Not even a horrendous downpour could dampen the spirits of tea drinkers, one of whom was totally drenched after walking barely 100 feet. We had gathered for our monthly tea respite at the St James Tearoom for the last in a month-long series of talks, complete with full tea service. The first talk we attended was July 5, with the owner, Mary Alice Higbie, talking about the history of fine china. Her presentation also covered how to tell the real china from the fake, and how to care for it. Mary Alice also showed us china that she had designed and painted. The main take-away, though, from this most interesting talk was to use your china. Many people inherit fine china, silverware, and crystal, yet none of it does any good sitting in a cabinet. Treat yourself to a beautiful setting, use it and enjoy it! Your ancestors would want you to continue their traditions.
The second talk was July 26, with Laura Bartolucci, the St. James’ event planner. Laura, who loves tea parties, spoke on ideas for the tea table: table settings, dishes, silverware, centerpieces, and more. You do not need an excuse or even a special occasion to have a tea party. Nor do you need to have matched place settings. In fact, it is fun to have different ones–you may have bought Depression glass plates in an antique store, for example. It is fun to hear how each individual plate and teacup and saucer were acquired.
As a guest favor, she had tied a miniature cookie cutter to a teacup handle. You can go online to Google to print out placecards, too, and then put them into little teapot holders (available in the St. James gift shop) made just for that purpose. You can also hand print them. Laura showed several ways to fold napkins, both for teacup styles that have tall sides to hold the folded napkin and for cups that have no support. For the latter, she turned a napkin into a three-level fan that was then placed cleverly under the side of the plate, but still showing. This tea drinker was all thumbs trying to fold the napkins, but you can find many sources online to help you.
One idea Laura mentioned was to machine embroider your guests’ first name on a cloth napkin. My sister, Linda, embroiders napkins for all her dinner guests. For most people, though, cloth napkins are not used, but you can still fold paper napkins just as cleverly as you would cloth ones. In fact, you can learn from the maestro on the art of napkin folding himself, Luigi Spotorno. In fact, Luigi has a book, Luigi’s Language of Napkin Folding. Want to win the prize for the most creative napkin? Then try your hand at the “Tango Napkin.”
While smaller napkins are often used for tea, you do not have to use smaller ones. Personally, many people prefer a napkin that covers the entire lap. Whichever you use—cloth or paper—do fashion it to make your table setting attractive and inviting. If you are truly challenged at folding napkins, then you will love this website, aptly named – Napkin Folding Guide. You can download the PDFs and print out instructions for 27 folds. The photographs and instructions are very clear.
Photos from the two presentations are in the slideshow. The teas that were served with the three courses were Lady Londonderry scented black tea, Island Garden Pouchong oolong, and iced Afternoon in Mansfield Park, a strawberry-flavored black tea (which this tea drinker still prefers hot).
Finally, it is always nice to have a centerpiece. A small vase of fresh flowers always works. If you have an old cracked teapot, recycle it as a vase for silk flowers (if the crack is on the bottom!).
Regardless how you decide to set your table, remember that it will always be perfect just as it is. The real purpose of a tea party is the camaraderie that you and your guests will have as you relax for a couple of hours, eating delicious food and sipping great tea.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Using napkin rings? Often the cloth napkins are just too flimsy to stand up in anything, so using a napkin ring is the solution. Luigi shows you how here.
Need ideas for little favors? Use the coupon that is often in your Sunday newspaper from Michael’s or Hobby Lobby to buy the little items you can adapt for your tea table. Also, check out scrapbooking stores, as you can get little 3-dimensional items to put on the napkins or at the place setting. Use your imagination!