How to Plan and Host a Tea Party: Everything You Need to Know (Free Planning Guide Included!)

tea party table

Afternoon tea is a timeless tradition enjoyed by many for centuries. Whether you’re looking to host a fancy soiree or a simple get-together with friends, hosting a tea party can be a fun and relaxing way to spend an afternoon. In this ultimate guide to planning and hosting a tea party, we’ll take you through all the steps necessary to plan and host a successful and memorable tea party event. From choosing the perfect tea blends and menu items to setting the table and creating a festive atmosphere, we’ve got you covered.

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What is afternoon tea?

Afternoon tea was first introduced in England, among the wealthy upper class, during the 19th century and has since become a popular tradition around the world. 

Afternoon tea is a lighter meal that is served in the late afternoon, typically around 4pm, and is usually a more formal and elegant affair enjoyed as a social occasion with full tea service alongside finger sandwiches, scones, and other pastries.

This should not be confused with “high tea”, which was actually a more substantial meal served to lower-class workers in the early evening (around 6pm), often as a replacement for dinner. 

High tea, which earned its name after the high-top tables it was served at, typically included hot dishes such as soup, meat pies, and potatoes, accompanied by tea and bread.  

Why should I host a tea party?

Hosting a tea party can be a great way to gather friends and family for an elegant social event. 

It will provide a chance to connect with others, savor delicious food over tea, and create memories. 

Tea parties are also a fun and unique way to celebrate special occasions, such as birthdays, bridal showers, and baby showers.

Planning an Afternoon Tea Party

Here are some steps to follow to plan an afternoon tea party with success:

1. Set the date and time

The first step in planning your afternoon tea party is to determine the date and time.

Consider factors such as your schedule, the schedules of your guests, and any other events that may be happening in the area.

Afternoon tea is typically served between 2 pm and 4 pm, but you can choose any time that works best for you and your guests.

2. Choose the location

The next step is to decide on the location for your tea party.

There are many options, from a party at home to a park,  garden, or tea room. Think about your guest list and the type of atmosphere you want to create before choosing the location.

Do you plan to invite many people, or are you hoping for an intimate gathering with just a couple of friends?

3. Write down your guest list

Once you have set the date and location, it’s time to determine your guest list.

Think about who you would like to invite and how many people you want to include.

Make sure to consider any dietary restrictions or allergies when planning your menu.

4. Send out invitations

Once you have determined your guest list, it’s time to send out the invitations.

You can choose to send physical invitations or use email invites. Make sure to include the date, time, location, and any other relevant information, such as what to wear or any special instructions.


With our tea party planner, you will have everything you need to plan a successful afternoon tea with ease! You won’t forget a thing with the included checklists and guides.

Download our Free Tea Party Planner

Planning an Afternoon Tea Menu

The menu is an essential part of any afternoon tea party. Keep reading to learn how to plan your afternoon tea menu.

food for a tea party

What foods are traditionally served at afternoon tea?

Afternoon tea traditionally consists of three courses: savories, scones, and sweets.

The “savories” are typically finger sandwiches, mini quiches, or other canapés intended to be eaten first.

The second course, scones, is a type of crumbly baked good made with flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, butter, and milk or cream. 

The third, “sweets”, course usually consists of items such as mini pastries, macarons, petit fours, and chocolates, which round out the meal beautifully. 

How do you make finger sandwiches and other savories for an afternoon tea party?

Believe it or not, it’s actually quite simple to make delicious (and pretty!) finger sandwiches for afternoon tea!

Here are some great savory options for your next tea party:

How to Make Cucumber Finger Sandwiches for a Tea Party
How to Make Ham & Mustard Finger Sandwiches for a Tea Party
How to Make Mini Quiches for a Tea Party
How to Make Mini Vegetable Frittatas for a Tea Party 

How many finger sandwiches (or savories) should you make for a tea party?

A good rule of thumb to follow is to make 4 tea sandwiches for each person attending the tea party. While some people may eat less, it is best to allow for at least 4 savories per person.  

If you are making 2 different varieties of sandwiches (or other savory bites), then make 2 of each for each person attending. If you are making 4 different varieties, then make one of each for each person attending. 

Of course, make changes if you know a guest has a particular food allergy and cannot eat one of the varieties. 

How do you make scones for an afternoon tea party?

If you’ve never made scones before, you might be intimidated by the process – after all,  they have a reputation for being a bit finicky. 

But fear not! With the right guide and a few simple tips and tricks, you can make delicious, crumbly scones that are perfect for your afternoon tea party. 

Head over to our guide on How to Make Scones for Afternoon Tea to get the recipe and learn exactly what to do! (You can even download our free recipe card!)

How many scones should you make for a tea party?

A good rule of thumb to follow is to make at least 2 scones per person attending the tea party. While some people may only have one scone, it is best to allow for 2 per person. 

What type of dessert should you make for an afternoon tea party?

When it comes to choosing sweets for an afternoon tea party, it’s best to offer a variety of small, bite-sized treats that guests can enjoy alongside their tea. 

These sweets provide a nice contrast to the savory tea sandwiches and the scones, ending the tea on a high note. 

Here are some popular sweet options for your next tea party:

Mini Pastries:

Miniature pastries such as cream puffs, or eclairs are a decadent addition to any tea party menu. 

5 Cream Puff Recipes to Try for Your Next Tea Party
Mini Eclairs for your Next Tea Party

Mini Cakes:

Miniature cakes, such as petit fours or mini Victoria sponge cakes, are a sweet and elegant option to have in the spread.

Mini Victoria Sponge Cakes for your Next Tea Party
Perfect Tea Party Petit Fours 

Tea Cookies:

Small, bite-sized cookies, such as shortbread or butter cookies, are a simple yet delicious choice to have with tea. 

Ina Garten’s Delicious Shortbread Cookies 
Easy and Delicious Butter Cookies

Fruit Tarts:

Miniature fruit tarts, with a shortbread crust and a filling or pastry cream or lemon curd, are a light and refreshing option – especially for a summer tea party! 

Easy Mini Lemon Tarts for Your Next Tea Party
Mini Tea Party Fruit Tarts 


These delicate French confections are a popular choice for tea parties, and come in a variety of flavors and colors!

How to make Macarons for your Next Tea Party

Tea Party Tip:

If you are running low on time, here are some shortcuts you can take to help fill up the sweets tier on your servers:

How many pastries or sweets should you make for a tea party?

A good rule of thumb to follow is to make at least 2 sweets or pastries per person attending the tea party. While some people may eat less, it is best to allow for at least 2 sweet items per person. 

How should you serve the food at a tea party?

When serving food at a tea party, the goal is to arrange the items simply, elegantly, and in a way that makes it easy for the guests to help themselves. 

The most popular choice is a traditional tiered tray, which allows you to follow the customary afternoon tea protocol of arranging the food according to the course: tea sandwiches and other savories on the bottom tier, scones on the middle tier, and sweets on the top tier. 

Tiered servers create a beautiful presentation, allow the guests to easily access all of the food, and take up less space on the table than if you had all the items on separate single-tier serving platters. 

Here are some of our favorite tiered serving trays:

What other toppings or additions should be served at a tea party?

Some other items that should be served at an afternoon tea party include:

Clotted Cream:

This thick, rich cream is traditionally served with scones for an afternoon tea. Present your clotted cream in a jar or serving bowl with a spoon for guests to serve themselves.

If you are feeling ambitious you can try to make your own homemade clotted cream.

If you are hoping to buy some already made, this is a great clotted cream option.


Sweet and fruity jam spreads pair perfectly with scones and clotted cream for a traditional afternoon tea. You may want to offer a couple of different varieties, such as strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry, to cater to different tastes. 

You can provide individual-size jams for guests to take for themselves, or place the jams in bowls with a spoon for guests to serve themselves.


When serving tea at a tea party, it is important to offer some different options for guests to customize their drinks to their liking. 

While whole milk is the traditional choice, some guests may prefer a non-dairy alternative such as almond milk or oat milk. 

Serve any milk or milk alternatives chilled in small pitchers for guests to add to their tea as they wish. 

If you choose to serve a non-dairy option, be sure to clearly label it so that guests can see which option they are using.


Many people want to add a sweetener to their tea.

To provide easy access and prevent messes, serve sugar in small sugar bowls with a spoon, or place sugar cubes in a bowl with small tongs for guests to help themselves. 

You may also want to provide an additional sweetener option such as honey or stevia.


Lemon can be a refreshing addition to tea, adding a tangy, citrusy flavor. 

Serve freshly sliced lemon wedges on a platter or in a small bowl with tongs for guests to help themselves.

Choosing and Making the Tea for a Tea Party

Tea is the cornerstone of any afternoon tea party, and making it just right can make all the difference.

making tea for a tea party

What type of tea should you serve at an afternoon tea party?

There are many types of tea to choose from, each with its own unique flavor profile. 

Some popular tea choices include black tea, green tea, and herbal tea. It’s important to consider the preferences of your guests and to choose teas that complement the menu you’ve planned. 

If you are brewing loose leaf teas, we suggest selecting 4 types to have available in separate teapots for your guests to choose from and try. 

Two of the options should be herbal, non-caffeinated teas, for any guests that may want to avoid caffeine.

If you are offering tea bags or sachets to the guests, have an assortment for them to choose from. Consider displaying the tea bags in an elegant tea box that can be easily accessed by the guests.

Popular black teas for a tea party:

Earl Grey Tea

Earl Grey is a popular black tea with a fragrant citrus flavor and slightly floral aroma.

It is a versatile tea that can be enjoyed plain or with a splash of milk and sugar.

Whether you’re enjoying it with scones and clotted cream, or other sweet treats, Earl Grey is a delicious and elegant option that is sure to please your tea party guests. 

Assam Tea

Known for its rich, full-bodied flavor, malty taste, and bright, reddish-brown color, Assam tea is a fabulous option that pairs well with a variety of sweet and savory foods.

Assam tea is often enjoyed with milk and sugar and is a great choice for guests looking for a bold and robust cup of tea. 

Darjeeling Tea

Known as the “champagne of teas”, Darjeeling tea boasts a delicate, floral, and fruity flavor, light-bodied texture, and bright golden color.

Often compared to the taste of Muscat wine, Darjeeling tea is a sophisticated and refined choice for an afternoon tea party that pairs wonderfully with savories, scones, and sweets. 

Popular herbal (non-caffeinated) teas for a tea party:

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea is a great non-caffeinated option with a sweet, floral flavor.

Known for its calming and soothing properties, chamomile tea goes well with scones and any sweets served at a tea party. 

Peppermint Tea

Peppermint tea is another great non-caffeinated option for a tea party.

A refreshing beverage with its cool, minty flavor, peppermint tea pairs well with everything offered at a tea party from finger sandwiches to chocolate pastries.

How do you brew the perfect cup of tea for a tea party?

Properly brewing your tea is easily one of the most important steps in hosting a tea party!


With our cheatsheets, you will have the perfect tea-to-water ratios, temperatures, steeping times, and tasting notes for every type of tea at your fingertips!

Download our Free Brewing Guide

Here are some general tips to follow when you are brewing loose-leaf tea for your tea party:

1. Boil the Water

Make sure you are boiling enough water, and to the appropriate temperature for the type of tea you are serving. If you can, use an electric kettle with temperature setting to ensure you are heating the water to just the right degree. 

2. Warm the Teapot

Before adding the water and tea leaves to the teapot, make sure the teapot is warmed. Do this by filling it with a small amount of hot water, swirling it around for a moment, and then dumping out the water. (If you are using more than one teapot, make sure to do this with all of them.)

3. Use high-quality loose-leaf tea

To have the most flavorful experience, use high-quality loose-leaf tea. Check out our shop tea page for some recommendations of different loose leaf teas

4. Steep for the correct amount of time

Check our guides, or our free download, for instructions on the exact recommended steep time for each particular tea type. 

Generally, black and herbal teas are 3-5 minutes, green and white teas are 2-3 minutes.

5. Strain tea leaves

Before serving, be sure to strain the tea leaves so that your guests don’t get any stray leaves in their tea cups. 

You may want to steep the tea leaves in a more utilitarian teapot with a built in strainer, and then transfer the prepared tea into a beautiful teapot that matches the teacups, etc. 

If you transfer the tea, make sure you warm the second, decorative teapot as well, so that the tea stays warm longer. 

How to set the table for a tea party

The way you set the table can greatly enhance the overall ambiance and experience of your tea party. A beautifully set table not only impresses your guests but also elevates the tea experience.

setting the table for a tea party

Choosing the tablecloth for a tea party

The first step in setting the table is to choose the tablecloth. 

You can opt for a traditional white tablecloth or choose one in a color or pattern that complements the décor or occasion. 

Consider the size of your table and make sure the tablecloth drapes nicely and covers the entire surface.

Selecting a tea set and teapot for a tea party

Next, choose the teacups, saucers, and teapots that you will be using. A tea party is the perfect opportunity to use your finest china, but you can also use everyday dishes if you prefer. 

Make sure you have enough teacups and saucers for each guest; you can also mix and match coordinated (but not matching) tea cups. 

Choose a teapot that is large enough to accommodate the amount of tea you will be serving. 

If you are serving loose-leaf tea, you will need one teapot for each type being served. 

If you are allowing your guests to choose their own tea sachets or tea bags, then you will just need one teapot of boiling water. 

Here are some of our favorite tea sets:

Creating a centerpiece for a tea party

Finally, it’s time to create a centerpiece for your table. A centerpiece is an important part of the table setting and can greatly enhance the overall look and feel of your tea party. 

Consider using arrangements of flowers, greens, fruits, or decorative candles as your centerpiece. 

Make sure the centerpiece is not too tall or too large so as not to obstruct your guests’ view of each other or the table. There is nothing worse than trying to talk to someone across from you when you can barely see them. 

Setting the table for your tea party

Now that you have chosen the tablecloth, teacups, saucers, and teapot, it’s time to set the plates and silverware. 

Arrange small dessert plates at each place setting, for people to place their food items on, with forks to the left and knives and spoons on the right. Place the teacup and saucer to the top right of the plate. 

Setting the Mood

A nice touch for a tea party is having background music playing while guests enjoy their food and drink. 

Whether you stream a playlist or have live music is up to you! 

Your guests will love the ambiance and relaxing atmosphere some soft music will bring to the party.

Here are some things to help you set the mood:

Tea Party Etiquette

The ceremony of afternoon tea is steeped in tradition and etiquette. Here are some common customs and manners that should be followed at a tea party:

1. Look the part

Afternoon tea is meant to be an elegant affair. Don’t show up in your workout clothes or sloppy jeans. More on this below (see “What to wear to a tea party”).

2. Pinkies down

Contrary to popular belief, it is actually a huge afternoon tea faux pas to hold your pinkie up in the air!

3. No slurping

Sip, but don’t slurp. It is just bad manners to make noises while enjoying your tea. 

4. Stir quietly

While we’re on the topic of making noise, be sure not to clank your spoon against the sides of the teacup while stirring. Instead, quietly move your spoon in a back-and-forth motion (picture moving the spoon from the 12 o’clock position to the 6 o’clock position). 

5. No blowing

Don’t blow on your hot tea in an effort to cool it down faster. Just wait for the tea to cool down to your preferred drinking temperature on its own. This is not fast food, it’s a tea party. No need to rush things. 

6. Milk after tea

If you are adding milk to your tea, add it after the tea has been poured into your cup. Not the other way around.

7. Mind your spoon

Once you are done stirring your tea (quietly), place the spoon back onto the saucer. Do not leave the teaspoon in your teacup, and definitely do not put the teaspoon in your mouth! 

8. Use your fingers (most of the time)

It may seem counterintuitive for an elegant setting such as afternoon tea, but believe it or not, you should use your fingers to eat the food! The tea sandwiches, scones, and mini pastries served are actually meant to be had with just your fingers – no forks and knives necessary. 

There are just two exceptions to this rule:

1. Spread your cream and jam with a knife.
2. Take sugar cubes with the provided tongs.

9. Use your napkin

This should go without saying, but nevertheless: utilize the napkin provided to you. 

Meaning, do not lick your fingers! Also, if you have something on your face, gracefully dab your napkin to remove it, don’t wipe and smear like you are cleaning a toddler with a Wet-One. 

10. Eat tastefully

Although most of the food served at afternoon tea is petite in size, refrain from “popping” an entire finger sandwich or mini pastry into your mouth. These items are meant to be savored over a few small and delicate bites. 

Also, avoid “dunking” any of the food items into your tea.  Save that for the milk and cookies. 

What to wear to a tea party

Afternoon tea is traditionally an elegant and sophisticated event, requiring more refined attire. 

There may be different levels of dress code depending on where you are attending afternoon tea. If you are the host, you can decide what level of “fancy” you are hoping for. 

You may tell your guests to follow a “smart casual” dress code, or you may tell them to dress in “garden party fancy” attire. 

Often ladies will wear dresses or skirts and gents will don khakis and a blazer or a suit, depending on the level of dress code. 

Don’t be afraid to bring out pastel colors, florals, and even textures such as linen or seersucker! 

It is advised to never attend an afternoon tea wearing items such as workout gear, sneakers, flip flops, ripped jeans, etc, regardless of where it is being hosted.


With our tea party planner, you will have everything you need to plan a successful afternoon tea with ease! You won’t forget a thing with the included checklists and guides.

Download our Free Tea Party Planner

In conclusion, with our guide, you will be able to host a great tea party, create a beautiful table setting, offer delightful treats, and guarantee that everyone has an enjoyable time. Remember that success is in the details, so don’t forget about decorations, music, and dress code. With some creativity and effort, your tea party is bound to be a success, and your guests will be eagerly anticipating the next one!

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