The service of afternoon tea is a pleasant custom, though not as popular in America as in England. Tea parties are often spontaneous when friends drop in unexpectedly. Even though we believe our cupboard is bare, we are certain to have the ingredients for a satisfactory and even festive spur-of-the-moment afternoon tea. By the way, nothing is better with tea than thin bread and butter. In England, we will often find watercress, as well as marmalade or jam, passed with this.
Most of us enjoy getting out our best cups and saucers with plates to match or contrast. If we have them, we will offer our linen tea napkins, although the small dainty paper cocktail napkins may be used with tea and will naturally accompany sherry. There are glasses especially designed for sherry service, but small cocktail glasses may be used with a decanter if there is one on hand, or with the sherry bottle. The tea will, of course, be made at the last moment. This is the time to get out your best teapot.
To accompany it, there should be another pot of freshly boiling water, as there are sure to be guests who prefer weak tea. A second teapot may be used for this unless you are fortunate enough to have a small hot-water kettle with an accompanying alcohol burner. There are small candle “stoves” over which a pottery or china pot may be safely used. When you are entertaining only a few guests, a large tea tray with the whole tea service may be brought into the living room. For a larger number, a table spread with a fine linen or a lace cloth may be arranged before the guests arrive.
The cups, saucers, plates, cream, sugar and lemon slices studded with cloves may be arranged on a small tea tray. A decanter of rum may supplement the tea service for those who like the flavor in addition to lemon with tea. Plates of small cookies or dainty cakes may be in place on the tea table. If yours is a community where friends are likely to pop in, it is always a good idea to have a roll of refrigerator cookie dough ready to be sliced and baked.
The teapot with the hot-water pot and plates of sandwiches, hot biscuits or cinnamon toast should be brought in just before they are to be served. The daintiest of sandwiches made with thin bread spread with a flavored butter filling and open cucumber sandwiches (that are actually canapes) are often chosen. Small hot biscuits may be baked and kept hot in a slow oven. For a small group, toasted English muffins with jam or marmalade are suggested.
In warm weather, arrangements should be made for iced tea service, although you will find that some of your guests will prefer the hot beverage, no matter what the temperature. Both tall glasses and teacups may be ready on the tea table. In addition to the accessories to a hot tea, you will need a bucket of ice cubes, wedges of lemon, a pitcher of sugar syrup or a bowl of powdered sugar, and perhaps a bunch of fresh mint leaves for the cold drink.
The glasses should be filled with the ice cubes, the fresh hot tea poured over them, then more ice and a sprig of mint added. Guests may help themselves to sugar and lemon. Long iced teaspoons should be furnished. For a summer afternoon, wine and seltzer is refreshing, as is frozen concentrated orange or grape juice diluted with sparkling water and poured over ice. Bottled grape juice undiluted may be served the same way.
When sherry or long drinks replace tea, the same type of sandwiches may accompany them or you may prefer to offer a variety of spreads with crackers. If you have fruit cake on hand, it should be cut in thin slices for afternoon service with the sherry, or thin crisp cookies such as Sand Tarts may be offered.