How To: Decorate for a Summer Tea Party

summertea2

The sweet smell of summer flowers, teacups gently clinking in their saucers and delicious light bites. It’s time for summertime tea parties! Dearies, Kat likes to change up her tea parties based on the season. In the winter and fall, she likes cozy get-togethers. But once summertime hits, she’s all about outdoor tea parties! We like to go a bit crazy with the florals- fresh flowers, floral china cups and teapots, even floral napkins. We like to use mismatched patterns, to give everything a lush, garden vibe. We also like to put edible flowers on our cakes and cupcakes. Gorgeous! If you have lots of teacups like Kat does, stack them and cluster a few stacks together with flowers in the very top. Easy centerpiece!

You could also go for a beachy theme, decorating the table with coral and seashells! Wouldn’t it be fun to do a late-afternoon tea party with a table strewn with lovely shells and gently flickering candles that light up with table as the sun slowly sets? I can practically hear the ocean waves as I think about it! Kat loves being on the beach, so I’m going to suggest this for her next tea party.

Another fun idea is to also put picnic blankets down if you have a grassy area. This way your friends can choose to lounge in the cool grass while they sip their tea. Make sure you have a large space that’s out of the sun, or make sure to have large umbrellas to create shady spots.

summertea1

If you’re serving iced teas, don’t forget to include flower and herb ice cubes! Check out my previous post on how to do this. Thy will be a surefire hit. A summery tea Kat likes to serve her guests is HEB Serenity Spearmint Lavender tea. In the summertime she loves serving this tea iced. The frosty mint flavor is perfect for the hottest summer days. The soothing lavender is perfect for a relaxing get-together or even a quiet afternoon on your own. This tea is caffeine free, so it’s perfect for the whole family. She loves this tea as-is but for her tea soirees, she’ll add fresh mint and lavender leaves to her brew. It just looks so festive that way! Kat discovered this tea while visiting relatives in Texas. She was looking for a refreshing tea to combat the strong Texas sun and popped into the local HEB store. When she noticed the Serenity tea, she was curious about the combination of lavender and spearmint. She wasn’t sure if they’d work together, but once she tried it, she was amazed at how well the two herbs work together. She likes this combination so much that she grows fresh lavender and mint so she can make her own version when she’s in-between boxes.

For the savories, we like to do easy cucumber, cream cheese and dill tea sandwiches, fruit tarts or little mini pound cakes topped with fruit. Also mini cupcakes with edible flowers. Just go for things that are light, refreshing, and filled with seasonal ingredients.

How are you going to decorate for your summer tea parties? I’d love to hear your ideas. Be sure to check out my summertime tea party pinterest board for more inspiring ideas!

Advertisements

NY Tea Scene

NYCtea

Dearies, I have traveled all over with Char and Kat, and we’ve experienced tea in many different places. I thought it would be fun to post about different cities that have a vibrant tea scene. Tea is becoming very popular in the states, with tearooms and tea shops opening around the country I’m going to focus on various cities with growing tea scenes in the US. Today I’m going to discuss the New York City tea scene. Kat and I have been to NYC many times, and there is always a new tea place to visit! Here are a few of our favorite places:

Té Company– This is a newer tea shop that Kat has bookmarked to visit on our next trip. Oolong tea is the specialty here. There is a carefully sourced menu of all types of oolongs. Think you know what oolong is? Go to Te, and try as many as you can. They even offer tasting flights so you can try a few at a time. If you are hungry, there is a gorgeous, small menu of seasonal offerings. Teas are served from beautiful small clay teapots.

T-Shop– This place focuses on seasonal Chinese and Taiwanese teas sourced by the owner through personal trips. The little shop is hard to find but worth the effort! Teas are served gong-fu style poured from a gaiwan or small yixing teapot.

Tea Drunk– The focus here is also on Chinese teas, carefully sourced. It’s a great place for a pot of puerh or Chinese green tea. Each table has a tea tray, gaiwan, and tea accoutrements ready for brewing.

Cha-an– This is a Japanese tea house serving delicate Japanese cuisine and lovely teas. The focus is on Japanese green tea.

If you are looking for a matcha fix, you’ll have to visit Chalait, and Matchabar. Both of these cafes focus on the magic of matcha. You can get matcha whisked up in dozens of different ways. Iced, in lattes, even in hot chocolate.

If you’re looking to purchase tea in a shop, you can’t go wrong with Harney & Sons or Palais des Thés.

Don’t forget afternoon tea! There are loads of hotels doing the fancy teas. If you’re looking for something a little more low key, try Bosie Tea Parlor, Tea & Sympathy, or Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon.

Dearies, what favorites have I missed? NYC is so large, you can probably just pick a neighborhood, walk  around, and see what tea places you discover. If you have a favorite place in NY, be sure to mention it. We’ll check it out on our next visit.

Do you have a favorite city that has fabulous places for tea? I’d love to hear about it! Please do leave me a comment below, and it may become our next travel destination.

Host a St. Patrick’s Day Tea!

stpatricksday

I’ve been perusing the kitchen calendar and noticed that St. Patrick’s Day will soon be here! I love thinking about everything becoming a vibrant green. It reminds me that spring is on the way! It’s hard to truly believe as we are covered in snow right now. But it’ll happen! So many people see St. Patrick’s Day as a reason to drink green beer. But I see it as a reason to have green tea!

Kat thought it would be fun to have a festive St. Patrick’s Day tea for her friends so I did a little searching for a few appropriate recipes for the day.

I thought it would be fun to start with mini matcha fruit smoothies. A display of little teacups or glasses lined up with the frothy vibrant green matcha would be a festive way to start. This vanilla matcha smoothie recipe fits perfectly. A light and delicate flavor with the bright green color we’re looking for.

For the scones, you can’t go wrong with Irish soda bread scones! I adore this recipe, and can’t wait to let Kat’s friends slather them with clotted cream.

For the tea sandwiches a cucumber and cream cheese is always good, and leave the skin on the cucumbers for a pop of color. My favorite sandwich idea is a cross between a NY deli sandwich and a St. Patrick’s Day staple- corned beef tea sandwiches! We’re going to make them double-decker style with savory corned beef, spicy deli mustard and pumpernickel bread. Make sure to cut them into bite-sized pieces!

Don’t forget to serve the teas, dearies! We’re going to serve a fresh grassy Japanese Sencha with the scones, and then an Irish breakfast tea with the sandwiches and dessert. Strong and delicious it pairs with the creamy cucumber sandwiches and the savory corned beef. Kat is going to serve Wegman’s Irish Breakfast Tea. Kat loves a hearty breakfast tea and picked it up at her local Wegmans years ago and always kept a box in her cupboard. She loves the malty, robust tea on mornings that she needs an extra jolt of sunshine.  It is strong but not bitter, and super smooth.

Kat’s going to close out the meal with matcha butter cookies. Delicious sweet, buttery and green, of course!

Spring is almost here! Do you have any fun St. Patrick’s Day plans? I do hope they involve some tea!

Pairing Sweets With Tea

sweets1

Dearies, I’ve been studying our calendar in the kitchen and noticed there are two days in October dedicated to sweet treats! National Dessert Day (Oct. 14th) and National Chocolate Day (Oct. 28th). Throw in the candy-loving holiday of Halloween, and I think October should just be called Sweet Tooth Month!

These sweet celebrations reminded me of a trip I took with Char to Vienna. Such a beautiful, historic city, and gorgeous pastries of every size and flavor! Daydreaming of celebrations and Viennese pastry led me to an idea- wouldn’t it be fun to a have a tea and mini dessert party!? I think it’s the perfect excuse to have at least one tea and dessert get-together, so I mentioned it to Kat this morning. She of course agreed. We got right down to business and started thinking about the sweet treats to serve and what teas to pair with them.

When you are pairing teas with the sweets, there are two main directions you can go in- you can try to pair the sweets with teas that have similar flavor notes (floral, honey, fruity, spicy, nutty, etc). Or you could pair by strength- lighter desserts with lighter teas and rich desserts with bolder teas.

Kat and I have greatly enjoyed doing our ‘research’. Here are some flavor combinations we are dreaming (and drooling) over:

Dark chocolate desserts are strong with a slightly bitter sweetness. We enjoyed pairing these with a malty bold Assam that stood up to the strong flavor. A full bodied floral and sweet second flush Darjeeling also complimented the chocolate. My favorite is serving an Earl Grey with that dark chocolate dessert. The bergamot enhances the sweet bitterness beautifully. We figured this out when Kat brought home a box of artisanal chocolates a co-worker gave her as a thank you note. When she tried the dark chocolate early grey truffle, the flavors were singing on her tongue.

For a milk chocolate dessert, try a gentle and vegetal sencha green tea or a lightly roasted floral oolong. The flavor of the chocolate is a bit mellower, and the sweetness will pair well with the green tea. The floral and honey notes in the oolong are lovely with the milk chocolate.

For a super-rich dessert like cheesecake, go as bold as you can with your tea. Smoky flavors also work well, to cut through the richness. Try keemun, or lapsang souchong for strong flavors, a bit of astringency, and the smokiness. The layers of flavor will add new dimension to your dessert. Our favorite tea to pair with a decadent treat is an earthy, sweet pu-erh to cut through the richness and soothe the tummy.

sweets2

Since it is apple season, bake up an apple cake, or mini apple tarts and serve it with Darjeeling. The grapey fruit flavor of the Darjeeling will complement the apples quite nicely. The floral notes will make you feel as if you are sitting in an apple orchard!

For milder desserts a white tea would be lovely. For something nutty, try pairing with hojicha, a roasted green tea. Have a dessert with caramel? A medium-roasted oolong would pair nicely.

What would you serve and a tea and dessert party? The best way to decide is to get out there and get tasting!

Afternoon Tea Etiquette

AfternoonTippy1

Have you enjoyed a proper afternoon tea? I recently had the pleasure of taking a trip with Kat to London. It was thrilling to see the iconic buildings and those precious red phone booths and double decker buses! While there, we of course had to partake in a posh afternoon tea. Kat was a bit nervous about attending her first true afternoon tea in a British restaurant. So we set off to learn all of the etiquette rules. Here are the important things we learned:

First off dearies, the right way to refer to this meal is afternoon tea. Never ever say ‘high tea’.  High tea is actually a completely different meal with mostly savory food, more like an early dinner.

What to wear: If you are attending an afternoon tea in a hotel or fancier restaurant, across the board it seems like ‘smart casual’ attire is appropriate. But Kat likes to use the occasion to dress up a bit, no matter where the tea is being served. Tea just tastes better when you are dressed up in your finest clothes!

Meal Choices: When you finally sit down for your afternoon tea and are handed a menu, there are sometimes a few different options. You could see a ‘cream tea’ which is just scones served with clotted cream, jam, and a pot of tea. You’ll of course see your full afternoon tea, and sometimes there is a ‘champagne tea’ option (sometimes called ‘royal tea’ in the UK). This just means a glass of the bubbly stuff is added to your afternoon tea. You may also see a children’s tea option, which is perfect if you have little tea aficionados along with you!

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Drinking your tea:  You should add whatever milk and/or sweetener you prefer. There are many debates on whether the milk should be added before or after the tea. I say just do what you like! And please don’t sip with your pinkies up- that is a very common misconception. And let’s face it, it just looks silly!

Some establishments will give you a small strainer to put on top of your teacup when you pour out the tea. This is because the leaves are still in the pot. Simply put the strainer on your cup when you pour, and remove after. Many places will either remove the leaves, or use a pot that is enough for a single serving. This way the leaves do not sit in the tea, continuing to steep and get bitter.

afternoontippy3

Stirring your tea: try to stir your tea gently trying not to clink the sides of the cup (that can be painful for us teacups, you know!). You should try to be as neat as possible. Also be sure not to leave your spoon in the teacup. Place it on the saucer.

The lovely food: The proper sequence to eat the delicacies presented is first the finger sandwiches, then scones, and then finally the pastries.  The sandwiches can vary in style but often have one with cucumber, one chicken salad, one egg, and one with smoked salmon. Scones can be plain or have bits of fruit, ginger, or even cinnamon in them. When it comes to adding the clotted cream and jam, add as much or as little as you like. But be sure to put a small serving of each on your plate to use as you go, instead of constantly dipping into the serving vessels.

Of course dearies, you should first and foremost enjoy yourselves! Relax, choose your tea, and take in the gorgeous surroundings. There may even be live music playing and fresh flowers to enjoy. Do you enjoy afternoon tea on occasion? If so, where do you go?

How to Choose a Tea Cup

You want to drink more tea, but all you have in your cupboard are a hodge-podge of coffee mugs with everything from an old Far Side comic that warns, “Beware of Doug” on the front, to a Snowman mug, to another that celebrates “Team Building 2013” in neon orange. While tea is happy to steep in any vessel, it’s always more enjoyable to sip it from a proper tea cup.

Porecelain Tea Cup

But “Proper Tea Cup” means many things to many people. There are a variety of ways to elevate your tea drinking experience by bringing a lovely tea cup into your own life. Here are some options to consider:

Porcelain Tea Cups

Well, yes I’m a bit partial to the porcelain tea cup. After all, that’s me! The delicate, white china that we most often think of comes in a variety of shapes and may be plain white or adorned with beautiful artwork or even gold filigree! Porcelain is typically completely glazed, which means that flavors and scents can’t stick very easily to the cup itself.. Heavier porcelain (yes, I’d count myself as heavier, though I prefer “sturdier.”) keeps the tea hot longer, though when you’re drinking good tea, it won’t last long in the cup!

Glass Tea Cups

Many tea lovers like the clean aesthetic of clear glass or enjoy watching the steeping process, and for that reason a clear glass tea cup can be the best choice. Consider whether you prefer a tea cup with a handle or without. Those with handles tend to conduct heat very easily, so take care when picking it up for a drink! In order to maintain the clarity of the glass, be diligent in cleaning this cup thoroughly after every use and wiping it down with a soft cloth.

Ceramic Tea Cups

Rustic clay and earthenware tea cups are prized for their laid back aesthetic as much as for their heat-retaining properties. Check to see if the interior is glazed as well as the exterior. If it is not, the cup will absorb the flavors of whatever is brewed in it. One added benefit to the ceramic cup is that these can be found in various sizes, so if you like a LARGE cup of tea, this might be the pick for you!

Travelling Tea Mug

If you are often on the go – planes, trains and automobiles – then a travel tea mug may be your best bet. From sleek and utilitarian to bulbous and cozy, there’s a size, shape, style and pattern for everyone. Handle, no handle, infuser, no infuser, stainless steel, shatter-resistant glass… Good heavens! There are enough variations for its own story!

Regardless of your choice a tea cup, one thing will always remain true:

Drink from it as often as possible! The enjoyment of tea is one of life’s small luxuries. Drinking from a lovely (and loved) tea cups elevates the moment and your mood! Allow yourself that daily treat. Why not? You deserve it!

Tea Party for Pennies

Planning a tea party but the piggy bank is empty? Never fear, dearies! It is easy to think of tea parties as being extravagent and costly, but with a little bit of planning, you can host a tea party for 8 people for less than 20 dollars!

Tea Party for Pennies

First, the shopping list:

From the Market
Sugar 1.75 cups
Butter 3 sticks
Eggs 15 eggs
Bread 1 loaf white bread
1 package chocolate chips
1 package cream cheese
2 cucumbers

From Your Pantry
Vanilla extract
Dried dill weed
Mayonnaise
Mustard
Strawberry Jam
Tea

The Menu

Scones

We love these “Simply Delicious Scones” from FirstHomeLoveLife.com. For $4.82, you can make enough scones to serve 8 guests. Add a small jar of strawberry jam or preserves for $2.89.

Tea Sandwiches

No traditional afternoon tea party is complete without cucumber sandwiches and egg salad sandwiches. Both, fortunately, are quick and easy to prepare.

These Cucumber Tea Sandwiches from SuitableForConsumption.com have the highest price tag on the menu, at $5.92. But they are worth every cent! Use a half teaspoon of dried dill weed mixed into the cream cheese rather than fresh dill to keep the costs down.

Tricia Yearwood’s Mini Egg Salad Sandwiches are as easy on your pocketbook as they are to prepare. And, though small, they are delightfully filling! Hold the chives to keep the costs down, or opt for a sprinkle of dried chives if you have them in your spice cupboard. Total cost: $3.89

Sweets

What is an afternoon tea without a sweet dessert at the end? This Easy Brownie recipe from Chow.com is rich, super-chocolate-y and you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry. For $2.48, this decadent treat is a must!

Tea

As a tea lover, it’s highly likely that you already have plenty of your favorite tea on hand. There’s no need to go out and buy special tea for the occasion, unless you want to. If you do not have any tea on hand, however, make it easy and economical and pick up a treasure from your grocery store aisles. One of our favorite teas is Wegman’s Cinnamon Spice Black Tea. For just over $2.00, you can enjoy a festive black tea that is lovely plain but is also fun to dress up with milk and sugar.

Sugar

Speaking of, if you have an extra $1.75, surprise and delight your guests by serving actual sugar cubes. You know my feelings on the subject.

Tippy and friends 2

Decor

It’s summertime, and as a result there are plenty of beautiful potential centerpieces that can be found in your yard or your friend’s. Cut some flowers from the garden or find some wildflowers. Pull out your stash of cloth napkins. Don’t worry if they don’t match. Or find and borrow simple white tablecloths, assemble a variety of tea cups and let the tea cups themselves be the decor!

Don’t let the dollar be your detriment to having a beautiful tea party. You can serve a fun, filling tea service for less than a pizza delivery. Bon appetit!

Plan An Easter Tea Party

How Char loved the Easter season! She absolutely luxuriated in the traditions around the world. Easter in France consisted of enjoying the Poisson d’Avril (April Fish), which are fish-shaped chocolates that signify the spring season. Church bells are silenced on Good Friday, and the children are told that the chimes have flown to Rome to visit the Pope. On Easter Sunday when the chimes ring again, the children search for Easter eggs that the “chimes” have brought back with them from Rome.

In Seville, Spain, Char and I would watch from her friend’s tiny balcony as the confradias (brotherhoods) would slowly, carefully, carry beautiful, ornate statues of the Virgin Mary on their shoulders through the narrow, cobbled streets.

During an Easter visit to Portugal, Char fell in love with the savory bread, known as folar, made with cured meats and always with a hard boiled egg at its center.

This is the time of year where we all celebrate new life. Spring is all around, and the appearance of leaf buds and flower blossoms are inspiring. Why not celebrate this newness with an Easter Tea Party?

As found on Cherished Bliss

As found on Cherished Bliss

Be whimsical! Use cookie cutters on your tea sandwiches to make bunny or egg shapes! (This is the perfect opportunity to serve egg salad sandwiches!)

Consider serving folar, in honor of friendship. Char preferred the savory kind, but there are sweet versions as well.

Sweets are a necessity! For fun, see if you can find chocolate fish, but if not, chocolate bunnies are just as fun!

And don’t forget the decor. Be pretty in pastels, use tulips, daffodils or pansies for your centerpiece. If you want to go the extra mile, fold your linen napkins like bunnies!

Bunny Napkin

As found on Decor to Adore

And of course, the tea. Kat and I have been indulging in Target’s Simply Balanced Organic Black Tea Earl Grey. Now, some Earl Grey teas can be a bit heavy handed with the bergamot, leaving one with a soapy sensation. This tea, however, has the perfect hint of bergamot – just enough of the citrus to give you the feeling of a sunny day! The black tea blend is hearty enough to work very well with milk and sugar (cubes, please!), but smooth and balanced enough to be enjoyed plain.

What Easter or Passover traditions would you incorporate into your tea party?

The Pairing of Tea and Cheese

No, you didn’t mis-read. It’s not wine and cheese I want to talk about, it’s tea and cheese!  A wise Wisconsin gentleman, Bill Macier, owner of The Attic in Green Bay, made the great statement that we’ve been pairing tea with dairy products since the introduction of afternoon tea! Devonshire cream on scones, cream cheese on the cucumber sandwich, it seems to come naturally.

And if we want to get scientific about it, the common denominator between wine and tea are tannins. The mix of tannins is different in each type of tea. Tannins are what give wine and teas their complex and robust flavors and colors. They may cause these beverages to taste tart or astringent or give that feeling that the moisture is being wicked out of your mouth. Because they share this characteristic, they can equally be impacted by the right pairing of cheese.

cheese

Have some fun with this! Do what Kat did and host a tea and cheese tasting. There are no hard fast rules. It’s all about trying something new and enjoying the discover of how a taste of cheese can change the flavor profile of the tea you’re drinking, and vice versa. Here are some of her favorites from her latest gathering:

  • Both Goat Cheese and Brie paired nicely with a hearty black tea like Irish Breakfast or an Assam.
  • Cheddars vary between creamy mild and a crumbly sharp and everything in between. The milder cuts went best with flavored teas while the sharper bite paired better with White Teas and Oolong.
  • Pepper Jack, with its creamy yet spicy bite went best with a refreshing glass of fresh brewed iced tea.
  • Asiago paired nicely with her green tea selection.

Even though green and white teas have a different mix of tannins compared with black tea, they can still pair nicely with the lighter cheese. So go ahead! Give it a try. Tell me what cheese worked beautifully with which tea. We’ll compare notes!

How to Plan the Perfect Afternoon Tea Party

Ah, the perfect afternoon tea party! It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming affair. There are some basic ingredients that every tea party should include, but from there you can dress up or dress down to whatever your preferences might be.

First, the guest list. Tea for Two or Tea for Twenty or more? Think of your loved ones with whom you’d like to catch up or pamper. These may be relatives, friends, co-workers or neighbors. Decide if you want to include children or if you prefer a grown-ups-only affair. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it.

Next, the invitations themselves.The nice thing about our modern society is that there are no etiquette police to tell you the correct way to issue invitations. You know your preferences, so do what feels most comfortable to you. If you’re completely unsure, here are some ideas:

An online invitation and event planning website, like Evite.com or PaperlessPost.com. You can choose the invitation design and features you want, the invitation is emailed to your guest list, and your guest replies are tracked automatically so you always have an accurate headcount.

Handwritten invitations – Choose the stationary and design you want, and mail or hand-deliver the invitations to your guests.

It will probably come as no surprise that nearly all of Kat’s invitations are online, while Char wouldn’t have dreamed of anything but a handwritten missive. But, do you know, their circles of friends simply loved the fact of being invited! Mode never factored in.

No matter how you invite your guests, provide all the event details, such as the event name, time, date, location, dress code (if you care) and instructions on how and when to RSVP.

This is your afternoon tea, so let your personality shine through! There are so many ways you could go:

Traditional British, with lace tablecloths, matching china, and tiered serving trays.

Mix and match tea cups and place settings, vintage tablecloths, and casual wildflower bouquets.

Hand-thrown pottery cups, tea pots and platters. Fiestaware fans, have at it!

Basic necessities: tea pot, tea cups, plates, silverware, napkins, creamer & sugar bowl,  serving platters for the food and sugar cubes (yes, I said it!).  Tablecloths, floral arrangements, sugar tongs, tea infusers are completely optional.

Be free with your own style. It will be beautiful. It will be fun. It will be you.

v2afternoon tea

Savories and sandwiches and scones are all at your discretion and should be as simple or as elaborate as you like. My personal preferences include cucumber sandwiches and egg salad sandwiches. There are multitudes of recipes now at your fingertips on the internet. Assemble sandwiches, trim the crusts off, and cut each sandwiches diagonally into four triangles.  If you’d like to add additional types of sandwiches, think of your own favorite combinations: turkey and cranberry cream cheese, or ham and Swiss. If you’d like to add a savory item, think of a simple cheese platter or a basic quiche. Scones are a fun staple, and they don’t have to be difficult. Many scone mixes are readily available at your local grocery store. Add a small bowl of raspberry jam  and a bowl of heavy whipped cream and your scones will certainly be on the best dressed list. To add color and to fill the table, add in a fruit platter. Even a combination of red and green grapes can add to the offering but still keep costs in check.

The tea party itself! As you greet your guests, show them where to go or what to do. If you’re having a more formal sit-down tea, lead them to the appetizers or aperitifs. If it’s a more casual buffet-type affair, encourage them to help themselves!

There’s no need to stick to any formal agenda. Enjoy your family and friends, catch up a little,immerse yourself in the moment. Do let people get to the actual tea service sooner rather than later. Your guests will wait for your direction, so don’t leave them hanging for too long. Tell them about what you’re serving. Point out any dietary concessions, such as gluten-free, nut-free or caffeine-free options.

Fill their cup. Literally and figuratively. Introduce the selections you’ve chosen, leave room for milk and sugar, and for this hour or two,enjoy it all! That’s what sharing afternoon tea is all about – enjoying time together.

Cheers, dearies!