A tea party is a delightful way - no matter the mix of guests - of bringing people together to soothe the appetite and soul simultaneously. It evokes a semiformal yet unhurried, intimate setting for light-hearted cuisine and conversation, a chance to reacquaint with friends while meeting new people, and can usually be executed with less effort than a more formal event.
Guest expectations of a tea party are lighter than a formal dinner or let-your-hair-down party yet they often yield a more personal exchange of thoughts, stories and histories than the alternative settings. Honestly, you'd be surprised how many people - men and women, young or old - have never actually attended a tea party. The mystique will excite your guests (particularly men, who've often wondered what happens at such usually-ladies-only events) and can equalize the social power of the day so that people feel a shared sense of adventure with no greater/lesser positioning with others.
Consider hosting a tea party the next time you want to bring together an interesting blend of family, friends or acquaintances around a common theme or experience. Or host a tea party to show your gratitude to a small group of intimates or to introduce people for which you are the common denominator.
Here are some guest-mixes that would be ideal for a tea party: current or former work colleagues; new mothers and fathers; newly-wed couples; recently divorced singles; recent retirees; local family meets out-of-town family; former college friends (with or without spouses); parents whose children are in the same play group or on the same athletic team; people you met during a running or walking marathon; your new neighbors (following a move); friends who supported you during a crisis; friends of _____ (who supported a friend who ran for election to an organizational office or passed the bar exam). The invitee group possibilities are endless!
Tips for tea parties
* The ideal gathering for a tea party is six to eight people. The size allows for whole-table talk, a two- to three-person chat and some one-on-one exchanges with your closest table mates. If you invite more than eight guests, consider several small tables of four-to-six per table.
* Offer a choice of two to four teas, including black, green, white and/or herbal teas. Provide information about each tea so your guests can be guided in making their individual tea selection for the day. Serve milk, sugar, lemon, honey and sugar-substitutes as tea condiments.
* If possible, provide a personal teapot and strainer for each guest, with tea and hot water to be replenished as needed. If that is not possible, be sure to have carafes of hot water on hand so guests can replenish their tea as they go.
* Serve a variety of tea sandwiches, pastries, fruits, cheeses, etc. Make everything yourself or minimize the labor by purchasing items from your favorite bakery or coffee/tea café.
* Depending on your guests' familiarity with tea (or lack thereof), offer some basic information about teas and the art of tea to help everyone fully appreciate the tea-brewing and -tasting processes. You can share the information verbally or create a simple handout.
* If your guests are a mix of people who don't know one another, provide some simple tables "challenges" to break the ice and stimulate lively conversation, e.g., "Who's traveled the farthest from home this year?" Or pose easygoing, open-ended questions throughout to keep guests engaged, e.g., "Has daylight-saving time outgrown its value?" "What's your idea of a dream vacation?" "Lottery tickets: Worth buying or not?"
Jacqui lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at email@example.com.
Radish and Lemon Butter Tea Sandwiches(24 sandwiches)
Blueberry Scones (makes 12 scones)