Tea Party Etiquette

Your questions answered on Tea Party Etiquette. Hosting a tea party? Get some tea party ideas and tea party recipes too.

Afternoon teas are little social events given in honor of visiting friends, new neighbors, VIPs. They can also be given as birthday parties, a house warming or simply another way to entertain.

They are more cost effective, light-hearted alternative to the dinner or cocktail party which requires a heavier commitment on the host in preparation as well as on the schedule of busy guests. Especially when the wine and champagne bill can run sky high ...

Tea Party Etiquette - Invitations

Birthday Tea Party Invitations...

So let's start with the invitations! How formal should your invitation be? Do I send them in the mail? Email them?

The type of elegant invitation should follow the how formal and elaborate your tea party is.

If you do not want too much fuss, use simple printed, written, fill-in-the-blanks type. For informal tea parties, you may simply use the telephone!

But of course, why not use your best stationary and handwriting and have the most elegant affair! Like this one.

tea party etiquette invitations
Very sweet and a great idea for tea party invitations.

Tea Party Etiquette As A Tea Party Guest

Despite having a casually elegant or minimal fuss approach to the tea party as mentioned above, a tea given in honor of a person or event, there is a place for certain formality as we pay tribute to that.

This simply means there are certain expectations of etiquette.

You show respect to your host and the person/event in honor of by your dress code.

Women usually wear dresses or non business suits (you know the pretty little Chanel suits or at least Chanel inspired ones - colors that are never black, navy and dark grey) and men wear business suits, jackets and ties.

As a guest, never overload your plate. There is no limit to going back to help yourself to the food.

When there is a guest of honor, being the elegant hostess, you'll introduce him to her to your guests as they arrive. You might want to stand near the door with your guest of honor to do a little 'meet and greet' with the arriving guests.

As a guest, like all good party etiquette, when you are ready to leave, you simply thank your host and say good bye to the guest of honor before you take your leave.

Other than those 'protocols', everything else is kept very casual. Guests freely move around the room, helping themselves to food and tea and talking to everyone whether formally being introduced or not.

How To Set The Tea Table

Tea Party Etiquette for Setting the Table

tea party etiquette, afternoon tea for lunch

The tea table is usually set up in dining room, though the party for mingling and moving around may not be confined to the dining room.

Preferably, use a white table cloth is used though the conventional one is of lace or white linen with needlework, lace or appliqu├ęd designs.

A large tray is set at both ends of the table, one for tea and one for the coffee. Even though its a tea party, you should serve coffee for the coffee drinkers. You may also serve hot chocolate.

The cups and saucers are placed at the left of the tray, making it easy to reach for person who pours the tea. Usually tea is poured with the right hand unto the cup and saucer held by the left.

How To Serve Tea Properly

Tea Party Etiquette For Preparations and Proper Serving of Tea

Prepare the proper serving of tea with:

  • one pot of boiling water (with a flame/electrical heating pad if possible)
  • or a full pot of tea already brewed with proper tea leaves.
  • alternatively, a hot water dispenser with boiling water with a tray of tea bags
  • cream pitcher, sugar bowl, honey, sugar and other sugar alternatives and lemons.

Serving of the coffee:

  • Coffee also in a pot with flame or electrical heating pad.
  • Beside the coffee, the cream, sugar etc as well.
  • Near the coffee at the side of the table are stacks of little tea plates for guests to use as they help themselves to the plates of food. Do forget the forks and spoons!
Alternatively, you can place them on a small table nearby if your dining table is not large enough.

Tea Party Food


In proper tea party etiquette, when it comes to the food for a tea party, it is sweet -- cookies, cupcakes, fruitcake or slices of ice cake, quite different from a cocktail party which is more savory.

To cater for those without a sweet tooth, tea sandwiches are served.

The possibilities of tea party food is endless. Check out some delicious tea party recipes.

Because a tea party is literally self-serve, it is possible to give a formal tea without serving help. That is why afternoon teas are so wonderful! You may do the entire set up yourself and making sure you have sufficient boiling water when your guests arrive.

Making Good Tea

In tea party etiquette, the most important part of the tea service is boiling water and plenty of it.

To make good tea, heat the teapot with boiling water first, the pour it out, leaving an empty hot teapot. You then put place some tea leaves in, depending on the quality of tea, you'll use that to determine how much to out in.

Pour boiling water to about an inch in the pot. Let it diffuse for five to eight minutes and longer for a stronger tea, before filling it up with more boiling water.

To serve different "strengths" of tea from the same pot, pour half tea, half boiling water into the cups of those who prefer their tea weak. Using that measure, you can control the "strength" of the tea you serve.

The following is referenced from Emily Post Etiquette

"The cup of good tea should be too strong without the addition of a little lively boiling water which gives it freshness."

When tea has to stand a long time for many guests, the ideal way is to make a strong infusion in a big kettle on kitchen stove.

Let the tea actually boil three to four minutes on the range, then pour it through a sieve or filter into your hot teapot. The tea will not become bitter, and it does not matter if it gets quite cold.

The boiling water poured over no more than the tablespoonful of such tea will make the drink hot enough.

Tea Party Etiquette For Those Who Pour

Who pours the tea?

The pouring is done by close friends or the host or the party giver.

Of course, if you are a close friend, you'll ask if you can "do the honors".

It is a good idea to help out when a friend has been pouring tea for others for more than half and hour.

How do I ask for a cup of tea?

Each person walks up to the table and says, "May I have a cup of tea please?"

The one pouring should smile and answer, "Certainly, how do you like it? strong or weak?" would you like cream or lemon?

If the visitors says, "Weak", boiling water is added, and according to guest's wishes, sugar, cream or lemon. If the guest prefers coffee, he or she asks for it at the other end of the table.

If you are not too busy pouring and the guest is alone, you make a few pleasant remarks. Do not hold up the line if the tea table is busy

But if there are a number of guests around the table, you need to only smile as you hand each guest a cup of coffee or tea.

You might also be interested in:

  • Hosting a tea party?
  • Elegant Entertaining
  • Elegant Dinner Recipes
  • Elegant Party Decorations

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