In addition to co-producing myteaplanner.com and writing this food blog, I cater tea parties, teach cooking classes and create special occasion pastries, especially wedding cakes. In early December, my team of trusty helpers and I produced a British tea reception for a string orchestra concert featuring a program of all-British composers. Unlike the usual tea service, this reception would be shorter, about an hour, have limited seating, more like a cocktail party, and would be served buffet style, without plates or forks. The biggest challenge for us was in size: we would be serving hot tea, champagne, food for 100 guests, and decorating the event. This was our first tea on such a large scale. Equipment, logistics, and staff would all have to be carefully considered and ramped up accordingly. This was a challenge we looked forward to meeting.
The menu consisted of traditional British tea foods. We stuck with small serving sizes that would fit on the tea cup saucer or a cocktail-sized napkin, all finger food, all at room temperature except the miniature scones which would be served hot.
The hot tea station was set up with cups and saucers on a silver tray, cream pitcher, sugar bowl, spoons, a basket for used spoons, and cocktail-sized napkins. One server was stationed there with a teapot and a trivet to rest it on. Two additional pourers roamed throughout the event, pouring additional tea. Hot tea in six warmed teapots was rotated. One server was stationed in the kitchen, continually making fresh pots of tea. To expedite the tea making process, I premeasured enough loose tea into empty tea bags to make one pot of tea each. My blend for our very British tea was Assam, Ceylon, and Darjeeling; the Darjeeling tea was a gift brought from Darjeeling, India, by Aunt Rose.
We achieved different heights for our platters with a three-tier tea stand and various cake pedestals. To secure plates to cake pedestals, we use small balls of museum putty to temporarily attach the bottom of the plate to the top of cake pedestal. This prevents any tipping accidents.
Hot Tea (my own British Blend) with Milk, Demerara Sugar Cubes, and Lemon Slices
2 cases chilled champagne, 3 bottles rotated in large punch bowl with 1 ½ bags ice, 1 open bottle in ice bucket with some ice, 5 dozen champagne glasses on trays
2 gallons drinking water, 2 to 3 lemons and ½ English cucumber, thinly sliced, ½ bag ice, rotated in 2 pitchers on a tray, about a dozen cups (we used additional champagne glasses)
4 loaves-worth crustless sandwiches in greens-lined basket, covered with pretty damp tea towel until serving time
4 loaves-worth crustless sandwiches in greens-lined basket, covered with pretty damp dish towel until serving time
Glazed Lemon Loaf
2 loaves sliced quick bread on doily-lined plate
Currant Scones with Lemon Curd and Preserves
14 dozen miniature currant scones in 2 napkin-lined baskets with hot packs under the napkins with 2 serving tongs, rotated, about 12 ounces of lemon curd in 1 bowl with serving spoon, about 12 ounces preserves (1 or 2 kinds) in 2 bowls with 2 serving spoons on a doily-lined tray
Brown Bread with Raisins
2 loaves sliced quick bread on doily-lined plate
3 to 4 baskets organic, large, best-quality strawberries, heaped in glass footed bowl
Tea Cookies: Shortbread, Butter Cookies, Red Pinwheel Cookies, Coconut Macaroons
6 dozen cookies on doily-lined plates or 3-tier serving stand
3 dozen madeleines on doily-lined plate, dusted with powdered sugar
Almond Tea Cakes
3 dozen glazed tea cakes on large doily-lined platter with flat pastry server
Staff: 4 full-time helpers plus 2 additional tea pourers
Food and Equipment
- Tablecloths for all tables
- 12 dozen cocktail napkins
- 1 large flower arrangement
- Any decorations and approved attaching method gear: tape, pins, Command-brand adhesive hooks, museum putty
- 2 dozen tea towels for kitchen prep
- Dollies, paper and starched linen
- 1 roll paper towels
- Plastic wrap
- Zip-top plastic bags
- 1 Large trash bag
- 2 serrated knives
- Sharp knife, mandolin, or vegetable peeler for slicing cucumbers
- 3-4 spreaders or offset spatulas for assembling sandwiches
- Large cooling rack for glazing tea cakes
- Small sieve for dusting madeleines with powdered sugar
- Pastry brush
- 2 four or five cup size mixing bowls
- 1 small bowl
- 2 wooden spoons
- 2 silicone spatulas
- 3 cutting boards
- 4-6 baking sheets, lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mats
- Lemon reamer or press
- 4-6 aprons
- 1 or 2 55-cup tea urns (we used 1 urn and 1 large tea kettle on the stove top)
- 4-6 lemons
- About ½ cup sugar (for sprinkling on scones prior to baking)
- 4 loaves buttermilk bread
- 4 loaves swirled rye bread
- Tea breads
- All cookies
- Powdered sugar (for dusting madeleines)
- Sliced almonds
- Chilled items in Cooler:
- Ice, sandwich spreads, lemon curd, milk, greens, cucumbers, frozen mini scones
Day-Of Tea Tasks
- Gather your team
- Load the cars, placing linens and decorations near the top
- Unload linens and decorations first; task a helper to put out tablecloths and begin decorating
- Task a helper with unpacking kitchen equipment and making sure chilled foods stays chilled
- Preheat oven for scones; fill tea urn with water and plug in
- In the kitchen, set up sandwich station: cutting boards, spreaders, serrated knives, bread loaves, cucumbers, fillings. Two or 3 helpers can be making sandwiches. As sandwiches are made, cover with barely damp kitchen towel.
- In the kitchen, set up areas to glaze tea cakes and lemon loaves. Set tea cakes on rack placed on baking sheet. Mix up glaze and pour over cakes. Top with a few sliced almonds. When glaze has dried, transfer to serving platter. Mix up lemon glaze and glaze lemon loaves. When glaze has dried, slice loaves and arrange on plates. Slice brown bread and arrange on plates.
- Place frozen scones on lined baking sheets, brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar; bake just before event begins
- In the dining room, set up champagne station: trays for champagne glasses, glasses, ice bucket, punch bowl, some cocktail napkins, cucumber water pitchers
- In the dining room, set up the food buffet station: flower arrangement, cocktail napkins, cookie plates or 3-tier stand, madeleine platter, tea cake platter with server, lemon curd with spoon, preserves with spoons, bowl of strawberries, brown bread and lemon loaf platters, places for warm scone baskets and sandwich baskets
- In the dining room, set up the tea station: cups and saucers, clean spoons in basket, used spoon basket, cream pitcher, sliced lemon, sugar cubes and tongs, trivet for hot teapot
- Check to make sure all food has been put out. One helper can monitor the buffet table and refill and rotate as needed. She can bring additional champagne to the champagne station as needed.
- Bake scones and warm scone baskets and heat pads in microwave and arrange under a napkin in the scone baskets.
- Begin preheating the teapots; then begin making tea. One helper should be responsible for making tea throughout the event.
- Station a helper at the champagne and open several bottles. She should be responsible for pouring the champagne throughout the event (and watching to make sure no underage kids are served.)
- Station one helper at the tea table to pour tea and have extra helpers roaming the dining room pouring tea also. They can swap out empty pots for fresh tea in the kitchen.
We were very lucky to be working in a large, well-equipped kitchen with a commercial dishwasher. However, we shared the kitchen with other events going on at the same time, so it was practical to use our own equipment. Of course, we strove to leave our portion of the kitchen space and the event room as neat and clean as we found them.
Thank You Gifts for Helpers
Since the success of this event depended so heavily on skilled help, we thanked our staff with tea-themed gifts. Gift cards are also appreciated gifts.
The musicians, guests, and staffers deemed our British tea reception a huge success. Some of the appreciative comments we received reinforced our commitment to our strict attention to detail. The use of real china cups and saucers was commented on by many guests, including an elderly gentleman who likened our event to teas he had attended as a boy in Yorkshire. A Scottish guest reported the aroma of our hot scones enticed her into the reception room directly from the concert. Many, many guests told us the quality of the tea itself was excellent. We encourage everyone who loves tea parties to take on a large scale event, to see your vision made real, and share the experience of an excellent tea!
For a little more help with menu selection, recipes and planning, check out A Classic British Afternoon Tea, A June Wedding Reception Tea, Afternoon Tea for a Large Group, and A Checklist for Planning a Tea Party, all available on myteaplanner.com.