The beginnings of the tradition of High Tea in British society is a bit disputed. According to a few sources, the 7th Duchess of Bedford is due the credit for the creation of this late afternoon meal accompanied by a pot of tea. What is less sure is if she began it simply as a fashionable social time for ladies while men were finishing up their afternoon business discussions, or as a means to make it through until the late evening dinner, as she called the 3-4 o’clock hour the time when “that sinking feeling” came on, requiring a little pick-me-up. The Carrington Hotel in Australia, says that high tea was actually a working mans meal taken standing or sitting on stools at high tables, hence the name “high” tea, and eventually became adopted by Ladies and Gentleman of society for social enjoyment before attending evening events around town at places like the theater. Whichever the true source, we know it sure makes for a fun theme for a bridal or baby shower, or even a fundraising event like Ballet Austin Guild’s annual tradition.
One of our favorite customers, Charlene Sigler, just hosted her second bridal shower with a tea party theme. She gave us some tips along with some fabulous photos of the event so that you can easily recreate your own tea party, true to English tradition. And, of course, events like these are so much easier (and MORE FUN!) when you work with a team, so a round of joyous applause also goes to fellow hostesses Margaret Garcia, Cathy, Amanda and Mary King, as well as Terese and Jennifer Sigler. You ladies truly outdid yourselves!
Charlene’s mother-in-law has an English friend named Margaret, who helped with the shower, and authenticity is important to for the event. So, a few months in advance of the tea, they begin collecting tea cups, saucers and tea pots from estate sales. Nothing “made in China” would do. Only items made in England because, as a special treat, guests got to take home their tea cup and saucer as a treasured memory from the event. Next, Charlene found Loanables to help secure the rentals needed. They decided on 36″ round bistro tables with four fruitwood folding chairs per table. The tables were decorated with burlap underlay, a rose/floral print middle cloth and topped with a lace table cloth to accent the luxurious table settings, complete with tulle & flower ball centerpieces, sugar & cream servers and tea pot charms around each napkin. So romantic!
Homemade sandwiches and sweets make for an incredibly personal event and truly wow your guests. Charlene’s team truly outdid themselves with the spread they offered. Classic Cream Cheese & Cucumber sandwiches along with Chicken Salad, British Corned Beef with Butter and Ham & Cheese were displayed on sandwich platters. For even more options look at The Spruce Eats Traditional English Tea Sandwiches for inspiration! For sweets they had fruit scones sliced horizontally to allow guests to butter them in true English style, Lemon Curd Tarts, Teapot-shaped shortbread, Victoria Sponge Cupcakes and cream-filled meringues. Finally, they supplemented with a variety of English sweeties including After Eight Mints, Thornton Truffles, assorted English biscuits and Mark & Spencer Cheese Straws. I think it is safe to say with such an array of choices, no guest left unsatisfied!
The largest tea company in the United Kingdom & Canada is Tetley Tea. Charlene points out that the English version of Tetley is different from what we get here in the U.S. so if authenticity is important to you, have a friend from England send it (along with some classic sweets) or find it on British Online Supermarket. Charlene explains that having a few electric kettles along with stove top kettles is helpful for serving hot tea to all guests at one time. Start by pre-heating the water before guests arrive so that serving isn’t delayed. To warm the tea pots, swirl some of the hot water around in each pot before filling with hot water. A few tea bags in each pot, letting them steep 4-5 minutes, makes for a typical strength tea, but simply adjust the number of tea bags for stronger or weaker tea, accordingly to your guests preferences. Keep hot water on throughout the event for quick refill of the pots as they near empty.
Before opening presents, it’s fun for guests to play a few English games. Pass the Parcel is a fun game where a gift wrapped many times is passed around the room from person to person while music plays. When the music stops, the person holding the gift unwraps one layer until the final gift is revealed. To add some fun different questions about or for the guest of honor could be written on each layer, or for more prize winners a few gifts could be placed wrapped inside of each other!
Other fun games are word matching of an English word to it’s American equivalent and Trivia & Tea Type where guests have to match tea descriptions with the correct tea type. Finally, Charlene’s guests enjoyed random door prizes, with numbers given as they entered and drawn every 15-30 minutes throughout the shower. Prizes included tea towels, high end teas, London pillows, aprons, Walkers shortbread, English fudge, china and soaps.
It can probably be left unsaid that most ladies love an excuse to get glammed up. So, encouraging guests to wear a home made or vintage hat is always a hit! Being dressed up encourages guests to take photos so that they and the guest of honor can enjoy looking back at the event for years to come.
From pre-setting the lovely table arrangements to a special token to honor the memory of the bride’s mother, these hostesses did not miss a chance to delight guests and care for small details to complete the picture. The bride’s mother loved mice so they found a little mouse, decked out in pearls, to place on the bride’s table to pay tribute. And hostesses provided pink bags with tea pot stickers to take home each guest’s tea cup and saucer, along with any prizes they won during the game time.
Let us know if you want to try this theme for your next event, we would love to help you make it an authentic, memorable occasion!