Learn vintage etiquette and how to throw the perfect tea party.
Betty Blythe tearoom first opened it's doors on Valentine's Day 2008. Located near Shepherd's Bush in West London, the inspiration was to start "a service based, old fashioned establishment that beholds joy to the visitor." Offering a more affordable location for taking afternoon tea, they take inspiration from expensive establishments, such as Napket in Kings Road, Tom's Deli and The Tea Palace of Notting Hill, The Dorchester, The Ritz, Brown's Hotel and Claridge's. We caught up with Lulu Gwynne to get tips for throwing the perfect tea party.
How should one prepare for a tea party ?
You don't need a reason to have a tea party because they are the perfect way to spend time with your best friends. Send hand written invitations, for true vintage etiquette, or even a simple email to friends might be the best way of going about it.
Collect together your vintage crockery. You may have some already but lovely things can be found at markets, like Portobello, or your nearest charity shop will always have something to purchase. No need to worry about it matching, that is the really genuine appeal of the whole look! Small businesses on the internet have some real gems but don't spend a lot of money on china and be careful of hairline cracks on the handles - you want to drink the tea not wear it on your silk vintage dresses.
You should invite close friends or new acquaintances, although be careful if you mix the two.
Where would be a good location to host your party?
Inside your kitchen, outside in the garden or on patio, in the park (just pack a flask), but not usually the ladies chamber, are the most usual places for tea parties. Roof top gardens are great too.
How should we dress for the party?
It is always important to look good, as Elizabeth Hurley said, "why look bad when you can look good?". Take this as an opportunity to wear your best frocks and new shoes, there will be no dancing at this time, so rest assured that you can wear heels and look rather stylish. This is also a fabulous time to get out those vintage pieces - hats and brooches and make a real event of it.
What about table layout?
One must have a pretty table cloth hanging a least a foot off the edge of the table. Again markets and charity shops always have embroidered table clothes, so go and rummage for a great bargain, or for modern table clothes try Laura Ashley, who always have pretty ones.
What about decorations?
A little vase of wild flowers adds a pretty finishing touch. Don't put water in as your guests will, at some point, knock the flowers over and the water will soak the table cloth. Loose petals are a pretty touch, as are edible gold leaves, which you can sprinkle on to the top of the tea.
What kind of tea should be served and is there a special way to serve it?
When tea first arrived from China and India, it had fermented on the long journey and had turned black. So, the English aristocrats would be serving black tea and created a ceremony, which is pretty much like the one we have adopted today. The only argument is whether the milk should go in first or last!
Here are some opinions but Betty Blythe believes it should be as you wish:
The reason is that the original (old fashioned) teacup would shatter if the hot tea was poured in first, hence milk first. People only started putting milk in later, when china was used, it was kind of a status symbol thing to show off that they could afford better than a clay mug. In the old days, the footman would prepare the tea in the pot on a tray and then pour the tea from the pot into the china cups, which he would hand around. Then he would pass around a tray with the milk jug and sugar lumps with little tongs, so you can add milk and sugar to your taste.
What kind of food should be served?
Prior to the introduction of tea in to Britain, the English had two main meals - breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was ale, bread and beef. Dinner was a long, massive meal at the end of the day. It was no wonder that Anna, the Duchess of Bedford experienced a "sinking feeling" in the late afternoon. Adopting the European tea service format, she invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea. Tea was made in the kitchen and carried to the lady of the house who waited with her invited guests, surrounded by fine porcelain from China. Food and tea was then passed among the guests, the main purpose of the visit being conversation.
Betty Blythe has her own menu for this afternoon tea experience. It is simple and will make your guests pleasantly replete and happy. A selection of finger sandwiches on white crustless bread - cool cucumber, cream cheese and smoked salmon; organic egg mayonnaise and alderton Ham. Petit savory tart selection, homemade mini scones with little scarlet jam and Devon clotted cream, a selection of cakes and biscuits, truffle chocolate brownies, white chocolate and fresh fig macaroons and mini cupcakes.
What makes for good conversation?
"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly. "I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone: "so I can't take more." "You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter. "it's very easy to take more than nothing." Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.
Complementary quips to the host are a good start, but when we are with good friends, we are here to gossip and air our concerns about life's issues. One should come away with a refreshed outlook from a pleasant afternoon's conversation.
Play music that's conducive to the situation and keep it at an appropriate level, not something that will compete with the conversation. If you notice people leaning in to hear each other, the music is too loud.
Any tips for dealing with awkward silences?
Drop a bombshell to see how people react and then tell them you were only joking! That should lighten it up a bit. But really, you should always go with an interesting question up your silky sleeve.
What are the rules for table etiquette?
Stay seated and wait for things to be done for you by the hostess (unless you arrange someone to do the serving for you, like a Betty Blythe Starlet). Never reach for anything and ask to be passed anything you want - all in the essence of doing things slowly. During "full tea", three courses are served, such as scones, tea sandwiches, and sweets. "Light tea" will only be scones and sweets. Since it is a tea party, you can eat with your fingers. However, if an item is particularly messy, or has a runny filling, then use a fork. If all the courses are laid out on the table, eat them in this order: first the scones or muffins; then the tiny sandwiches, and last the sweets. Think of it like a meal where you start with bread, then have the main course, but save the sweet part for last. For scones or muffins, break off a bite-size piece, then put a small amount of jam or butter on it. If Devonshire or clotted cream is available, a small amount can be dabbed on after the jam. This thick cream is for scones, not for the tea. Take bites of the tiny sandwiches. Never stuff the whole thing in your mouth, even though it's small. If using sugar, be careful not to dip the tong or sugar spoon into the tea. Stir sugar and/or milk with the teaspoon, then place the teaspoon on the saucer. When drinking the tea, hold the cup and saucer near your chest, then take the teacup off the saucer and bring it up to your mouth to drink. If the tea is hot, leave teacup on the table to cool. Do not blow on the tea. Hold the teacup normally. Do not stick your pinky out when drinking tea.
You can find out more about Betty Blythe and how to book your own tea service on their website.