Sunday, April 7, 2013

Throwing a Casual Tea Party, Part 1 of 3: The Buffet

 Hello all! Life has been crazy lately. I was sick three times in the first three months of this year, and one of those illnesses was the flu. Yuck. My husband started a new job, I was in the process of being interviewed and thankfully also started a new job! We have been busy bees, and cooking has been on the back burner. Our meals have consisted of pre-made salads, quesadillas, and crock pot meals. Something that has been a constant in my day to day is tea. 

  When I'm home from work but it's too early for dinner, I just need something to hold me over until it's dinnertime. Typically I make a pot of tea and grab a couple cookies or crackers to snack on. It has been the highlight of my day, because it gives me a chance to sit and relax. Due to my new found love of tea, collecting china has become somewhat of an obsession. It all started when my mother gave me a tea set that belonged to my great-grandmother. It just says "Japan" on the bottom, and thanks to a Google search I found that means it was made between 1921-1941. Pretty cool owning a tea set that is nearly 100 years old and in mint condition. The cups are demitasse cups, so they were too small to drink out of. That's when I became hyper aware of all tea cups and saucers in my neighborhood. Now I have four cups with their saucers found from thrift stores, and I have six more coming that I ordered from Etsy, only $5 each.

  So enough chit chat about teacups, let's get to the fun stuff! If you enjoy tea and entertaining, hosting an informal tea party is the best way to spend an afternoon with the girls. I had a tea party for three the other day, and I decided to do it buffet style. I made a buffet for my dining room using the Ikea Expedit series. It's the perfect place to display china, and worked wonderfully as a buffet to serve food and drinks. Making your tea party buffet style eliminates the need to select one person to do the honors of pouring the tea. The buffet is just a help yourself style meal, and it allows you to go back for more as much as you like!

  When I think of afternoon tea, I immediately think of pink and florals! So I just went with it. I put out my pretty china teacups, pink plates, pink flowers, pink food, and of course sparkling pink wine. The food is all customizable, and you can choose whatever sounds great and is in season. I will go into greater detail regarding the food in another post. For tea I did a selection of three: a plain black tea, Earl Grey, and Lady Grey. It is more traditional to serve black tea, an herbal tea, and coffee. One way of displaying the food and tea in an aesthetically pleasing way is to add pops of color and place objects at different heights. 

  The table would look quite plain with all that white china, so I used bright flowers, lemon slices, pink wine, a tea towel, and a sugar bowl to add little pops of color. The accent colors I chose were blue, yellow, purple, and pink. It's easiest to use what you have, and then choose flowers accordingly. Creating height is effortless if you use what you have. I flipped over a clear casserole dish to place my silver coffee pot so it would sit higher. I also used a hot pink bowl to make one of the teapots sit higher up. Doilies are a must if you have them, they add elegance and charm to any buffet table. 

  Having a selection of both tea and coffee is important because it will give your guests options. Champagne or sparkling wine is of course optional, but it's a fun beverage to incorporate along with some kind of water. Eating rich foods and drinking tea might leave your guests wanting something more refreshing. I prepared a pitcher of chilled cucumber and lemon sparkling water. It was just what we needed to quench our thirst. I displayed the food in a very simple way using a tiered glass stand. If I was throwing a larger tea party I would certainly incorporate cake stands and larger serving dishes. Luckily you do not need much for a couple of close friends. 

  If you'd like, offer a couple of tea bags with saucers for those who want an individual cup of tea that is different from the tea served in the pots. I put out some herbal tea, decaf Lady Grey, and Darjeeling along with a tea ball. Perfect Tea Ball, Google affiliate.

  Traditionally you would have two serving trays. One with tea, and the other with coffee. On the above tray I offered black tea along with the milk and two types of sugar. I offered stevia as a sugar substitute as well. The other tray held a large silver coffeepot and a white teapot, we didn't end up using either but they certainly looked pretty. It's important to have a kettle with boiling water ready, and a separate teapot filled with hot water. This way you are always ready to brew a fresh pot, and those who prefer weaker tea can add hot water as they please. I like to keep the teapot filled with hot water wrapped in a tea towel, this keeps the water hot for longer. You can also use teapot warmers if you don't plan on drinking the tea quickly, there will be more on those in another post.

  This was an informal afternoon low tea, and not a high tea so we weren't seated at a table. Instead we lounged on the couch and used small tables to rest our tea cups and plates. You can use an ottoman like the one above, and cover it with a tea towel to absorb spills and crumbs.

   Eventually, we were too full to go back for more so we brought the wine and tea over to where we were seated. The little table works well for a few ladies, if you have more guests consider putting out small tables for your guests. Two people can share a table, that way your living room doesn't become crowded.

  You also want to have quite a few tea towels on hand for your guests to use on their laps as well as napkins. Make sure you provide your guests with a teaspoon for their tea, and utensils to eat their food. If you are having a low tea you don't want to serve any food that can be easily spilled, or any food that requires a knife. Serve small finger foods and desserts to eliminate the mess. Be sure to keep an eye on the teapots and make sure that they are hot and full at all times. You don't want your guests asking if you would brew more tea for them.

  I hope those tips were helpful! For the next post I plan on showing how to host a high tea, so check back for more on that. Do you enjoy afternoon tea? Feel free to share and tips and tricks in the comments below!

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