Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How To Throw A Smashing Tea Party

As my honorary first post here, I’ve decided to skip those oh-so-sweet formalities and jump right into things - to take life by the pearls, if you will! I’ve never been one for drawn-out introductions, so I figured the best way for me to get to know everyone (and for everyone to get to know me) is by, quite simply, throwing a party.

There’s no better way to get to know people than through parties, and there’s no better way to get to know interesting people than through tea parties. Tea parties have their roots in Victorian England where they acted as aristocratic gathering grounds for high-society women (and sometimes their men.) American culture inherited the practice during the Gilded age of the USA, and a variation on those classically classy parties still thrives today in certain debutant circles. Modern tea parties have lost their tight-lipped formality and instead gained a zany, electric charm filled with sugar sweet music and warm baked treats.

Ironically, tea parties have never been about the tea, but instead about the people. While most parties dabble in drinks and dancing, tea folk find themselves mingling and joking, telling fairy-tales and horror-stories over the table to total strangers. Tea parties are about the whimsical, the fantastic, the childish and the silly. They’re a celebration of everyday magic and the people who throw themselves wildly at it. To quote Henry Fielding, “love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.” Free conversation has always been encouraged between guests, even during Victorian tea time, and the charming and sometimes strange atmosphere is the perfect place to let loose and be yourself.

What You’ll Need
+ Sugar cubes
+ Milk
+ Honey
+ Lemon slices, or maybe lime slices as well if you’re extra daring.
+ Various teas – Try to mix it up. Don’t just go to the supermarket and pick up a box of Lipton - search out some really interesting teas. Teavana’s Almond Biscotti and Yogi Tea’s Mexican Sweet Chili are some of my personal favorites, but experiment to find something that you think your guests will enjoy. Variety is key!

If your party is going to take place during the summer, it’s always a wonderful idea to have lots of iced tea on hand as well. For those such as myself who have to strut through intolerably blistering summers year after year, hot tea gets to be overwhelming if there’s not something cool to wash it down with. If plain old iced tea isn’t your thing, try Arnold Palmers or iced green tea with sugar and some fresh mint. Anything cool and zesty will do the trick!

Pick a Menu
It’s best to serve bite-sized, manageable food. The whole idea of the tea party is that it isn’t a meal but rather a social afternoon snack, so try to find light yet flavorful hors d'oeuvres. Classic tea parties served tea sandwiches of cucumber and tomato, but personally I have more of a sweet tooth. Try peanut butter, banana, and honey or Nutella sandwiches along with pink iced sugar cookies and cherry-topped cupcakes. As a rule of thumb, try to avoid meat – it’s very filling and some of your guests (such as myself) might have dietary restrictions. Sweets are always the best way to go – they’re fun with so much room for creativity, and they can easily be made vegan and, surprisingly, quite healthy!

Extra-Special Tricks
+ Set out bouquets of bright and colorful flowers.
+ Ask everyone to come in costume. Outfits don’t have to be elaborate or super-expensive, just throw on those old prom dresses and worn-in combat boots!
+ Take Polaroid snapshots of your guests throughout the afternoon.
+ Make a hand-made guestbook for everyone to sign. Press fresh flowers and put them in-between the pages.
+ Ask guests to bring their own teacup for a little more variety.
+ Hang paper lanterns and/or clear Christmas lights around. That way if the party extends into the night, you’ve got both extra light and a stunningly magical setting.
+ Set up a living room set outdoors, complete with rug and floor lamps. Pretend like the party is actually taking place indoors.
+ Clear out a space somewhere shaded and have a low-to-the-ground table with lots of pillows and cushions for seating.
+ Have an absurdly ambient playlist. (The Tiger Lilies and Nouvelle Vague are some of my personal favorites.)
+ Ask guests to bring any instruments they play – live music is always extra thrilling.
+ Serve jam and other condiments in vintage mason jars.

Now go out there, with tea-cup in hand, and shake up the world! Expand your horizons, meet strange and interesting folk and, of course, sweeten life.

Penelope ♥

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