In order for your tea party event to stand out, remember that the central part of your menu is the tea. The food serves as a compliment. It’s amazing how often this is overlooked.
For information on the types of tea and how to brew it, see my article, “The Tea Party’s Most Important Ingredient “. This article, on the other hand, will lead you through the process of determining your menu.
Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- How many people am I planning for?
- Will I do all the preparation of the food myself?
- Can I do all the serving or will I need help?
- What is my event’s budget?
The traditional menu for a full afternoon tea usually consists of:
- a cup of soup
- piece of quiche
- side salad
- tea sandwiches
- sweets/bite-size desserts
It is your choice to deviate from the traditional menu. Consider the season, available produce, time of day of your event, how much work you want to do, your guests needs, etc., and customize the above menu accordingly.
What tea do you plan to serve?
Tea pairs with and compliments food similar to wine. The following teas are the best choices for an afternoon tea event:
- Lapsang Souchong
Here are some specific food pairings that may apply to your menu.
1. Use an Earl Grey or Assam with beef.
2 Use an Oolong or Darjeeling with chicken.
3. Use a Ceylon with vegetables.
4. Use a First Flush Darjeeling or Light, Sweet Green or White Tea with fresh fruit.
5. Use an Assam, Darjeeling, or Oolong with dark chocolate.
6. Use a Dragonwell with milk chocolate.
7. Use a Dragonwell, Darjeeling, Ceylon, or Assam with carrot cake/cheesecake.
8. Use a Darjeeling or Assam with Creme Brulee or caramel.
9. Use a Darjeeling with a dessert of apples/apricots/currants/berries/pie or vanilla.
10. Use a Dragonwell with a Brie cheese.
11. Use a First-Flush Darjeeling with Camembert cheese.
12. Use a Ceylon with cream cheese.
Now obviously, your menu will include more than one flavor of food, and you many only serve one or two teas (I recommend always including a decaf/herbal for your sensitive guests). However, consider a dominant flavor or two and choose a tea based on the above recommendations.
Variety is important to the tea party menu, as well as presentation. This can be accomplished a number of ways, including:
1. The use of edible flowers, either in the food or as a garnish.
2. Drawing from all four food groups.
3. Incorporating color whenever possible.
4. Planning your menu to include a quantity of bite-sized quality foods.
Here are a few tips for each course.
Soup~Soup can be vegetable or fruit-based. It can be served hot or cold. You may choose not to serve it at all. Large soup bowls are not needed, soup for afternoon tea can be served in a variety of vessels. I’ve had soup served at afternoon tea in a dematisse cup on a saucer and a punch cup set on a matching glass party plate. Be creative! The richest tasting soups are often cream-based.
Quiche~Often afternoon tea is served combining the soup, quiche, and salad as the first course. The quiche can be individual-sized or a slice from a pie-sized dish. If you choose to serve quiche and tea sandwiches, consider whether they will both include meat and try not to duplicate (i.e. a ham quiche and ham tea sandwich might be redundant).
Salad~Think seasonal. Consider whether you want it to be grain- or green- or fruit-based. Can it be made ahead? How will its colors compliment the soup and quiche if applicable?
Tea Sandwiches~Tea Sandwiches can be made the day ahead and stored in the refrigerator as long as:
1. Your filling isn’t too soggy
2. They are wrapped well to avoid them drying out.
I usually plan on three different tea sandwiches per guest. Remember tea sandwiches are finger sandwiches, cut in unusual shapes with the crusts cut off. The sandwiches cut better if cold, another reason to refrigerate them the day before. Use cookie cutters for a variety of shapes and different types of bread for a variety of color. Many tea sandwiches are made open-face to aid presentation. The cucumber sandwich is the traditional afternoon tea sandwich and can be made a variety of ways, even without bread! Here’s one of my favorite recipes from “A Year of Teas at the Elmwood Inn” by Bruce and Shelley Richardson:
Cucumbers with Carrots and Chives
1 large cucumber sliced into medium slices
1 3-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Fresh carrot curls
Pieces of leaf lettuce
Combine cream cheese, chives, parsley, and lemon juice. Blend well. Spread a small amount on top of each cucumber slice. Place cucumber slice on a piece of lettuce and top with a carrot curl. This can also be made as an open-faced sandwich on a round of cracked wheat bread and the spread between the bread and the cucumber with the carrot curl on top.
Scones~scones are the traditional English accompaniment to tea. They can be made less sweet and biscuit size, which is the more traditional English way or larger with a variety of flavors which is more American. Scones are usually served with clotted cream, lemon curd, and/or jam. Many people use mock clotted cream because clotted cream can be difficult to find in America. Here’s a recipe. I like to use Creme Fraiche from Trader Joe’s.
Sweets~Often afternoon tea food is served on tiered trays. Always place the sweets on the top. They are almost always the most beautiful to look at. It is customary for a three-tiered tray to include the tea sandwiches on the bottom-tier, the scones in the middle, and the sweets on top. This alone can make up a one-course (served all at once) light afternoon tea. When planning your sweets, consider how you can include non-white flour-based desserts to help with variety. Some ideas include finger-sized tarts, a chocolate truffle, cups of sorbet, and seasonal fresh fruit.
Planning the menu can be a wonderful time to dream and imagine your event. In time, though, be sure to adjust your menu based on the answers to the questions asked at the beginning of this article. It is customary to recommend a practice run of any recipes that are new to you. If you want to serve a full afternoon tea, but need a few shortcuts, here are a few ideas.
1. Purchase the soup ready-made. Many delis, including the deli at the local grocery store, provide wonderful “homemade” soups. I have used Trader Joe’s creamy red pepper boxed soup in a pinch with some chives and sour cream as a garnish.
2. Again, use a deli for your salad. Use bagged lettuce. Grocery stores as well provide many fruits and vegetables already cut up.
3. Talk to your local bakery, for bite-sized dessert or scone options.
4. Decent lemon curd can be purchased jarred, though home-made is superb.
5. Serve dessert as a separate last course instead of multiple bite-sized desserts. Include the a tea sandwich or two with the soup and salad and eliminate the quiche.
Enjoy the process! It’s great fun to plan a party and be creative. It’s important to have help, delegate, and do the part you enjoy the most, so as the hostess, you can enjoy your event to.
Additional Articles You Will Want To Read:
Tea Party Girl Asks: What key ingredients make a successful tea party menu at your gatherings?