Recently the world mourned the passing of Queen Elizabeth II who was an extraordinary woman who has been credited with modernizing many aspects of the monarchy. I have been fortunate to travel to England on multiple occasions and consider myself a bit of an Anglophile, most specifically admiring the tradition of afternoon tea. The afternoon tea at Brown’s hotel and the Savoy in London are two of my absolute favorites and is an occasion in itself. The formality, civility and tradition of afternoon tea is something to behold perched on a hotel armchair at a British hotel.
Each year, we celebrate my mom’s birthday by having afternoon tea at Lovejoy’s in San Francisco. It is a quirky, quaint tea room that has been an annual birthday celebration destination. The pandemic disrupted our beloved tradition, so I pivoted to hosting afternoon tea at my house. It quickly became a new passion that I expanded the frequency and diversified my guest lists. With fall around the corner, I recently created an autumnal themed afternoon tea to celebrate my mom along with the Queen. Creating an afternoon tea at home is quite simple to execute with a bit of planning and ingenuity. It is an occasion to relax and socialize with all the preparations done prior to your guest arriving. The “wow” factor will be in full force.
Tips for creating an Afternoon Tea at home:
Set the date, send invitations (snail mail or evite) and determine the afternoon tea theme.
Purchase or borrow tea related accessories like tea pots, teacups, tiered stands, linens, table runners, silverware and cream and sugar containers.
Plan the menu to include both savory and sweet treats. Typically, I serve a variety of finger sandwiches sans crusts (chicken salad, egg salad, cucumber & cream cheese, roast beef & horseradish, pear & stilton, ham & English mustard), handmade scones served with lemon curd, clotted cream, and jam, assorted small, mini desserts such as petit fours, toasted crumpets with butter and fruit salad. I included my favorite Lemon English Scones recipe.
An extra special touch is a printed menu set at each guest plate along with a name place card for each guest.
Shop for all of the menu items and prepare as much as possible a day before. Best to assemble finger sandwiches the day of the event. Make the scones a day ahead, refrigerate then bake about an hour prior to guest arriving, so they are served warm.
Set the table a day before the scheduled afternoon tea and assemble or purchase floral arrangements for the table. Place post it notes with the name of each menu item on the serving vessel it will adorn, which makes it simple to set the table for the day of the event.
For a fall tea, choose fall colors for the table runner, decorative faux or real pumpkins, fabric fall leaves, faux acorns, tea candles and autumn-colored flowers for the floral arrangements.
Purchase an assortment of teas including fan favorites – Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Darjeeling and one of my favorites Good Earth Sweet & Spicy. Add the loose or bagged tea to each tea pot the day of the event, then add hot water right before your guests sit down and let steep for at least 5 minutes. For loose leaf tea, have a tea strainer on hand.
About 30 minutes before the guests arrive, place the food items in the pre-designated with post it notes, serving dishes, tiered stands, and bowls.
If you want to add a special adult touch, you can serve a signature cocktail when your guests arrive – something like an Orange Blossom Bellini, Pimm’s, Earl Grey Martini or Champagne with Elderflower.
Afternoon tea is a chance to bring everyone together and reminisce, get excited about the future, and relax, forgetting about everyday stresses. If you can’t wait to throw an afternoon tea, I would recommend making a reservation at one of these established afternoon tea spots in San Francisco – Lovejoy’s, Fairmont Hotel, Palace Hotel, The Rotunda at Neiman Marcus, or Maison Danel.
By Lisa Crossett, Resident since 2001
Lisa has been a Northgate resident since 2001. Professionally she is the Head of Talent Acquisition for Mechanics Bank with headquarters in Walnut Creek. She is the President of California Recruiters and on the board for Community Arts Foundation based in Walnut Creek. Lisa’s passion is Food, Wine and Entertaining. She publishes a food blog called Authentic Suburban Gourmet and loves to throw elegant dinner parties , explore wine country, collect wine and cook great food.