I used to haunt the now defunct London Tea Room in downtown Palo Alto; it was a great place to meet a friend and chat in a cozy atmosphere of hushed voices and the tinkling of cups hitting their saucers. They had great sharp cheddar and homemade chutney sandwiches which I washed down cup-by-cup with a full pot of milky smoky Earl Grey tea in front of the roaring fireplace. They offered great scones with clotted cream and jam and a tempting pastry tray which always offered a nice slice of layer cake or decadent chocolate torte. Afternoon tea is a great way to refresh and renew yourself if you have been shopping all day or museum tripping, even after work to collect your thoughts before getting ready for the drive home and evening chores.
Afternoon tea is an English tradition consisting of tea and a light meal eaten between 3pm and 5pm. Little sandwiches, bread and butter, scones and clotted cream and jam or lemon curd, pastries, loose leaf tea and a glass of champagne or fruity punch set the stage for the perfect tea party. Remember Prince William’s chocolate and biscuit groom’s wedding cake? That cake is a favorite English teatime cake.
The Occasion: An afternoon tea party for a bridal shower, baby shower, birthday, Mother’s Day, going away party, or a girls get-together.
Tea accessories: The first thing to consider when planning a tea party is what tea accessories you will need. Don’t forget tea kettles or some large tea pot to heat the water, tea infusers if not using tea bags, tea pots (maybe one for each table), and real tea cups and saucer. No mugs here.
Set the mood: Set up a table in your backyard or garden for the perfect tea party atmosphere. Floral print napkins, a pastel table cloth, and a vase of colorful flowers will do the trick! Hang a chandelier or paper lanterns from a tree branch for a touch of whimsy to transform the space to magical.
Mix and match: Mixing vintage teacups and teapots adds an eclectic style. Give your guests a teacup and bag of tea as a party favor upon leaving, especially if it is a shower or birthday.
Finger foods: Finger foods like tea sandwiches and cookies make the perfect tea party spread.
Canapé is the French name for a small open-faced sandwich, and a tea sandwich has a tasty filling with two slices of firm bread. The sandwiches are small, only a few bite, and almost a tease instead of being substantial. They never have crusts, by the way.
These sandwiches are simple to prepare and they don’t need to be elaborate. The trick for these few-bite wonders is to take special care with the bread. Be sure the bread is thin (I get the thin-sliced Pepperidge Farm), keep the filling on the light side and never too much so that the filling is squooshing out the sides. Spread the bread with the filling, cut off the crusts, and cut into geometric halves or quarters with a sharp chef’s knife. Or use a biscuit cutter and garnish, if open-faced. Spreadable fillings can be made the day before and the sandwiches assembled in assembly line fashion. It is fun, especially with a friend and your favorite music on in the background.
Sample Afternoon Tea Menu
Tea (served with cream and sugar to your liking)
Scones (served with clotted cream and jam)
Cucumber and watercress sandwiches
Egg salad sandwiches
Chicken salad sandwiches
Smoked salmon sandwiches
A nice layer cake, cupcakes, or individual bundt cakes
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
Mini fruit tarts
For larger tea party buffets, I have baby poppyseed rolls or Parker House rolls, and platters of sliced turkey and roast
beef or a nice honey-baked ham with country biscuits with plenty of luscious condiments, letting guests assemble their own. If a composed meal is too much, serve Potted Cheddar spread with English cream crackers, the ones that are over sized with no salt on top, or broil cheese open-faced on good bread. Add some scones and a nice sponge cake with a fruit sorbet, or shortbread cookies, and you are all set.
Here are some of my favorite sandwiches. I keep the sandwiches, made the day before if the party is big, stacked in large square Tupperware plastic containers. Keep a layer of plastic wrap on top to prevent the top layer from drying out, or on a tray with a damp clean tea towel and a layer of plastic wrap on top, in the refrigerator until serving. Arrange the sandwiches on a silver tray or platter for serving.
Avocado and Bacon Tea Sandwiches
- 8 slices bacon, cooked in a skillet until golden brown, drained on paper towels, and crumbled
- About 2/3 cup mayonnaise, just enough to bind
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
- 3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Splash of Tabasco hot pepper sauce
- 2 firm-ripe avocados, peeled and halved
- 2 loaves thinly sliced white or whole wheat bread (about 24 slices)
Prepare the bacon. Cream the butter and add the mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Spread the mayonnaise butter lightly on half of the bread slices. Slice the avocado halves and place a few slices on each slice. Sprinkle with the bacon. Cover with the remaining slices. Trim the crusts and cut each sandwich into 4 triangles. Makes about 48 small sandwiches.
Herb Butter Cream Cheese Sandwiches
- 1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
- 1 bunch fresh basil, leaves only
- 1/4 cup chopped chives
- 1/4 cup mixed fresh aromatic herbs, such as marjoram, savory, and tarragon
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
- 2 loaves thinly sliced white or whole wheat bread (about 24 slices)
Place the parsley, basil, chives, and herbs in the food processor and pulse to chop. Add the butter, cream cheese, and goat cheese, and pulse to make a spreadable paste. Spread the cheese mixture on half of the bread slices. Cover with the remaining slices. Trim the crusts and cut each sandwich into 4 triangles. Makes about 48 small sandwiches.
Smoked Salmon Tea Sandwiches
- 1/2 pound thinly sliced smoked salmon
- 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 8 paper-thin slices of red onion
- 1 1/2 loaves thinly sliced white or whole wheat bread (about 16 slices)
Place the smoked salmon in the food processor and pulse to chop. Add the cream cheese, lemon juice, and dill, and pulse to make a spreadable paste. Spread the cheese mixture on half of the bread slices and top with a slice of red onion. Cover with the remaining slices. Trim the crusts and cut each sandwich into 4 squares or cut out shapes. Makes about 32 small sandwiches.
Beth Bytes: The Rules of the Teapot
It is generally best to fill water only to the bottom of the spout opening, especially if the teapot is of the type that you can also use for boiling the water.
Heat the tea pot by rinsing it out with very hot water. (Do not heat the tea pot over a burner unless specific instructions state otherwise.)
Measure tea accurately and consistently. The recommended dose for a medium leaf is 1 tablespoon per 5 oz. of water (more for larger leaves, less for smaller leaves), and adjust to taste. Place tea in an infuser to keep the leaves separated, or right in the pot if you’ll filter them out later.
Pour water from the kettle into the tea pot when it reaches a rolling boil.
Steeping tea for the proper amount of time can make a world of difference in its resulting taste. Not less than 3 minutes, nor more than 5 minutes for the best taste. (Less than 3 and the taste is not given enough time to develop; more than 5 and tannin will begin to make your cup astringent or bitter.)
If using an infuser, remove it after the steeping is done. If the leaves are loose in the pot, strain out the entire contents into cups right after steeping is done.
Keep the pot hot by using a tea cozy, or a covering to keep heat from escaping the pot. (Do not heat the tea pot over a burner, unless specific directions allow it.)
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.