How to Serve High Tea at Home

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Tea cup with flower petals.
Tea cup with flower petals. (Image: Karisssa/iStock/Getty Images)

A traditional high tea is a late midday meal served between 4 and 6 p.m. According to What’s Cooking America, the tradition of high tea started in France. It then became fashionable in England in the 19th century when the Duchess of Bedford started the practice of inviting her friends to join her for an afternoon meal at 5 p.m. High tea is a heavier meal then the standard light tea with scones. It features a variety of sweet delicacies alongside savory bites and served with a variety of teas.

Invitations and Planning

You can host a high tea for a variety of celebrations such as a birthday or a bridal or baby shower, for Mother’s Day or just as an intimate gathering of friends. Use invitations to set the mood for your event. For a formal tea, touches like lace and dried flowers will add a vintage flair to your invite. For a more modern or casual tea party, an invitation might include a silhouette of a tea kettle on a colorful background. Decide on a location for your high tea and whether to host the party indoors or outside in a garden setting. Include the details of your event on the invitation and send the invites to guests three to four weeks in advance.

The Set-Up

Whether your party will be indoors or out, ensure that you have adequate table space to sit guests comfortably. The food can be set up on one table buffet style with the tea service on another table close by. Break out your best china, crystal and flatware or scour flea markets and thrift shops to stock up on extra tea cups, saucers, teaspoons, plates and platters with interesting motifs. Mix-and-match patterns can add flair to the overall look of your table settings. Cover tables with vintage embroidered table cloths and use cloth napkins to add sophistication to your decor. Top tables with bouquets of fresh flowers and tiny tea candles to add to the ambiance.

Tea as the Focal Point

Tea can be served by using either loose leaves or single tea bags. If you are opting for loose leaves, have enough individual tea steepers on hand for each guest. Offer an array of teas such as English breakfast, Earl Grey, jasmine tea, green tea and a variety of non-caffeinated herbal teas to suit guests' individual tastes. To accompany the tea, have small pitchers of milk, honey, bowls of freshly sliced lemon and sugar cubes. In addition to tea, offer coffee for those guests who prefer it as well as sparkling and bottled water.

The Fare

Serve tiny tea sandwiches made with ingredients such as herb butter, cream cheese and cucumber, smoked salmon topped with dill or egg salad. Miniature quiches can also be served as savory bites. Sweet scones can be topped with clotted cream and jam while savory ones can be served with butter. Offer a variety of delectable pastries such as eclairs, cream puffs and apple or berry-filled turnovers. Strawberry shortcake also pairs well with a variety of teas. Petit fours are tiny, elaborately decorated cakes that are a standard at a high tea. Another traditional offering is Battenberg cake -- a colorful pound cake with a layer of sweet filling that is covered in marzipan. Round out your sweet offerings with a platter of fresh fruit such as strawberries and sliced melon.

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