How To Host A Tea

There are few things lovelier than a proper tea. The sense of tradition and decadent details can make hosting a tea feel almost like an escape to England, and the occasion offers so many wonderful opportunities to make guests feel truly special. In the U.S., no one understands this better than the experts at Le Salon at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, where tea is a celebrated pastime attended by locals and tourists alike. We asked them to share their recommendations for hosting a traditional tea; here’s their advice:

  • Set the scene: Use nice, patterned china (Le Salon at the Windsor Court uses a Strawberry Wedgwood set). You’ll need a coffee or teacup, saucer, and a small plate to match. Always use fine silver; you’ll need a teaspoon, an appetizer or salad size fork, and a butter knife. You’ll need a sugar and creamer set as well, and a teapot.
  • Steep a selection: Guests should have a variety of options of tea—a traditional black tea, a more adventurous fruity black tea, and a green tea, for example.
  • Remember the extras: Only milk, not cream, should be served at tea. Milk is used to reduce the tannin level in tea, and should really only be put in black teas. Lemon should be offered, too. Note to guests and hosts: If you put milk in your tea, don’t put lemon in too. The acid of the lemon will curdle the milk.
  • Serve sandwiches, scones, and sweets: these are the three main components of a traditional British tea. The Windsor Court serves them in courses, but many people serve them all at once. Sandwiches should be bite-size and visually appealing. They can be simple (jelly or cream cheese spread on bread), decadent (caviar, smoked salmon, lobster salad), or something in between (turkey, egg salad, cucumber). Scones should be served with a variety of jellies, jams, and creams. The Windsor Court offers a double Devonshire and vanilla bean whipped cream, lemon curd, and raspberry preserves. Sweets should be miniature and decadent—cream puffs, mini eclairs, and little French pastries.
  • For a grown-up affair: Feel free to take a page from the playbook of the Queen, who has been rumored to enjoy an alcoholic beverage along with her afternoon tea. Sparkling wine, sherry, and chardonnay would all be appropriate offerings.
  • For the younger set: Adapt a menu for a children’s tea the Windsor Court way—serve mini peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, little cheese sandwiches, tiny turkey sandwiches, or whatever the guest of honor prefers; switch chocolate chip scones for the more sophisticated walnut and black currant scones served to adults; and present kid-friendly sweets, such as mini cupcakes with sprinkles, truffles, and tiara-shaped cookies.

Expert tip from Alex Caire of Le Salon at the Windsor Court in New Orleans, LA.