China, India, Japan, America, England...when it comes to tea, each place seems to have its own traditions, customs, and preferred style. In some parts of the world, drinking tea is a solemn occasion; in others, it's a ceremonial event. And in others still, it's an unquestioned universal pastime. So, when it comes to the "rules" of your own tea party, you might as well forge your own path. Our suggestions may align most closely with the English style, but we still encourage you to call a few of the shots yourself.
Emily Post, the famous etiquette expert, writes in her 1922 book, "Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home," that there are a few "must-serve" items when it comes to tea time, and one of those is the classic tea sandwich. We'd agree. She also reminds us that "the hostess who, providing no individual tables, expects her guest to balance knife, fork, jam, cream cake, plate and cup and saucer, all on her knees, should choose her friends in the circus rather than in society." Simply put, there's to be no negotiating when it comes to the table setting, either. Even if you're going for a more casual, unbuttoned feel, each teacup should have a saucer, and there should be separate butter knives for each guest if there are jams and spreads involved.
Other than that, we think you should go ahead and do your own thing. Rules are made to be broken -- especially in the case of the unstuffy tea party.
This is your time to be original, make bold choices, and think way outside the box. Teacups, for one thing, can do more than just hold tea; they can also be used to decorate your table. Make "tea party baskets," filling the cups with tea bags, petits fours, small candies, and other fun trinkets. Or have them hold plants ("tree" cups, anyone?), see a second life as candle votives, and act as dainty favors.
Something scone-esque: The food complementing your tea doesn’t have to be scones, per se. Feel free to choose another baked good with similar texture or crumbly appeal, like biscotti bites or tea cookies. But you may as well scroll through our scone recipes to see if anything there tickles your fancy. (Spoiler alert: Something will.)
Something savory: Remember those must-have tea sandwiches? Whether your preference is hard-cooked egg, smoked salmon, prosciutto, or a selection of all three, your party’s bound to hit a high note with these beauties in tow. While you're at it, be sure to check out these botanical canapés with salmon-caviar “blossoms,” and these fresh ricotta-cherry-lemon crostinis.
Something unexpected: Serve something surprising to further distance yourself from the traditional tea party, like a platter of smoked fish. Paired with juniper salt, sorrel-red onion butter, and a selection black and brown breads, this dish is an Instagram-worthy masterpiece that takes little effort to throw together.
Something sweet: From decadent poached apricots with a ripe triple-creme cheese and understated chocolate pots de crème with mahleb, to dreamy jasmine shortbread sandwiches with grapefruit curd and a jaw-dropping iced raspberry loaf cake, we’ve got you covered in the “over-the-top desserts” department.
Exhilirate your senses (and impress your guests) by creating your very own tea mixes. Loose tea coupled with a few simple household ingredients and supermarket spices just might be the ultimate DIY -- and no one will suspect that it's actually a cinch to throw together. Choose from our favorite tea "remixes" below:
First time tea-partier? Think your brewing technique isn't up to par? Check out our handy tea companion, and watch the video below to find out Martha's favorite beneficial tea varieties.