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Impress Your Friends and Plan a Proper English Tea Party

Vintage Tea Cup and Saucer with flowers -- floral Cuppa Time aesthetic

What do you need for an English tea party?

Everybody loves a tea party.

They're elegance, tradition, whimsy, and fun all in one package.

Tea parties also revolve around drinking tea – not alcohol – and we all need social occasions that aren't centered on booze.

But high tea is also an English tradition- so a lot of Americans aren't 100% sure how to arrange a "proper English tea."

Read on for must-haves, menu tips, and different ideas for tea party themes!

What are some afternoon tea essentials?

If you’re having a fancy afternoon tea party, there are a few dishware “must haves” that will make your tea party pop. 

You need a proper tea service – teapot, sugar bowl, and cream pitcher. And a tea strainer – you don’t want your guests to get tea leaves in their teeth. Get a tea tray if you want to feel extra fancy.

You’ll also want to get your hands on a two or three tiered cake (or cupcake) stand for your tea party snacks. It will really give your spread that authentic English tea party aesthetic. 

And of course, you need dishes, silverware, tea cups, and saucers. This is where you can put your unique stamp on afternoon tea. Want to have a spooky Gothic tea party? This macabre tea set would be perfect for your tea table. Is a Regency theme or a Jane Austen tea party more your thing? This elegant cake cutlery set – from the Jane Austen Centre – is a stunning addition to your afternoon tea table.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to spend a fortune on your tea service. You’ll find plenty of vintage tea cups and unique silverware at your local thrift shop. Your tea cups don’t have to match, either. Mismatched cups and dishes lend a “ye olde tea house” vibe.

How do you decorate a vintage tea party?

You should follow the “no plastic, no paper” rule at your elegant afternoon tea party. Stop by a fabric or hobby store for a tablecloth – and make sure you have cloth napkins. 

Up the elegance at your tea table with placecards for your guests. They’re not only for weddings! Plus you can incorporate your theme and show off your penmanship.

Fresh flowers add beauty and elegance to any gathering. If you want to up the “English tea party vibes”, decorate your table with some bunting. 

Candles also help set that perfect “Cuppa Time” mood. Why not choose an “on theme” candle for your afternoon tea party? For an Alice in Wonderland tea party, we have our March Hare book candle – with the yummy scent of raspberry lemon cake.  

Also, tea lights are called “tea lights” for a reason!

What do you serve at a proper English tea party?

Spoons full of loose leaf tea -- essentials for an elegant English tea party -- cuppa time aesthetic

First, you have to get your tea squared away. Tea bags are ok in a pinch, but you should invest in some lovely loose leaf teas for a proper English tea party. You’ll be glad you did. The tea will be more fragrant and have a fuller, more complex flavor.

You should serve a few different teas. Have a classic black tea like Earl Grey or English Breakfast – and maybe chai for added spice. Brew a pot of caffeine free tea, like chamomile or mint. For a fruity twist, offer your guests a pot of rooibos.

Make sure to steep the tea for the proper amount of time – most teas take 5-6 minutes. And use your tea strainer or tea ball. 

We get our tea right here in Pittsburgh from our friends at Leaf and Twig. You can also find their teas inside some of our candle gift boxes!

Offer your guests accompaniments to jazz up their tea – sugar and milk at minimum. But why not offer honey and cream – and maybe these fancy flavor infused sugar cubes

And what snacks should you put on your fancy tiered cake stand? 

Three tiered cake stand at tea party -- elegant cuppa time aesthetic

Scones. Absolutely 100%. It’s not a proper English tea without scones. Traditionally, the scones are placed on the top tier of the cake stand. 

Offer a few jams with the scones – and clotted cream for that traditional English vibe.

It’s also traditional to offer your guests biscuits – for Americans that means cookies like shortbread or ginger or lemon. Think thin and crispy, not a big and cakey. If you want to spoil your guests, serve a cheesecake bar, a mini raspberry tart, or macarons. You can also offer a lovely traditional tea cake and use your beautiful cake serving cutlery! These sweet treats typically go on the middle shelf of a three tier cake stand.

Your savory tea party snacks go on the bottom tier of your cake stand. Finger sandwiches are a traditional part of a proper English afternoon tea. Cucumber sandwiches are associated with afternoon tea parties – but feel free to branch out. Just keep it fresh and light. Chicken salad is a great option, or smoked salmon, cucumber and avocado. If you’re feeling extra fancy, serve your guests crab salad or mini lobster rolls.

What is proper tea etiquette?

The English have lots of rituals and etiquette around afternoon tea. From the proper way to stir your tea to how you properly eat your scone – there are rules for nearly every aspect of an elegant afternoon tea party. Feel free to relax some of the finer points, but stick with some of the basics so your tea party feels like a tea party. 

Ladies should wear a dress – or nice slacks and a blouse. Gents – collared shirts, please.

No jeans or leggings.

Practice good table manners – no shouting, interrupting, or talking while your mouth is full. 

Sandwiches, biscuits and scones should be eaten with your hands – cakes should be eaten with a fork.

Don’t let the teapot go empty. Your guests should always have tea to fill their cups. 

Pinkies down.

Different afternoon tea ideas

Alice in Wonderland Tea Party Table -- Mad Hatter Tea Party Aesthetic

There are so many theme possibilities for an afternoon tea party. 

You could have a Victorian tea party aesthetic – with floral tea cups and lots of lace. Or a Regency themed tea party to feel like you’re visiting Lizzy Bennet at Longbourn. 

A dark Gothic themed tea party is perfect for autumn – or if you’re feeling macabre. You can decorate with black and scarlet, play some Bach, and get spooky. Our Masters of the Macabre collection are the perfect candle decorations for a Gothic tea party!

Or add a touch of whimsy to your afternoon tea party with an Alice in Wonderland aesthetic. This beautiful tea service is a stunning focal point for any Mad Hatter tea party. You could also serve iced biscuits decorated with “Eat Me” or suits of cards. Playing cards could also serve as place cards! 

Our Alice in Wonderland book candle is the extra guest you need at your Mad Hatter tea party. 

March Hare Book candle inspired by Alice in Wonderland -- Mad Hatter tea party aesthetic

Browse our unique book candles – or candles from our apothecary candle and crystal candle line – to beautify your tea table at your next afternoon tea party.