Preparing tea for a group comes easy for me because my wife and I owned a tearoom for 14 years. However, I realize this simple 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 tea event – either formal or informal.

Always offer a selection of at least two teas which complement your food selections. Ceylon, Indian and China black teas, or classic blends generally go well with most tea foods. Stay away from highly aromatic teas such as Earl Grey. Those two teas can be off-putting to some tea drinkers or someone who is offended by heavy aromas.

And consider offering a caffeine-free alternative because some guests might be 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 for a tea event. A china tea set, consisting of a teapot, creamer and 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 tea event calls for loose tea rather than teabags. Tea should be made in the kitchen and brought to the table in teapots. Place loose tea in an infuser basket or disposable paper tea holder. Steep according to the label directions and remove the spent leaves before you 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. Even the best of teas can be spoiled by the lingering aroma of coffee oils.

When hosting a buffet tea or tea shower, the tea tray and china set are placed at one end of the serving table. Plates and tea napkins are 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. Small-size finger foods which are easy to maneuver while standing are always appreciated by guests. Be sure to have a separate table where used dishes may be deposited.

Invite several friends to serve as pourers and arrange a schedule when each will be on duty dispensing tea. No one should pour for more than 20 minutes. It is an honor to be asked to pour tea. According to etiquette expert Dorothea Johnson, “A guest pourer is considered the guardian of the teapot, which implies sterling social graces and profound trust.”

The best tea host is one who is at ease. Do your preparation 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!
Bruce Richardson is the co-author with Dorothea Johnson of Tea & Etiquette and Children’s Tea & Etiquette, both published by Benjamin Press.

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