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Tea parties are a great way to bring together friends and family (no, we're not discussing the political variety). This is a guide to a time honored afternoon tradition that centers on celebration, delicious delicacies, chic dresses, festive decor and, of course, the different types of tea. The history of the afternoon tea party can be traced directly to British culture. There’s high tea (which tends to be a heavier affair), and then there’s “low tea,” or afternoon tea. According to this in-depth history of the celebration by What’s Cooking America, the latter practice dates back to the 19th Century, when the Duchess of Bedford created an afternoon meal around 5 pm, which centered on small cakes, sandwiches and tea with friends. The practice has only grown with popularity through the ages.
I grew up in Trinidad with a mom who loves British history and culture. Every year— especially around the holidays—she would host afternoon tea with her best girlfriends. I grew up loving the ceremony of it all and wanting to one day have tea parties of my own. From my experience, tea parties don't have to be stuffy affairs. They don’t have to be old fashioned, either. You can throw a fresh, fun, festive afternoon tea for your friends that channels the old and celebrates the new. Here are my top tea party tips.
Create a balanced party menu
Think “two parts sweet, one part savory.” Traditionally, popular tea party items include scones, petit fours, bite-size sandwiches and savory pastries like meat pies. Caribbean afternoon tea might include something a bit spicier, like empanadas or Venezuelan style arepas. For a modern twist, consider crostini, bruschetta, flatbread or mini sliders made with gourmet ingredients as your savory items. In the sweet department, go for macarons, cupcakes, cake pops, or mini pies.
Not everyone drinks tea, so plan accordingly
Coffee is a staple at American gatherings (though no one hosts an afternoon coffee party). Modern afternoon tea parties have also been known to include light cocktails or non-alcoholic punch, so you may want to consider making mimosas or a pitcher of mojitos.
When it comes to decor, think dainty but not necessarily delicate
The days of having to serve afternoon tea on precious china are over. Feel free to mix and match your own colorful dishes, or purchase cute plastic plates with matching napkins.
Carefully consider your guest list
You want to curate a group that’s lively and conversational. Invite friends who you know will get along and new folks who you’d like to get to know better. Avoid any potential table-turning drama.
Have a variety of milk and sweetener options at the ready
Nowadays, so many of us have diet restrictions. Offer soy milk, almond milk or rice milk to your guests with allergies or special preferences. For dietary concerns, having honey, agave, stevia and brown sugar on hand will cover all the bases.
Finally, mix up your selection of teas
Think of when you order tea at a restaurant and they present you that fabulous box with all sorts of options. There’s typically a black breakfast kind of tea, a green tea variety or two, something fruit based, something mint, and a light floral tea like jasmine or chrysanthemum. Follow that guideline to develop a well-rounded tea selection of your own.
Patrice Grell Yursik is the creator of Afrobella.com, one of the first blogs to celebrate the beauty of ladies of all skin tones and sizes. Affectionately called the Godmother of Brown Beauty Blogging, Patrice takes her readers inside unique beauty, fashion and cultural experiences.