the Perfect Tea Party
In Courage in a Dangerous World, Eleanor
Roosevelt wrote, "A woman is like a tea
bag; only in hot water do you realize how
strong she is." And today, women who
have more than proven their strength are taking
a breather from modern life to bask in the
hospitality and rare civility of the tea party.
Spurred on by tea's considerable health benefits
(research claims that it protects from certain
cancers, heart disease, and stroke), women are
making tea parties the theme of many formal
and informal gatherings-from bridal and baby
showers to birthday parties and girls' day out.
In the process, many have also found that calm
conversation over fine bone china, etched with
delicate pink roses, is an effective key to
renewal, revival, and relief. With a little
planning, you too can lift the hearts and spirits
of the overbooked, overextended, and just plain
overburdened ladies in your life.
What Do I Need to Hold a Tea?
First and foremost, you need company. Keep
in mind that the tea ritual was designed to
be a cozy and intimate gathering. Limit your
guest list to eight of your favorite people.
Send invitations two weeks ahead of time.
Written invitations are always elegant, but
telephone or email summons will do just as
well. Visit Evite.com for festive, customized
invitations that provide maps and reminders
for your guests.
Gather the following accoutrements: a teapot,
teacups and saucers (they do not need to match),
a tea strainer and small dish to deposit the
tea leaves, a pitcher of milk, lemon slices,
jam, sugar and artificial sweetener, small
plates, utensils, and napkins.
On the day of the tea, bring refreshments
in on trays or a cart and set the table
so that guests may serve themselves. The
hostess should always pour the tea and pass
it to each guest.
What Kind of Tea Shall It Be?
Cream tea, or light tea, is a simple repast
consisting of scones, jam, and Devonshire
cream. It is ideal for girl talk on a rainy
afternoon with your closest friends. And it's
informal enough to serve right in the kitchen!
Afternoon tea, or low tea, is traditionally
served between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. It
was invented by Anna Maria, the seventh duchess
of Bedford (1783-1857) when she experienced
"a sinking feeling" in the middle
of the afternoon. The menu consists of light
fare-finger sandwiches, scones, assorted pastries,
and a layer cake or trifle. Hold this elegant
tea in a comfortable setting such as a living
room or den. In warm weather, move the party
to a lawn, deck, or even poolside.
High tea is a hearty sit-down meal traditionally
served after 6:00 p.m. Originated by the English
working classes during the Industrial Revolution,
high tea consists of robust meat dishes, bread
and cheese, and a dessert of cake or pie.
Which Cup of Tea Shall It Be?
While there are thousands of varieties of tea,
they all come from one Asian plant, the Camellia
sinensis and its hybrids. It is the processing
that determines whether the tea you drink is
black, white, green, or oolong.
Black tea is fully fermented, or oxidized.
Its green leaves are plucked and left to
wither. They are then twisted so the natural
enzymes are released and oxidized. Next,
they are dried until the leaves turn black
and develop their full-bodied flavor, which
can range from flowery and fruity to nutty
White tea is generally processed by steaming
and drying the youngest, unfermented leaves
of the plant. The most popular of these
rare teas are White Peony, Snowbud, and
Green tea is unfermented. The green leaves
are first spread out to wither and are then
steamed, rolled, and dried. While the Chinese
variety is known for its mellow flavor,
the Japanese version is often described
as "grassy." These teas are high
in nutrients and minerals and are thought
to provide great health benefits.
Oolong tea is semifermented. The oxidation
period is halted after 2 hours and the resulting
flavor is a compromise between black and
green teas. Oolong teas are produced almost
exclusively in China and Taiwan.
Blended teas are combinations of different
teas, and flowers, fruit, herbs, or spices
are often part of the mix.
Herbal teas are not really tea at all since
they derive from plants other than the Camellia
sinensis. These caffeine-free drinks are also
referred to as infusions or tisanes and are,
like green teas, lauded for their medicinal
What to Serve, What to Serve?
Visit your local library, bookstore, or the
Internet, and you will find a plethora of tea
sandwich, scone, and pastry recipes. But start
with these three, and you will be well on your
way to a memorable tea:
Cucumber Mint Tea Sandwiches
½ stick butter
2 tbsp fresh mint leaves
8 slices of bread, crusts removed
½ large cucumber, thinly sliced
In small bowl, mix butter and mint until well
blended. Spread mixture onto slices of bread.
Lay cucumber on 4 slices of bread. Sprinkle
a dash of sugar on cucumber. Top with remaining
slices of bread. Cut diagonally and serve.
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter, diced
1 cup whipping cream
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg white
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 cup fresh cranberries, chopped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In large bowl,
combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Gradually add butter until mixture is course
and crumbly. Add whipping cream and stir until
mixture is moist. Mix in cranberries, nutmeg,
and orange zest.
Place on a lightly floured surface and knead
6 or 7 times. Roll until ½ inch thick.
Cut with a biscuit cutter and place each scone
2 inches apart on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Brush tops of scones with egg white and bake
for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
3 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon powder sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup whipping cream
Beat cream cheese, sugar, salt, and vanilla
until well blended. Add whipping cream and beat
until mixture is stiff. Cover and chill at least
2 hours. Spread on scones.
Today's tea ceremony is graciousness and geniality
minus the stuffy Victorian etiquette. So the
next time you and your twenty-first-century
friends experience "a sinking feeling,"
dust off that teapot and drown your sorrows
in the warmth of the cup that cheers.
How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Tea
Fill your kettle with freshly drawn cold water.
Preheat your teapot with nearly boiling water
and discard through the spout. If you skip this
step, the water temperature will drop on contact
with the cold pot, and the tea will not brew
Add 1 teaspoon of loose tea per cup or 1 teabag
for every 2 cups of tea. Add one extra if you
like it strong.
Pour on water as it boils. Water that is over-boiled
or not hot enough will result in flat-tasting
tea. Place the lid on the pot and cover with
a tea cozy or pot holder in order to retain
Brew for 3-5 minutes.
Remove the leaves/bags to prevent further steeping.
Stir and serve immediately. Cover any remaining
tea to keep it hot.
Catherine Owsianiecki is a feature
writer and editor based in Bel Air, Maryland.
To contact her, telephone 410-879-2709 or e-mail