Afternoon Tea Made Easy

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I was 42-years-old before I was introduced to lovely, luscious afternoon tea by my wonderful Auntie Vel. And the first question to myself was, 'Why in the heck did you take so long?' I am happy to say that since then I have had tea many times and enjoy it immensely. When I was blessed by three beautiful granddaughters I made it a mission that they would not have to wait until they were 42 before they had their first experience. From when they were old enough to hold a teacup in their hand, we have had 'tea' at our house.

I was always skeptical of the idea of Afternoon Tea and felt slightly intimidated by the thought of being someplace where my manners were going to be scrutinized and judged. I quickly found out that Afternoon Tea is no more stressful than having a meal at a favorite restaurant. The first lesson I learned was, 'Relax! Pretend this is any other meal you're having and just enjoy it.' After making myself relax, it became one of my favorite outings for several reasons. Afternoon Tea gives us an opportunity to eat good food, be with good friends and have a quiet, serene respite from the outside world. What can be nicer than eating, chatting, and relaxing? It is not necessary to go to any of the fancier places to get a good experience. Although, I have to admit that one of my favorite things to do is spoil my daughter-in-law by taking her to the Phoenician for her birthday! But I digress. There are several tea houses around Phoenix that, with 24-hour notice, will set a nice tea in a comfortable environment. Here are a few that you may find in your area (or you can google 'tea houses, phoenix):

English Rose, Carefree, 480-488-4812

Kimberly Ann's Victorian Tearoom, Glendale, 623-934-1106

Abbey Gardens, Mesa, 480-730-1819

There are, of course, the fancier-shmancier places like The Phoenician, The Biltmore and The Ritz. If the idea of having Afternoon Tea is intimidating, I would encourage you to try one of the places I have suggested to reassure yourself that this is not to be feared, it's to be embraced and enjoyed! Then, when you're ready, take someone to tea at the Phoenician for her special birthday. Or your own!

When my ladies and I have tea at my house, it can be a simple snack, lunch or we do a Special Tea. We get our inspirations from a terrific book called, 'The Tea Party Book' by Lucille Recht Penner. It's available, new and used, on In this book you will find themes for teas that include a Teddy Bear Tea, a Valentine Tea and even a Full-Moon Tea. What's great about this book is there are recipes for simple foods that children can make themselves with a little help from an adult, suggestions for decorations and how to make your own table settings. The ingredients for the food and the supplies for the crafts are usually things we have around the house. This can turn into a half-day or an all day project to keep our little darlings occupied on some of these hot, summer days. It gives us an opportunity to teach something, have fun and eat!

More importantly, having tea can also give us a chance to go over more formalized manners with our little ladies. When my own granddaughters and I have tea, we sometimes practice being a Proper Young Lady. I tell them that these are manners we don't always have to use when we are home with the family but come in handy when we find ourselves at a nice restaurant or having dinner at a friend's house.

Here is a little background on where Afternoon Tea came from, what the different kinds of tea mean and even a few ideas for your own tea party. I hope this inspires you to explore the world of Afternoon Tea. You won't be sorry, promise!

Drinking tea as an event can be traced back to 1662 in England during the reign of Charles II. His wife, Queen Catharine brought tea with her when she came to the country and was known as the Tea-Drinking Queen. She served tea in her bedchamber mainly for a female gathering. The taking of tea in the afternoon developed into a new social event some time in the late 1830's and thought to have been established by Anne, Duchess of Bedford. She requested light sandwiches be brought to her in the late afternoon because she had a 'sinking feeling' during that time as a result of the long gap between meals. Since they slept late each morning, they would have breakfast and usually wouldn't eat again until a late dinner, around 8 o'clock. The Duchess began to invite others to join her and it became a tradition that is practiced in England to this day.

There are various types of 'tea', most of which you have probably  heard of but, like me, didn't know the meaning or details of them.

Cream Tea: A simple tea consisting of scones, clotted cream, marmalade or lemon curd and tea.

Low Tea/Afternoon Tea: An afternoon meal including sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, curd, 2-3 sweets and tea. Known as 'low tea' because guests are seated in low armchairs with low side-tables to place their cups and saucers.

Elevensies: Morning coffee hour in England.

Royale Tea: A social tea served with champagne at the beginning or sherry at the end of the tea. Some of the nicer tea places here in Phoenix serve champagne and/or sherry before the first course of sandwiches.

High Tea: High tea is reminiscent of elegancy and regal-ness when in fact it's an evening meal most often enjoyed around 6pm by laborers and miners returning home. In England, high tea consists of meat and potatoes as well as other foods and tea. Now it's not exclusively a working class meal but has been adopted by all social groups. Families with servants often took high tea on Sundays in order to allow the maids and butlers time to go to church and not worry about cooking an evening meal for the family. In the United States, the term High Tea is sometimes used when referring to 'low tea' or 'afternoon tea.'

Tea at home

You don't have to have real tea at a tea party. We have had apple juice, orange juice, plain or flavored milk, and, well, you get the idea. Here are a few ideas of having a fun tea at home:

A Full-Moon Tea Party

You don't have to have a full moon to enjoy this tea, but it makes it extra special. You can sit by a window where the full moon can be seen (on those really, really hot nights!) or you can set up on the porch. The menu includes moon cupcakes, cheese stars and apple crescents and place mats decorated with moons and stars. For a fun centerpiece, hang a big, yellow balloon from the ceiling. There are fun instructions on making your own party favors - homemade telescopes!

Moon Cupcakes

Make whatever flavor cupcake you wish and frost with white frosting. Place on gray or light blue candied 'dots' to represent the craters on the moon.

Cheese Stars and Apple Crescents

You will need:

A star-shaped cookie cutter
Cheese slices

Cut the stars out of the cheese slices with the cookie cutter. Cut apple into thin slices. Arrange your stars and apple crescents on a pretty plate.

Milky Way Tea

Stir together 1 teaspoon honey, ¼ teaspoon vanilla and 1 cup milk for each person. Warm the mixture in a saucepan and pour into a teapot.

Night Sky Place Mats

You will need:

aluminum foil
black colored construction paper (a size that will make a nice placemat)
gold star stickers

Directions: Cut small round or crescent moons out of foil. Glue moons onto each piece of black construction paper. Stick on some gold star stickers.


You will need:

Black colored paper
plastic wrap
silver star stickers

Directions: To make each telescope, cut a piece of black paper in half. Roll the paper into a tube and tape it together. Cut a circle out of plastic wrap. Tape it over one end of the paper tube.

Stick some silver stars on the plastic wrap. Everyone can look at the yellow 'moon' balloon (or the real one!) through their telescopes.

Teddy Bear Tea Party

This is a special favorite of my Lovely Ladies!

Teddy Bear Cookies

You will need:

1 stick butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
¼ cup cocoa
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Preheat oven 350. Grease cookie sheet.

Cream together butter and brown sugar. Beat in egg.

In separate bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Stir mixture into the butter and sugar. Chill one hour or more.

Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Divide each piece into 1 large ball (size of a ping-pong ball) for head and 2 little balls (marble size) for ears. Place balls on cookie sheet in shape of bear face, flatten slightly, and press in raisins for eyes and nose. Bake 15 minutes.

Makes 8 cookies

Bear Berries and Honey Bread

You will need:

whole-wheat bread
raspberries or blueberries

Directions: Put small bowl of honey in center of a plate. Put circle of berries around it. Stick toothpicks into some of the berries.

Cut crusts off 4 pieces of whole-wheat bread. Cut each slice into 4 strips. Arrange strips in pretty pattern around bowl of honey and berries.

Teddy Bear Place Mats

You will need:

Construction paper (size for a place mat)
Felt-tip markers

Draw little teddy bear faces all over each place mat. Set on at every place at the table. My ladies have also made teddy bears out of construction paper and glued them on the place mat.

Japanese Tea Party

We did this one time in place of lunch. We spent the morning getting everything ready and we all agreed it was one of our best teas!


Noodle Soup (like Top Ramen)
Sweet Rice Cakes
Green Tea

Make noodle soup according to package instructions.

Sweet Rice Cakes

1 package rice cakes

Spread rice cakes with thin layer of honey. Place on cookie sheet. Set aside. When you're ready to eat, put cakes under broiler for one minute. Serve warm.

Cherry Blossom Centerpiece

You will need:

a small branch from your garden
pink tissue paper
pipe cleaners

Find a small branch and strip off leaves. Make each blossom, cut 8-inch square of pink tissue paper. Gently crumble square of paper. Twist on end of pipe cleaner around middle of crumpled paper. Twist other end around tree branch. Make three or four cherry blossoms for the branch. This was surprisingly simple and ended up being very pretty. We put the branches on a white serving platter.

Japanese Fans

You will need:

Flet-tip markers
Colored paper

Draw pictures of cherry blossoms and butterflies on one side of the colored paper. Starting at the short edge, fold paper accordion style. When paper is all folded up, tape one end closed for handle. Fan out other end. Make enough fans for each person.

One of the traditions in Japan is removing shoes before entering the house. The ladies thought it was fun seeing their shoes lined up on the welcome mat by our front door.