As a fan of the time-honoured British tradition of afternoon tea, you understand the importance of having the proper tea set to enjoy the experience fully. Before you purchase your tea set, educate yourself on the history and significance of the various pieces, what is typically served, how the components are used, and the range of prices for a set. Once armed with this knowledge, you can shop confidently from the many retailers that offer a selection of tea sets, from vintage to modern and budget-friendly to high-end. With the correct set and an assortment of tasty treats on your tiered platter, you’ll be ready to savour a leisurely afternoon tea at home. Pour yourself a cup of Earl Gray or Darjeeling and read on to become an afternoon tea set expert.
A Brief History of Afternoon Tea
To fully appreciate afternoon tea, it is essential to understand its origins. Afternoon tea became popular in Britain in the 1840s. Anna Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, initiated the tradition of having tea in the afternoon to bridge the long gap between lunch and dinner. Soon, afternoon tea evolved into a social event with small sandwiches, scones, pastries, and tea being served.
Afternoon tea eventually spread to other parts of the world, with each culture adapting the menu to suit local tastes. The components of a traditional British afternoon tea include:
- Tea: A selection of premium loose-leaf teas like Earl Gray, English Breakfast, and Darjeeling.
- Scones: Light, fluffy scones served with jam, lemon curd, and clotted cream.
- Tea sandwiches: Thinly-sliced sandwiches filled with egg salad, cucumber, smoked salmon, or cheese.
- Pastries: Bite-sized cakes like cupcakes, macarons, tarts, and éclairs.
An afternoon tea set refers to the pottery serving food and drinks. A classic set includes a teapot, sugar bowl, milk jug, tiered stands for the food, and teacups and saucers. Prices range from under $50 for a basic set to $500 for a premium bone china set. Department stores, home goods stores, and gourmet food retailers are all excellent places to shop for an afternoon tea set.
With its rich history and delicious treats, afternoon tea is an enjoyable experience. Understanding its origins and components will help you fully appreciate this timeless tradition.
What’s Typically Served at Afternoon Tea
When attending an afternoon tea, you can expect an array of delectable treats to be served. Traditionally, the main components of afternoon tea include:
- Tea sandwiches – Thinly sliced bread with fillings such as cucumber, egg salad, smoked salmon, cheese, and chutney. These sandwiches are meant to be eaten in one or two bites.
- Scones – Light, fluffy biscuits often served with clotted cream, lemon curd, jam, or fruit preserves. Scones provide a perfect base for spreading creamy toppings and sweet jams.
- Tea cakes – Small slices of sponge cake, fruit cake, or other miniature cakes. Madeira cake, Battenberg cake, and Victoria sponge cake are typical options.
- Tea pastries – Petite versions of treats like eclairs, tartlets, macarons, madeleines, etc. These delicately crafted pastries offer a touch of indulgence.
- Fruit – Fresh berries, segments of citrus, melon, etc., provide balance and a bright splash of natural sweetness.
The specific items served, quantities, and presentation will vary depending on the establishment. An average afternoon tea may consist of 3-5 tea sandwiches, two scones, 3-5 small cakes or pastries, and a fruit garnish per person. The fare is meant to be sampled, not provided as a complete meal.
With an array of tea and delicacies, enjoying afternoon tea can be a memorable experience. The key is to savour each delectable bite in a refined, leisurely fashion. Let the conversations and laughter flow as freely as the tea – that is the true spirit of afternoon tea.
Using Your Afternoon Tea Set
Preparing Your Tea Set
Before inviting guests for afternoon tea:
- Ensure your tea set is clean and ready to use.
- Wash all pieces—teapot, cups and saucers, plates, cutlery, teaspoons, tiered trays, etc.—with warm, soapy water.
- Rinse and dry thoroughly to prevent water spots.
- Polish any silver pieces with a soft cloth to make them shine.
Brewing the Tea
Bring fresh, cold water to a boil. Use one teabag or a rounded teaspoon of loose-leaf tea for every cup of water. Add the tea to the teapot and pour the boiling water over the top. Cover and let steep according to the package directions. For most black teas, 3 to 5 minutes is typical. Remove the tea bags or strain out the loose-leaf tea before serving.
Arranging the Tea Set
Place the tiered trays on your table and attractively arrange the teapot, cups and saucers, plates, cutlery, napkins, sugar bowl, creamer, and tea sandwiches. Group items together on the trays based on their function to make it easy for guests to find what they need. A classic arrangement has the teapot and cups on the top tier, plates and cutlery on the middle tier, and tea sandwiches and pastries on the bottom. However, you can be creative and arrange the pieces in the most esthetically pleasing way.
Serving Your Guests
You may begin pouring the tea once your guests have arrived and settled in. Start by filling the teapot with the steeped tea from step 2. Place a teacup and saucer in front of each guest. Ask if they want milk, sugar, lemon, or cream, and provide accordingly. Then fill each teacup with the hot tea. Your afternoon tea is ready to be enjoyed with polite conversation and tasty morsels from the tiered trays. Relax and delight in this timeless tradition with your guests.
How Much Should You Pay for an Afternoon Tea Set?
Porcelain vs Bone China Sets
You’ll typically choose between porcelain and bone china for an afternoon tea set. Porcelain tea sets are more affordable but still high quality. Bone china sets are the finest option, made from bone ash, clay and feldspathic rock. They produce a translucent, delicate tea set.
Porcelain tea sets typically range from $50 to $200. Look for sets with gold or platinum accents for a more elegant look.
Bone china tea sets usually cost around $200 and go up to $500 or more for a complete set. The additional cost is due to the higher quality materials and craftsmanship. For the finest bone china, expect to pay $350 and up.
Silver Plated or Sterling Silver Accents
Many porcelain and bone china tea sets come with silver plated or sterling silver accents like the teapot’s handle, rim, base and cups. Silver-plated accents, where a thin layer of silver is bonded to a base metal, add shine at a lower cost. Sterling silver, 92.5% pure silver, offers a brilliant silver finish but a significantly higher price.
A porcelain or bone china set with silver plated accents may cost $50 to $100 more than a simple set.
Expect to pay at least $200 to $500 more for sterling silver accents. The other silver increases the overall cost.
Where to Buy
An afternoon tea set is a memorable gift for weddings, Mother’s Day, or housewarmings. You can find a quality set at:
- Department stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom’s and Bloomingdale’s. They often have selections across different price points.
- Gourmet food and kitchen stores such as Williams Sonoma, Sur La Table and Dean & DeLuca.
- Online retailers specializing in linens, tableware and home decor like Wayfair, Pottery Barn and One Kings Lane.
- China and tea set companies like Teasetbox, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton. They are experts in fine bone china and offer high-end sets.
With so many options, you can find an elegant afternoon tea set to suit your style and budget. Take your time to browse the selections, compare quality and prices, and choose a set you’ll enjoy using for years to come.
Where to Buy an Afternoon Tea Set
Once you have decided on the specific afternoon tea set you want to purchase, you have several options for where to buy one.
Many popular retailers like Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and Wayfair offer a selection of afternoon tea sets on their websites. Benefits of buying online include:
- The convenience of shopping from home.
- Often lower prices are due to less overhead costs.
- Ability to compare many different sets easily.
- Frequently free shipping promotions.
However, you can only see the set in person after purchasing it. Be sure to check the return policy in case you are not satisfied.
Large department stores selling home goods, like Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Dillard’s, typically have a collection of afternoon tea sets. Advantages of department stores include:
- Ability to see and touch the sets in person.
- Often have frequent sales and coupons to save money.
- Easy returns and exchanges if needed.
- Staff on hand to answer questions.
The selection may be more limited, and prices are sometimes higher than other options.
Stores specializing in linens, china, and home decor, like Bed Bath & Beyond, Pier 1 Imports, and Tuesday Morning, are excellent places to search for an afternoon tea set. Benefits include:
- Large, high-quality selection of sets to choose from.
- Knowledgeable staff that can provide guidance.
- Often high-end, unique sets are not found elsewhere.
- Frequent 20-30% off coupons to use.
- Prices will likely be the highest of the options, but the sets are usually exquisite.
In summary, you have various effective places to purchase your ideal afternoon tea set. Compare the pros and cons of online retailers, department stores, and speciality stores to determine the best fit for your needs and budget. You can find a lovely set at an affordable price with some searching.
You now understand the tradition of afternoon tea, know what to expect when attending an afternoon tea service, and have guidance on selecting an afternoon tea set for your home. With some knowledge of the history and proper etiquette, you can fully immerse yourself in this charming British custom. Take a slow down, savour delicious tea and pastries, and connect with friends or loved ones over the light conversation. An afternoon tea set is an investment that can be passed down for generations. Do some research to find a trusted retailer that offers high-quality, authentic sets within your budget. With the correct set and a little practice, you’ll host memorable afternoon tea parties in no time. May your scones be light, your tea perfectly steeped, and your conversations sparkling.