Afternoon Tea is rarely served at the dining room table, and it is not necessary to own a complete set of china with matching serving bowls in order to enjoy the savory dishes, scones and sweets that comprise an Afternoon Tea menu. Instead, it is customary to have Afternoon Tea in the living room, family room or even in an outdoor seating area. If you own a teacart, it should be positioned close to the tea table. The tea table is usually the living room coffee table covered with a tablecloth and repurposed for holding the tea set, cake pedestal, plates and silverware and all of the serving dishes containing the food. These serving dishes can be selected to help enhance the theme, mood and atmosphere of the occasion and to reflect the season of the year.
We recommend visualizing the arrangement of the tea objects on the table and on the teacart well in advance of the gathering. In fact, it’s a good idea to make a sketch noting the exact platters, trays and bowls you intend to use and the foods they will be used to present. Since there are many last-minute details in serving Afternoon Tea, the sketch will help you save time and avoid little moments of panic and dither that will disturb your guests. You do not want to discover after your guests have arrived that you loaned your favorite cream pitcher and sugar bowl to your sister and she has not returned them yet. Also, the process of visualizing the presentation of the food and serving pieces is a creative activity that should be done in a serene setting when there is plenty of time to rearrange and change the layout. One needs to consider factors such as the height, shape, colors and patterns of the various objects and how they will harmonize with the objects around them, and this will take time.
One important consideration in selecting serving pieces is the level of formality you have chosen for your tea gathering. A very formal Afternoon Tea might call for silver trays, fine china, an elegant floral arrangement, cut crystal serving pieces and a white or cream colored damask or lace tablecloth. Among the menus we have included, the Easter Tea, the Mother’s Day Tea, the Wedding Reception Tea, the Christmas Tea, the British Afternoon Tea and the American Southern Tea might be candidates for a formal presentation. In contrast, the July Picnic Tea, the Afternoon Tea for Children and the Urban Tea on the Go will call for a more informal approach. An informal tea might include wooden serving trays, ceramic dishes, casually arranged wildflowers, sturdy bowls in clear or colored glass and a seasonally themed printed tablecloth and napkins.
If you decide to host one of our Teas that Celebrate Cultures, try to include serving pieces that bring the aesthetic values of that culture to mind. A blue and white setting might be nice for the Greek Family Reunion Tea. If you host the Chinese Dim Sum Tea, you will purchase most of the food, but it would be appropriate to serve the pork and shrimp dumplings (shu mai and har gao) on a decoratively patterned Chinese serving platter. Even if you only own one Chinese platter, you can combine it with plain white serving plates and still create a Chinese effect. The same principle will apply to the Japanese New Year’s Tea. If you only have one round black lacquered tray, you can use it to serve the sushi and select the other bowls and dishes from your own cupboard.
Platters are perfect accessories for Afternoon Tea, as they are easy to store and can be used for serving a variety of different foods. Because tea sandwiches are charming little rectangles, it creates a pleasing effect to line them up in two rows down the long side of a rectangular platter. Platters can be made of china, glass, wood, lacquer, patterned ceramics or earthenware, or even silver. The versatility of platters can help you create just the right mood for your Afternoon Tea. The same is true for bowls and other serving pieces such as small pitchers for serving sauces, pickle dishes and cheese boards. Always remember that Creativity is an important component of the Philosophy of Tea, and your selection and arrangement of serving pieces is a creative gift that will bring joy and delight to your guests.