By Bruce Richardson (elmwoodinn.com)
Preparing tea for a group comes easily for me because my wife and I owned a tearoom for 14 years. However, I realize this task might appear daunting to a tea novice or even a seasoned host who needs a bit of guidance on the logistics of making tea for four or more. Here are a few helpful tips I like to share with those planning a larger event—either formal or informal.
Always offer a choice of at least two teas that complement your food selections. Classic blends or Ceylon, Indian, and China black teas generally go well with most tea foods. Stay away from highly aromatic selections such as a smoky Lapsang Souchong or an Earl Grey. These can be off-putting to some tea drinkers or someone susceptible to heavy aromas. And consider offering a caffeine-free alternative for guests who are caffeine sensitive—rooibos, fruit infusions, or herbals are always welcome at today’s tea table.
A silver tea service is nice but not a prerequisite. A china tea set, consisting of a teapot, a creamer, and a sugar bowl, and maybe a plate for lemon slices will be fine, or use a variety of patterns for a whimsical touch. Tea warmers (glass or silver bases holding a small candle) are a great way to keep tea hot throughout your event. Plus, your guests will find the teapot and warmer both utilitarian and attractive.
A formal gathering calls for loose tea rather than tea bags. Tea should be made in the kitchen. Place loose tea in an infuser basket or a disposable paper tea holder. Steep according to the label directions, and remove the spent leaves. Then take the teapot to the table.
Hot tea may be made an hour or so before your guests arrive and kept at the proper temperature in urns or carafes. Just be sure these warming utensils never held coffee. The lingering aroma of coffee oils can spoil even the best of teas.
When hosting a buffet tea or a tea shower, place the tea tray and china set at one end of the serving table. Arrange plates and tea napkins on the left. On the right, set out the necessary number of cups, saucers, and teaspoons to accommodate your guests. Platters of refreshments can include tea sandwiches in assorted shapes, various breads, cakes, pastries, and cookies. Guests always appreciate small finger foods that are easy to maneuver while standing. Be sure to have a separate table for depositing used dishes.
Invite several friends to serve as pourers. It is an honor to be asked to pour tea. Etiquette expert Dorothea Johnson says, “A guest pourer is considered the guardian of the teapot, which implies sterling social graces and profound trust.” Arrange a schedule outlining when each one will be on duty dispensing tea. No one should pour for more than 20 minutes.
The best tea host is one who is at ease. Make your preparations ahead of your guests’ arrival. That way, you’ll be sure to give them your full attention. You can’t serve a cup of serenity if your mind is not serene first!
Contributing Editor Bruce Richardson is the co-author, along with Dorothea Johnson, of Tea & Etiquette and Children’s Tea & Etiquette, both published by Benjamin Press. Read his blog at theteamaestro.blogspot.com.