

Need a break from mealtime routines? Try a tea party!

Are you hooked on the Great British Baking Show? Find the antics of the royal family irresistible? Or maybe it’s the hit series Outlander that’s got you all steamed up. Whatever the reason, it’s time to put the kettle on.


Tea parties are ideal for birthdays, bridal or baby showers, book club events and memorable afternoons with friends. While historically afternoon tea could be an involved affair, today’s teatime trends are far more playful, casual and flexible. And, of course, economy and geography across the historic English empire yielded all sorts of terms and serving traditions from “high tea” to “Scottish tea” to “cream tea” to “afternoon tea.” Here’s the what, when and how of putting together a charmingly un-stuffy gathering.

Tray with teapot, teacups, scones and condiments on an outdoor table

Date, Time & Table Design

Depending on the occasion, a tea party can start anytime after noon. Keep in mind that the closer you are to lunch or dinnertime, the heartier you may want to make the menu.

For casual gatherings, search your cupboards for mugs, teacups, cake plates and whimsical table linens. Mix-and-match is a charming choice, and makes the event feel homespun and happy. If you’re celebrating an upcoming wedding or new baby, theme colors or decorations, lace doilies and touches of silver (cake stand, teapot, spoons) fancify the fun just enough!

Invitations can be done via email, phone or on “old-fashioned” paper. If you’re mailing those invites, consider tucking a teabag into each envelope for a touch of whimsy.

Array of tea mugs hanging from hooks

On the Menu

Finger sandwiches are an easy must. Between pieces of thinly-sliced white or wheat bread (available in most grocery stores), add the spread-and-filling combinations of your choice. Press firmly into sandwiches, slice off the crusts and then cut into four rectangles, triangles or squares. Sandwiches can be made a few hours ahead (or the night before the party), well-wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator. Here are few filling ideas to get you started:

  • Softened salted butter, thinly sliced English cucumber, lemon zest and chopped fresh mint or parsley
  • Mascarpone cheese, prosciutto and fig jam (or sliced pear)
  • Cream cheese and your favorite sliced fruit or jelly
  • Mayonnaise, sliced hard-boiled egg, thin asparagus slices, salt and pepper
  • Soft blue cheese and sliced seedless grapes
  • Fresh ricotta and orange marmalade

Spice things up: substitute white or wheat bread with lavash, English muffins or pita, date or banana bread to hold your fillings.

Scones are delicious and oh-so traditional. They’re often available at grocery stores and bakeries but, if you’re feeling inclined to DIY, here’s a quick recipe.

Preheat your oven to 425.

  • Cut one stick (8 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter into small pieces. Set aside.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  • Add butter and, using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut or rub the mixture until it resembles chunky crumbs.
  • Add 1/2 to 2/3 cup milk (start with 1/2 cup and add more as needed), stirring until a dough forms (it’s all right if it’s a bit crumbly).
  • Place dough on a floured surface and knead gently. Divide in half and pat into two circles (approx. 1-1/2โ€™โ€™ thick). Cut each circle into 6 or 8 wedges.
  • Place wedges on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake about 12 minutes until golden brown.

For variety, add 1-1/2 c. chopped dried fruit or nuts, or mini chocolate chips to the crumb mixture before pouring in milk. Or, brush the tops of the scones with heavy cream (or egg wash) and sprinkle with pearl or sanding sugar before baking.

Pick Your Pour

English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Jasmine, Darjeeling, Chamomile, Lavender, Mint, Green…the options are almost endless. Provide several choices in bag or loose leaf form (with infusers) plus, cream, sugar, honey and lemon.

Sweet-Easy: Short on time or not a fan of the kitchen? No need to apologize for store-bought baked goods — or even cut-glass dishes of wrapped candies. The important thing is getting people together for a cheery “cuppa”!

Add character and charm to your event with simple games, classic puzzle fun or a craft inspired by the occasion for which you are gathering.

Don’t forget to dress the part of tea-riffic hostess by accessorizing your look with a touch of British charm such as a colorful hat or bright brooch.

Get ready to enjoy a lovely celebration because, as the saying goes…

A cup of tea makes everything better.

1000-piece puzzle of a tableful of teacups and saucers