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No experience offers the elegance of a tea party. While many think of them as a children’s activity, with the right tea party themes, they can also provide a fun time for adults to gather as well. Not every tea party has to have teddy bears and tiny cups, after all.
No matter what tea party themes you choose, many also consider the parties a feminine affair. Women have been meeting for tea across the world for as long as people have been drinking it. While not intentionally meant to exclude men, most tea parties comprise female family members and friends.
Why a Tea Party?
The history of afternoon tea traces back to 1840 when Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, decided she needed a meal between luncheon and dinner. In wealthy households, dinner was an elaborate affair often served at 8 p.m. While we may not be able to imagine staging a formal dinner every night, it isn’t hard to see that one could become quite hungry between noon and 8 p.m.
By the 1880s, afternoon tea morphed into a regular social occasion for upper-class Victorians. And like many other rituals of the upper classes during the Victorian age, the growing middle class soon began to emulate them. To this day, tea rooms remain popular across the English-speaking world. You’ll even find them in the United States, where most mid-size cities support half a dozen or more tea rooms.
Tea Party Etiquette
While party etiquette sounds outdated in the 21st century, afternoon tea does embrace a few traditions. For example, afternoon tea includes three courses: a savory, a scone, and a sweet. Small sandwiches often make the savory, and scones come with clotted cream and jam. Single-serving cakes and cookies make up the sweet. When using a traditional three-tier cake stand, place your savory course on the bottom, scones on the middle, and sweets at the very top. A tiered cake stand saves space on the serving table and doubles as a centerpiece, as well.
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While we’re not obligated to replicate this menu, it saves a lot of bother when devising a menu. By following tradition, you can serve single-portion foods that your guests can mostly eat with their hands. And presenting individual portions cuts down on dirty plates and cutlery. So, while traditions can sometimes hold us back, they’re often useful “lifehacks” that have been around so long that they’ve become “rules.”
Changing the rules with unique tea party themes
Many still appreciate a proper afternoon tea, but there’s no reason to stick to the same old tea party themes. While we’ve included a few traditional-style tea party themes here, you may find that a Russian tea party appeals to the gentlemen in your social circle. The tea and the menu are more robust, and the focus is on storytelling and discussion.
5 Great Tea Party Themes for Adults
We’ve collated five great party themes for any group of adults. Although, you could also adapt them for youngsters and teens. And while some are traditional, we’ve added a few twists to make them unique.
1. Her Majesty’s vintage tea party
When you think of an elegant afternoon tea, you think of Queen Elizabeth II. So, why not host a mid-century tea party with all the classic dishes and accouterments that even Her Majesty could appreciate?
First, understand is that “Afternoon Tea” is very different from “High Tea.” High Tea sounds like a posh affair, but it’s exactly the opposite. Many Americans call formal tea party themes with china, silver, and pretty cakes “high tea.” But, we should call it “afternoon tea.” The term high tea derives from the early supper that servants ate before getting ready to serve dinner to the toffs upstairs later in the evening. They called it “High,” because they sat at high tables or standing up. In modern times, most people in the UK now just call it supper. Please don’t be the kind of American that calls it “High Tea.”
Look for the floral patterns so popular in the 1950s. Popular color combinations from that era include soft pastels like pink, turquoise, and mint. Use lace doilies to highlight your serving plates. A three-tiered cake stand is the best way to serve your savories, scones, and sweets.
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You can purchase a plastic one if your budget is tight. While your cake stand makes a lovely centerpiece, fresh flowers add charm to the table. Pink and white tea roses give a formal air, while daisies and marigolds look more casual.
Use china cups and saucers with silver-plate cutlery for a proper vintage afternoon tea. A silver tea service also sets the mood for an elegant party. Many people consider china and silver an unnecessary expense these days, however. But you can often find tea sets at thrift stores.
You’ll even find fine bone china at a bargain price. Or, invest in a new tea set from a lesser-known maker.
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You can also purchase disposable supplies. You’ll find decorative paper cups with saucers to serve tea. In fact, if you have children on your guest list, paper may be your best option. A crisp, white tablecloth and napkins to match your flowers will look quite elegant.
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For a vintage tea party, remember to stick to the classic menu. Why not choose some of Queen Elizabeth’s own favorites? Chose lavender-infused tea biscuits, chocolate ganache iced cakes, cucumber sandwiches, and strawberry jam for your scones for your party menu.
Traditionally, you’d engage in small talk with a little gossip. If that’s not your style, relax with friends and re-watch “The Crown” on Netflix. You can also watch “Downton Abbey” on Amazon Video. Turn your tea party into a standing Saturday watch party to enjoy all the episodes through those bleak winter weekends.
2. Parisian Tea Party
While afternoon tea is very British in origin, you can cross the Channel and infuse a little French style into your party. Add some Gallic flair to your afternoon do. Paris is one of those tea party themes suitable for both kids and adults, too.
While Britain enjoyed the Edwardian era, and America had its Gilded Age, France had the “Belle Époque” or “Beautiful Era.” During this time, the arts blossomed. Many associate the color combination of pink and black with Paris because so many publishers, designers, and artists used the combination during this expressive era.
For a 20th century Parisian feel, mix pink and black with metallics in your decorations. Glamorous embellishments such as feathers, beads, and crystal also work beautifully with the Parisian theme. An offset cake stand with crystal swag adds Parisian style.
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Start with plain white linens, then add white china with gold or black borders. Or choose a high-end set of plastic party plates and cutlery in these colors. Pink napkins and rose-gold spoons finish the look perfectly. Create flower arrangements using the traditional French hand-tying method, using dahlias, carnations, and roses in shades of pink and white.
Naturally, a replica of the Eiffel Tower makes an excellent centerpiece for your table. Add tea candles around the table as in gold holders. Choose a modern design for your teacups and teapot that won’t upstage your menu.
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You can translate the three-course tea menu into French. For example, instead of finger sandwiches, serve mini Quiche Lorraine. Provide croissants with plenty of butter and jam. Or offer a French cheese plate with thinly sliced baguettes. For the sweet, mini-cream puffs and macarons add a French touch. And don’t forget the coffee. While you’ll find many French teas, some guest may prefer an afternoon pick-me-up of café au lait.
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Host your own Paris Fashion Week; have your friends dress in the best glam gear and set up a runway for photoshoots. In good weather, host a scavenger hunt in the garden with all the clues in French. Or enjoy simple card games with gorgeously rendered Chats du Monde (cats of the world) French playing cards.
3. Garden Tea Party
Don’t just have your tea party in the garden; bring the garden into your tea party. A menu featuring herbed dishes, fresh vegetables and fruits, and an assortment of herbal and flower teas will elevate any garden tea party themes.
If you’re holding your party at home in your own garden, choose inexpensive garden décor to define the serving area. Add flair to your greenery with butterflies and serve your goodies from a garden cart. Shepard’s hooks allow you hang to flowering baskets around your party space.
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If you’re holding your garden tea party indoors, choose a sunny room in your home. Tuck your flower arrangements into terra cotta garden pots and place them around the room. If fresh flowers aren’t in the budget, don’t be afraid to use silks and other fake flowers.
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For outdoors, choose a set of floral design disposable dinnerware. Simple white plastic coffee mugs will look elegant while remaining inexpensive. A Teabloom teapot features a lovely see-through glass teapot that shows off the flowers and herbs in your tea. It also comes with “blooming tea balls” that create a stunning display right inside the teapot.
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This is where you can really bring the garden into your tea party. For the savory, choose a fresh green Salad Nicoise with green beans and new potatoes. Add tender greens of dandelion, clover, and tangy lamb’s quarters. For finger sandwiches, serve dilled egg salad or fresh, crisp cucumber sandwiches.
Incorporate herbs and flowers into your scones or rolls, like lilac scones with rhubarb curd. If you want something less sweet, try cheddar scones with fresh thyme. Add orange blossom extract or dried lavender to flavor simple shortbread biscuits for your sweet course. Other edible flower recipes include violet macarons. On hot days, try honey lavender ice cream that your guests will surely appreciate.
Provide your guests with herbal and floral teas like chamomile, jasmine, or lavender, along with lighter black teas like Earl Grey and Lady Grey. And don’t hesitate to serve your guests something besides hot tea. Tangy hibiscus flowers and rose petals are especially delicious served in iced tea.
4. Russian Tea Party
Russia has a rich tea culture that rivals that of Britain. New York hosts the world-famous Russian Tea Room, famous for its delicious afternoon tea menu filled with smoked salmon, caviar, and bold tea selections. Any Russian tea party themes should be casual and relaxed affairs, with the focus on socializing.
Russia’s aesthetic style fuses the elegance of Enlightenment France with Eastern influences. And Russian tea party themes center around the samovar. You can find them in a range of finishes, and you’ll even find electric versions in old-fashioned decorative designs.
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If you have a samovar, make it the centerpiece of your serving table. If you don’t own one, consider renting one from your local party supply. Adorn the buffet table with bowls of decorated painted eggs, Russian dolls, and gold tea candles.
Russians traditionally drink tea from glasses, using thick crystal glasses in metal holders. Disposable plastic plates with elaborate gold decoration add flair. A red tablecloth, with decorated napkins featuring a gold baroque pattern, make a pretty table, along with an ornate, gilded cake stand.
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Take a hint from the Russian Tea Room when devising your menu. Serve smoked salmon cakes along with caviar on hearty bread. For the scone course, offer the traditional vatrushka bread with apricot preserves.
For the sweet, Ptichye Moloko, or Bird’s Milk Cake is a favorite Russian dessert. Russian tea cakes are filled with walnuts and dusted with powdered sugar. Serve them in decorative gold paper cups, so your guests don’t get covered in sugar. For tea, choose a bold English Breakfast, Oolong, or Chai tea.
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When Russians take tea, they consider it a time to talk with friends, catch up, tell tales, or discuss the latest news. Pick up some conversation starter cards to make a game of livening the debate and getting the conversation going.
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5. Mystical Tea Party
Spin the magical world into reality with a mystical theme tea party. Metaphysical tea party themes have become increasingly popular along with those based on literary fantasy worlds.
A large moon lamp makes a great centerpiece, with golden tea candles spread throughout the room. Float seasonal flowers in “scrying” bowls to decorate the tables. Darken the lights and hang golden fairy lights to transform your party space into a night under portentous stars.
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Set the scene for your mystical tea party themes with black and gold party supplies. A dramatic tea service in gold-adorned china will surely impress your guests as well.
Seasonal dishes that align with the Wheel of the Year make menu planning easy. Early vegetables like peas, asparagus, and green onions in mini-quiches make an excellent spring savory. You can grill summer vegetables to top bruchetti or make heartier fare in autumn like chili cornbread bites or sweet potato rounds. For winter tea party themes, serve savory meat pies and cocoa along with the tea.
Legend has it that Mugwort tea has special properties that free the mind and enhance dreams. If you prefer something less experimental, try some Gunpowder tea for its unique smoky flavor.
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Choose loose leaf tea, so you can offer tea leaf readings for your guests. Or hire a fortune teller to read leaves or tarot cards. Many list the service and its cost on their website. Set up the ingredients to make magical candles and charge them with magical essential oils to scent them so you and your guests can charge the candles with good intentions.
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Which Tea Party Themes Will You Choose?
The best tea party themes seem to be those you can adapt for children or adults. With a mystical party, try a Harry Potter theme. Kids also love garden tea parties, and the addition of outdoor games make it a natural choice for birthday parties. A pared-down traditional tea party is an excellent mother-daughter activity for scouts. Better yet, plan a small tea party after annual checkups. You’ll find nothing soothes a post-vaccine pout like a hot cuppa and biscuit.
Hosting a tea party can prove so much easier than an evening affair. Since you will typically hold the tea party in the afternoon, you can enjoy all the benefits of hosting a great party without the planning, expense, and time that a dinner or cocktail party requires. They also make a great bridal or baby shower, where people of all ages can gather. And because they’re usually only an hour or two long, you can host a tea party without it interfering too much with your or your guest’s busy schedules.