What is a Tea Party?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A tea party could be said to be quite simply an event at which tea is served. However, the tradition of tea parties is long and hallowed, and these venerable social events are about much more than tea. Although tea is certainly served, this event also features delicate snacks, friendly conversation, and good manners. Traditionally, tea is served in the afternoon, in the hours between lunch and dinner, and in some regions, this event has been specifically the province of female hosts, although men are sometimes welcome.

Cakes and sandwiches for a tea party.
Cakes and sandwiches for a tea party.

A full on formal tea can be quite an event. Fine china and silver are used, and servants may assist with the tea service, although they generally withdraw once everyone has been made comfortable. Guests at a formal tea should expect things like sugar tongs and tea strainers, and they should be familiar with using them. A formal tea will also classically feature an array of tea sandwiches, scones, cupcakes, and other delicate snacks; since tea is traditionally held between lunch and dinner, most people eat lightly.

Fine china and silver should be used at formal tea events.
Fine china and silver should be used at formal tea events.

In some regions of the world such as the American South, a tea party is hosted by a group such as a church or a charity organization. At the tea, people are encouraged to socialize with each other, and opportunities for charitable service or donation may be provided. In these areas, a tea party is a common way to welcome a new member of the community, especially a religious officiant or someone who is new to public office. Such teas may also feature punch, in the summer, or coffee and hot chocolate in the winter.

Hosts can also hold tea parties in their private homes. A private party tends to be more intimate; women might welcome a new female member of the community with a private tea, for example, or a party might celebrate a select few friendships. This type of party can also accompany a baby shower or another event focused on women.

There is something appealingly genteel about a tea party, whether it is a weekly event held among friends or a child's birthday party. If you have an interest in planning such a party, numerous cookbooks are centered around the subject, and many of them also offer suggestions for service and decorations.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


The term "tea party" always makes me think of a little girl with plastic tea cups and a circle of toys, playing the princess at the tea party. I don't know how often people actually have a real tea party these days. It seems like the kind of thing people only do because it's kitsch or ironic.


@irontoenail - They can keep all the other little cakes and things, what I really like is the scones and jam and cream. Someone, somewhere, really got that combination right.

Scones are similar to biscuits although they aren't quite so savory and they taste delicious when they are warm and have a bit of butter on them.

Combine that with strawberry jam and some whipped cream and they are practically to die for. I love them so much my friends threw me a tea party for my birthday a few years ago.

I guess I probably like them as well because it's not a common thing in the USA so I don't get to have them all that often unless I make it myself and it seems like the kind of thing that is best saved for special occasions.


It's become popular for fancy hotels to offer an afternoon tea event and they are quite fun if you can afford to go to one. I guess they base them around an English tea party and include a lot of little cakes and sandwiches and difference choices of teas. Women get dressed up and just go and enjoy themselves and sometimes they have a pianist playing in the background.

It's a lovely gift for a mother or grandmother if you are looking for something different.

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