Children's Tea Party - What a parent should know.
What are the basic tea traditions?
Before planning a tea it is a good idea to review some of the basic tea traditions. Tea is served all over the world but the different locations often have their own variation.
The most commonly recognized tea tradition is the English tea, which is served between lunch and dinner. This tea, afternoon tea, is served with sandwiches, scones, and pastries. The English also serve high tea. High tea is taken in place of the evening meal and included heartier foods. It is often served with cold meats, eggs, fish, cakes, sandwiches, biscuits, pastries, fruit and the like.
Chinese tea is served any time from morning till afternoon. Unlike afternoon tea, at which black tea is usually served, the Chinese serve a fermented tea, chrysanthemum, oolong or green tea. This tea is served with dim sum, a traditional Chinese cuisine in which small portions of a variety of foods, including an assortment of steamed or fried dumplings, are served in succession. Chinese tea is usually taken in a dim sum restaurant.
Africa also has a tradition of afternoon tea, but it refers to the lunch time meal. Also it is served with Chai tea, a tea served hotter than other varieties and with lots of milk.
In South America tea refers to the evening meal. It typically includes crescent-shaped rolls, thin bread, sweet quince paste, marmalade, butter, bizcochos and pastries. However, in Mexico tea is a separate meal served between lunch and dinner. It would include sweet breads, enchiladas, pambazos, tamales, quesadillas, and tacos.
Even in America, with the preference for coffee, there is a tea tradition. The term tea party is often used and indicates a more formal event in which participants dress for the occasion. Tea is a separate meal that is usually served either between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner. The tea is typically accompanied by brunch foods.
Planning the Party
Planning a tea party, like any party, involves planning a menu and planning activities. Moreover, tea with children is usually less formal and often involves games rather than simply intimate conversation.
A variation that appeals to most all little girls is the dress-up tea. Acquire a variety of hats, boas, shawls, beads and fancy shoes for the girls to dress in when they arrive. (A thrift store is an inexpensive way to find the dress up items and usually results in a wide variety of choices for the girls.) Give the guests plenty of time to try the different items on and then invite them to sit at the tea table in all their finery. Tubes of lip gloss, jewelry or even the hats the children dress up in all make good favors.
Another children's tea variation is the teddy bear tea. Have each guest bring a favorite teddy bear or doll to the tea. Decorated straw doll hats make wonderful favors and can be given to each guest to dress their companions. Then each child can practice serving her companion.
A mother daughter tea is also a wonderful option, especially for the more shy children. It provides a wonderful bonding opportunity for the mothers and daughters and allows you to learn more about the mother's in your child's play group. It also takes some of the stress off of you as each child will be supervised by her mother. Mother daughter bracelets make an ideal favor.
Menus can be adapted to fit your theme. For example use bear shaped cookies for a teddy bear tea. Or for a Southern themed tea the Food Network has a good menu. (Although I would either add peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the younger tea goers or leave off the okra sandwiches altogether). Also if you want to explore a less English tea tradition the menu can be adapted accordingly. (For example you can serve dim sum with green tea for a Chinese themed tea.) However, here are some basic ideas to get you started.
Typical tea sandwiches include cucumber, egg, ham and smoked salmon. (A cucumber sandwich is thinly sliced cucumber placed between thinly sliced, buttered, crust-less bread cut diagonally twice. An American variation substitutes cream cheese, often mixed with dill or some other spice, for butter.)
For a children's tea it is a good idea to also include a less sophisticated sandwich like peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and honey. (Spread peanut butter thinly over each slice of bread to keep the jelly or honey from soaking into the bread.) If you cut the crust off and cut the bread diagonally twice it still looks elegant.
For even more sandwich ideas try some of the recipes at Razzle Dazzle Recipes.
Scones are traditionally served with Devonshire cream and strawberry jam. However, for very young children a flavored scone might be a better choice. The Joy of Baking has a few flavored scone recipes as well as the recipe for Devonshire cream. For even more scone recipes try the Bed and Breakfast Inns Online.
Cookies are an easy choice on which to end your teatime. Sugar cookies, shortbread, tea cookies or whatever your child's favorite cookie can all be served. All Recipes has a variety of recipes for tea cookies, including Swedish tea cookies.
Cakes are the other sweet of choice often served at teas. Traditional English choices include Battenberg cake, fruit cake (the English variety is often covered in marzipan) or Victorian sponge cake. Another choice for a children's tea is rather than full-sized cakes make cupcakes. Most cake recipes can be adapted to make cupcakes. Just watch them more closely when cooking.
Teatime and Manners
Finally, teatime can be a perfect time to teach your children manners, especially if you are having a less formal family tea. Depending on their ages you can begin by explaining to your children learning manners isn't just memorizing a bunch of silly rules. The purpose of good manners is to show kindness and consideration to others.
- Wash your hand well before sitting at the table. This helps prevent the spread of germs to your family and friends.
- Don't pick up your napkin till your hostess does. She must greet all the guests before she can sit down and as she planned the party it is considerate to wait for her before starting. Also napkins are placed in your lap, not on the table. If you must leave temporarily place your napkin on your seat.
- If you are the tea pourer pour tea 3/4 full. This allows room for sugar and milk and also makes it less likely the person will spill. Ask if they would like sugar. If they say yes, inquire if they wish one lump or two. Finally ask them if they would like milk or lemon. (Cream can react with the acidity levels in tea so it is best to use milk.) Don't combine milk and lemon as it will curdle the milk.
- Blot your lipstick before drinking your tea. This will keep your lipstick from staining your hostess' tea cups.
- Wait till everyone is served before eating. Parties are more fun when you enjoy them together rather than starting on your own.
- To hold your tea cup grip the handle using your thumb and index finger. Or for a Chinese cup place your thumb at the six o'clock position and your index and middle fingers at the twelve o'clock position. If needed raise your pinkie for balance. Holding your tea cup properly will help prevent spills.
- Never blow on your tea. Wait for it to cool. Blowing on your tea informs your companions that you are more interested in the food than their company.
- To stir your tea do not use a circular motion but rather fold the added liquid into the tea. Don't hit the sides of the cup and don't leave the spoon in the cup. Place the spoon on the saucer slightly behind and to the right of the cup. A clinking spoon is disruptive and a wet spoon can leave water spots on your hostess' furniture.
- Tea is sipped not slurped. Slurping is disruptive to conversation.
- Take dainty bites. Even if an item is small enough do not place the whole thing in your mouth. Take small bites. Chew with your mouth closed. Don't talk with your mouth full. And eat slowly. Wait about 5 seconds after swallowing before reaching for more. This will allow you to participate in the conversation around you.
- Don't reach over someone's plate. Ask for the item to be passed if you can't reach it. Your companion is also trying to eat and she can't continue if someone's arm is in front of her plate.
- Try a little of each course. Don't make rude comments about anything served. Also say thank you after being served. Your hostess went to a lot of trouble to prepare the food, and even if you don't like the food you can show some appreciation for her efforts.
- Scones are eaten like dinner rolls. Break off bite-sized pieces, then apply cream and jam. Do not dip your scone. This helps prevent the spread of germs.
- Do not place used utensils on the table or use them to serve yourself more jam or cream. Rest the utensils on the side of your plate. This helps keep your hostess things nice and prevents the jam and cream from becoming mixed in the serving dishes.
- The hostess will signal the end of tea by placing her napkin loosely to the left of her plate. It is her house and if she is ready for the party to end you should follow her lead.
- Always thank the hostess. She went to a lot of trouble. Even if you did not enjoy the party you should thank her for including you.
For younger children, start with a few of the simpler rules. As they are ready you can instruct them in further etiquette. Teatime should be fun. By understanding the reasons behind the rules your children can enjoy themselves without getting hung up on trying to remember a bunch of rules.
Explore the various tea traditions. Sample different recipes. But most important enjoy the time with your children.
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