A Proper Tea |Tips for Hosting Your Own Tea Party

A Proper Tea |Tips for Hosting Your Own Tea Party



“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” ~Henry James

Do you love to have tea? Hosting your own tea party is a gracious way to entertain. This month’s Victorian Homes Magazine features an article I wrote about the history of tea, and how to host your own tea party. It’s a beautiful & inspiring issue, I hope you will get a copy! Here are my best tips to make it beautiful:

In the heyday of elegant tea parties, Victorian ladies served tea from beautiful ornate silver tea services in their “best” room, usually the drawing room, in front of the fire during the colder months. To host your own Victorian Tea, send out hand written invitations by mail to your guests. I know we live in the digital, online world. But really, there is something amazingly special about an invitation that comes in the mail! Mail your invitations at least one week before the tea. A proper tea consists of 6 – 8 guests, as tea is meant to be an intimate gathering.



A Proper Tea |Tips for Hosting Your Own Tea Party


If your tea is to honor a special guest, to welcome a friend who is visiting from out of town, or to celebrate the birthday of a dear friend, for instance, guests should be invited to arrive about 10 minutes ahead of your guest of honor. Tea never begins until your guest of honor arrives, and no one should leave before this honored guest does. If there is no guest of honor, tea should not begin until all the guests have arrived.

Once your guests are seated, tea is served first, by you, the host/hostess. Begin with the guest of honor, if there is one, or with the guest on your left. The proper way to serve is to pick up the cup and saucer, pour the tea, then hand it to your guests. Never pour tea into a cup sitting on the table.

Traditionally, when serving, the host asks “milk, sugar or lemon?” and adds those ingredients to each cup, but today it is acceptable for guests to add sugar, milk or lemon themselves.



The Well Dressed Tea Table

Setting an appealing table is a very enjoyable part of hosting a tea. A small bouquet of roses from the garden adds a spot of natural beauty, as do crisply folded tea napkins on each plate.

The well dressed tea table should be covered with lace or a fine cotton tea cloth. If you want to prepare a gracious afternoon tea, you will want to use a few elegant accessories to transform your simple tea service into a refined social gathering.


Some of the items you need for a proper tea include:

  • A silver tea service, or a porcelain tea pot and a creamer and sugar.
  • A serving tray on which the tea set will be placed
  • Tea cups and saucers, along with small porcelain plates for the savories and sweets. {A mixture of patterns is cheerful, and perfectly acceptable.}
  • Small silver tea spoons for each guest, and silver tongs or other serving pieces to serve the food which should be arranged in a beautiful manner on plates.
  • A small dish to hold the lemon slices.
  • Napkins, preferably linen.


Tea Party Etiquette

Part of the charm and graciousness of tea is a more formal atmosphere. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts.


Choose Sugar & Milk, or Lemon. Sugar is added to the cup first, then milk. Or, choose sugar and lemon. Milk and lemon are not a winning combination, as the acid of the lemon can make the milk curdle.

Hold Your Cup Correctly. It is customary to pick up the saucer with your left hand and the cup with your right. Your thumb and index finger should meet in the handle of the cup. Please do not hook your finger through the handle, or put your pinkie finger up, it should be aligned in a natural manner with your other fingers.

Eat Savories then Sweets. The correct order for eating what is offered on the tea tray is to eat the sandwiches {savories} first, the scones next, and desserts {sweets} last. It is permissible to eat the scones first, while they are still warm, then eat the savories and sweets.


Eat Your Scone Correctly. Select your scone, then break it apart. Scones are not to be sliced in half with your knife, a scone should be easily broken in two. You use the knife to add jam, perhaps some butter. If there is clotted cream, you will add a dollop of cream with the serving spoon. Please do not sandwich the two halves together as if it were a large bun.

You May Use Your Fingers. It is permissible at tea to eat everything without silverware. Tea food should be bite sized, making it an elegant morsel to eat.

Be Gracious. Always write your host or hostess a hand written thank you note. It takes quite a bit of effort to host a lovely tea, so a beautiful thank you card is much appreciated.




Loose Tea Preferred. Don’t use tea bags when having tea. If you have an aversion to loose tea leaves in the pot, use a tea ball.

Don’t Scald Your Tea. After your kettle has come to a roiling boil, turn off the flame. Pour hot water, but not scalding water, you will burn the delicate tea leaves destroying flavor and aroma.

Don’t Stir Your Tea Around.  A circular motion is to be avoided. Place your spoon at the 12 o’clock position in the cup, then gently move it down to the 6 o’clock position a few times. Your spoon is placed on the right side of the saucer afterwards.

Mind Your Manners.  Use silver sugar tongs to pick up sugar cubes, not your fingers. Don’t dip food into your tea. Keep your cup and saucer together, if you need to stand up while drinking tea for any reason, take your saucer with you!

Napkins Have Rules. Place your napkin on your lap, if you must leave your place at the table, your napkin should be placed on your chair. After making certain all the guests have finished their tea and food servings, the host or hostess will pick up their napkin to signal that tea time is over. At that time, all guests should pick up their own napkin by the center, and place it loosely on the left side of their plate.


Shop for antique Tea sets, cups and saucers, silver, and Antique Linens.

Next time I’ll share how to set a pretty Valentine’s Day Tea Table for your friends, and how to make a perfect pot of tea!



4 thoughts on “A Proper Tea |Tips for Hosting Your Own Tea Party”

  1. Lidy, Thank you for all the tips! Formal teas are becoming popular
    in my part of the USA and I have to say I love them! My husbands grandmother was Scottish and I had to learn the proper way to make “Tea”…. also still make Grandmas butter scones. Loved your article! Nancy

  2. Such a wonderful post! I’m having a tea soon, your tips are super helpful.

  3. Lidy, I’m in love with your dessert plates with the swallows trailing vines on them. I don’t see them on your store site so I’m assuming they are yours. They’re lovely. I love having friends or my granddaughters for tea. A beautiful article!

    1. Diane, I love the Limoges plates with the swallows too! They are for sale, we have been using them for photo shoots since they are so rare to find, but they will be for sale this month.

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