Several years ago, my church was looking for items for silent auction and I came up the idea of donating a Downton Abbey tea party for 8 to be held at my home. The item was so popular 16 people signed up and I ended up hosting two tea parties. I loved doing those parties and the guests loved them even more. I have been hosting tea parties ever since for special occasions and milestone birthdays for my daughters and their friends. I have had two Sweet 16 parties and the kids just loved it. Many of the birthday girls’ friends had never been to a tea party. We also have plenty of boys who come to our tea parties also and I am often asked when I will be having the next one. Tea parties are great for Hen parties, baby showers, graduation, birthdays, Christmas, Easter or heck just because it is a Friday.
The tradition of afternoon tea goes back a long time. It was started in England as far back as the 1840’s. Tea is typically taken in the afternoon and if you have watched Downton Abbey you will have seen the Dowager indulge many times. It is an elegant and relaxing event and if it is done right the ambiance is wonderful.
I live in Arizona and there is one tea shop in the whole area of Scottsdale and Phoenix that is authentic it is called the English Rose Tea Garden in Carefree. It is cute and is very much like the tea shops you can visit in England. It is run by an English lady with the perfect English accent, so she knows how it’s done. One of the issues I have with some of the tea’s I have been to in USA and London is that they are overdone. The food is too fancy, remember this was a tradition in the afternoon you were still going to eat dinner, so at a genuine tea party the food is much simpler. In many of these cases I could not eat most of the food it was too much and too rich. My daughter and I went to high tea at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin and it was beautiful the Lord Mayor’s room is stunning and the atmosphere and ambiance was amazing. However, the Petite Four (deserts) the top layer of the serving plate was just too rich and impossible to eat. High tea is about simple sandwiches and scones served with clotted cream and jam. You can get clotted cream in Arizona at AJ’s. Typically, and this is how I serve it, the bottom layer contains savory sandwiches, the middle layer contains scones and the top layer a desert. I have seen some beautiful Pinterest and Instagram ready teatime food, but the reality is they are often done for effect and of course the truly fancy stuff means a high price for an afternoon tea. The dealbreaker for me is when I am served tea in plain white china cups. I was so disappointed when I had tea at Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey) and it was served in white cups. I am in love with the beautiful traditional patterned fine china with flowers and fine finishes. You do not have to have matching cups in fact different cups and saucers make the table prettier and are much more in line with what you get in a traditional tea shop in England.
You can still buy the beautiful china, or you can save a lot of money and shop the consignment stores and thrift stores for your collection. Almost all my tea party china has come from consignment stores (I have a large collection). Two of my favorite’s boxes of china from consignment stores had “Grandma’s China” written on the box. I was happy to bring Grandma’s china back to life. I have paid as little as $49 dollars for a 12-place setting vintage Lennox dinner service and $50 for Royal Dalton 6 pieces tea and coffee set. Look for the dinner services which come with cups and saucers and have milk jugs and sugar bowls. You then have most of what you need and picking up a china teapot is relatively simple. Goodwill regularly has a collection of china teacups and saucers and you can also pick them up there. You can also get the 3-tier cake stands in consignment stores. I have also got really nice cake stands from Amazon. Search for “3 tier cake stands”
Downton Abbey Tea Party
Now we have covered the basics here is how to do your very own Downton Abbey Tea Party. Let’s start with 6 people.
- 6 cups and saucers
- 6 small teaspoons. Place one spoon on each saucer.
- Milk and sugar bowl – I prefer full fat milk for tea it is a much creamier taste
- 6 sandwich plates
- 3-tiered cake stand or 3 china dinner plates to serve the food
- English loose leaf tea – I bring mine from Europe you can buy online if you cannot get locally.
- China teapot
- Tea strainer
- Two small dishes for jam and cream
- Tablecloth and napkins – You can also pick these up from Goodwill.
Sandwiches - Bottom Tier
- Soft White sandwich bread
- Softened butter
- 1 English cucumber
- 1 pound of chopped chicken breast
- 1 cup of crushed walnuts
- 4 hard-boiled eggs
- Chopped chives
Make your sandwiches fresh if you must make them in advance then cover immediately with clingfilm. But do not make much more than an hour or two before your guests arrive. Stale sandwiches are a real no no.
Chicken and walnut sandwiches
- Chop the chicken add the walnuts, add salt and pepper and bind together with mayonnaise. Butter the bread. Spread the chicken between two slices. Remove the crusts with a very sharp bread knife, you do not need to remove all the crust just the rougher parts. Cut the sandwich in halves. Cover immediately.
Egg and chive sandwiches
- Mash the eggs in a bowl add salt and pepper, add the chopped chives add mayonnaise to bind. Butter the bread and spread the egg mix between the slices now cut the same as the chicken sandwich.
- Peel the cucumber. Slice thinly and place between the buttered slices of bread. Finish as before. Try to make your sandwiches look uniform it looks great when plated if they are all roughly the same size.
Scones - Middle tier
- Serve with strawberry jam or lemon curd and clotted cream. If you cannot get clotted cream fresh whipped cream will work but do not use the canned cream.
Desert - Top Tier
- 1 pound of large Strawberries
- Semi-sweet chocolate chips or melting chocolate
- Wash and dry your strawberries. Leave the stems on the strawberries just plump them up a little. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for 1-minute check if you can stir it to a soft creamy melt. Put it back from 1 minute at a time until you have smooth melted chocolate. Do not overheat.
- Dip the strawberries in the chocolate and place each one on a tray covered with parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator to set. I have also decorated the strawberries with white melted chocolate and sprinkles but plain works great too. Take the strawberries out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before you serve to allow the chocolate to soften otherwise when your guests bite into the strawberry the chocolate will crack and make a big chocolate mess.
Tea - The most important part
This is the last thing you will do
- Make with fresh with boiling water. Rinse the pot with the boiling water. Add about 1.5 dessert spoons of tea to the pot. Pour the boiling water to the top. Stir the tea but do not leave it to “brew” as it mars the flavor and it will have a stewed taste. Serve right away. Pour the tea through a strainer. You should have placed everything else on the table by now.