Tea Parties

One of my favorite things to do is host tea parties!  I used to be a 'die-hard' coffee drinker (I still love my coffee!) but once I learned how to properly select and brew loose tea -- I was hooked!  Over time, I'd love to inspire you to try brewing loose tea and maybe even host your own tea party!  All of my parties have been "Victorian" in theme with the addition of a holiday theme such as Valentine's Day (pictured on this page), Christmas, Fall and I also have held a summer "Herb" tea.  Each tea I host features a favor for the ladies to take home, a few games with prizes, a brief word of encouragement from the Bible, Victorian music, candlelight and three courses beginning with scones (pronounced to rhyme with lawn), lemon curd, Devonshire cream and jam; a second course of tea sandwiches and of course, a dessert course!  Keep checking back often as I plan to add links to some of my favorite tea sites/shops, recipes and decorating ideas.  Feel free to contact me if you have questions that need answers sooner!
What is the origin of the "Afternoon Tea"? 
Henry James wrote, "There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as an afternoon tea." Afternoon tea was invented by Anna Duchess of Bedford (1783-1857), one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting. During this time, the noble classes ate large breakfasts, small lunches and late suppers. Every afternoon, Anna experienced what she referred to as a "sinking feeling," so she requested that her servants bring her tea and petite-sized cakes to her boudoir. Many followed the Duchess' lead, and thus the ritual of afternoon tea was birthed. In fact, a culture of sorts emerged around the tradition of drinking tea. Fine hotels began to offer tea rooms, while tea shops opened for the general public. 

What should I serve?
A full tea has three courses:  Scones with accompaniments to start, followed by tea sandwiches and ending with desserts.  You offer a simple tea consisting of just the scones and desserts.  

What is the proper way to make and brew tea?
First you need to make sure you have good water.  If you do not have good tasting water, it's best to use bottled water and always start with cold water.  

Measure out your loose tea leaves into a diffuser (many teapots come with these -- a metal/mesh basket that fits into the teapot to hold the tea) measuring out 1-2 teaspoons per cup.  

Different types of tea require different temperatures for brewing and steeping (this is the time that you cover your cup/pot and keep the steam inside to release the flavors of the tea leaves).

Black tea - Black is the most robust of the tea varieties and can be brewed in truly boiling water, usually steeped for 4-6 minutes.
Oolong tea - As to be expected, oolong tea falls between green and black. The best temperature is around 190F. But oolong should be steeped longer than black tea, for around 5-8 minutes.
Green tea - You will need to be more gentle with your green teas. The water temperature should be around 150-160F and only steeped for 2-4 minutes.
White tea - Another delicate tea that should be treated gently. Water can be a bit warmer than for green tea, at 180F. You should let it steep longer though. At least 4-6 minutes.
Rooibos tea - This red herbal tea from South Africa is very hardy stuff and should be prepared with fully boiling water, just like black tea.
Most herbal teas - With so many different herbs that can be used for herbal tea blends, there is no way to give any temperature or steeping guidelines with any accuracy. Most herbs can be brewed in boiling water and steeped for about 5 minutes. You might need a bit of trial and error to get the perfect cup.
If you don't have a thermometer handy, you can tell the water temperature by watching the bubbles. Small bubbles will float to the surface of the water 160-170F, and you'll see strings of bubbles from the bottom of the kettle at 180-190F. After that, you'll have a full rolling boil. 

Once the tea has finished steeping, remove the tea leaves by pouring through a strainer or simply removing the diffuser.  You should not allow the leaves to remain in the pot or cup as the tea will become bitter the longer it steeps in most cases.  The exception to this rule would be herbal teas which can steep for an unlimited amount of time.

If you are "new" to tea, I'd encourage you to visit www.teaguide.net .  This is a wonderful site where you can find a list of tearooms in your state and even around the world!  If you can find one that offers a tasting bar -- you should go!  These types of tea shops cater to tea "newbies" by explaining all about the different teas, brewing methods and best of all, you can taste before you buy.  Let me tell you, just because a tea smells good, doesn't mean that you'll like it!  If you live in the Chicago area, I highly recommend SereneTeaz -- they offer tea tasting and are just about the nicest people you'd want to meet!  Another one of my favorites is Crumpet's Tea Room in Genoa.  Not only is it a lovely place for lunch and or tea, they offer special teas by reservation only that are to die for!  So many courses and so much food -- don't be put off by the price -- it is so worth it!

Click HERE for my traditional tea party menu and recipes!