I LOVE high tea. Sipping Earl Grey from a pretty cup and nibbling tiny sandwiches, one can’t help but feel sophisticated. But don’t feel like you’ve got to shell out the big bucks at an actual tea house—a perfectly elegant spread is possible at your own. Prep the goods before hand, convert your kitchenette into a parlor, and you’re on your way to a tea-rific par-tea.

Setting The Scene

If you happen to have them, a white table cloth and/or fabric napkins totally elevate your table setting. If not, don’t fret; cute paper naps are just as nice. To get the full tea-time look without breaking the bank, hit up Goodwill for a teapot or two and as many teacups as you need. Don’t stress about finding matching sets; mixing designs adds a refined edginess and will spice up your spread. Set the table with your cups on their saucers, the teapot, fresh flowers in vases or mason jars, a pitcher of water, small plates, and utensils (you’ll need teaspoons for the tea and butter knives for scones). As far as music goes, I’d recommend something chill but out of the ordinary, like French Indie Pop (which is, for the record, completely superior to American Indie). Another option is to go totally traditional with Baroque beats… ultimately up to you.

The Tea

So, this component is obvious, but also highly variable since there are like 1,064,839,058,231 different teas to choose from. I’d recommend having at least one black tea—English breakfast, Irish breakfast, or Earl Grey are great choices. It’s probably better to avoid anything strongly flavored, like mint or lemon herbal teas. Depending on the size of your teapot, put in 2-4 bags of a single variety then pour in almost boiling water. Let brew as long as indicated on the package and serve with cream and sugar. Feel like a royal.

Grace Danon

Start With Scones

Who doesn’t love scones? An ideal match for tea, they’re as easy as any basic cookie. Two different flavors makes the whole affair extra special, and it’s simple to do; just make a big batch of plain scone dough and split it in half. Before baking, dress up each half as you like—lemon or orange zest are fresh add-ins, while vanilla bean seeds gives flair to the familiar. Freeze dried raspberries with white chocolate or fresh blueberries are other fan favs. Make the scones small, so guests can try both flavors! Scones are traditionally served with jam and clotted cream, which comes in unrefrigerated jars at specialty grocery stores. If you can’t find clotted cream, fresh whipped cream works just as well.

Yes, Sandwiches Can Be Cute...

Tea sandwiches are SO underrated. You’ve got to have the classics, but there’s plenty of room for some creativity too. First off, it simply isn’t a tea party without cucumber sandwiches. Cut the crust off your choice of sandwich bread, spread generously with cream cheese, sprinkle on some fresh dill, and shingle it with thin slices of English cucumber for an open-faced version of a timeless finger-food. Chicken salad is another beloved bite. I do mayo, tarragon, celery, plus salt and pepper, but dried cranberries and chopped pecans are also great add-ins. Scoop into halved mini croissants, and voila: a true tea time staple. For something new (and vegan!) diagonally slice hearty whole grain bread (like European brown bread or pumpernickel), schmear with hummus, then top with alfalfa sprouts, a tomato slice, a wedge of avo, and pepper. Don’t feel limited to sandwiches either: cheese puffs or mini quiches are perfectly legit (and frozen options can come in clutch). If you’re expecting particularly peckish guests, throw in a simple garden salad too. Edible flowers are a pretty addition and will take plain greens from blah to utterly exquisite.

Grace Danon
Grace Danon

A Sweet Finish

A full tea usually concludes with petit fours (pet-tea fours???), which really can manifest as any small dessert. Cupcakes, truffles, cookies, mini tarts—anything is fair game. Something light and fruity is an especially nice way to round out the meal. To make it even sweeter, craft some tea-bag-shaped frames before the party from embroidery floss and pastel construction paper. Once everyone is stuffed and jacked up on caffeine, take elegant group polaroids, then glue them to your tea-bag frames for an unforgettable party favor.

Grace Danon

Whether you’re turning twen-tea or just want an excuse to feel fancy, tea parties are a scrumptious and unique way to celebrate and savor the everyday. Pinkies up!