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Afternoon tea. The most British of traditions and one that has made an enormous comeback over the past five years or so, possibly due to our insatiable appetite for The Great British Bake Off and all things cake, coupled with our nostalgic whims, harking back to times gone by when things were done ‘nice and proper’. The days where people took time out to enjoy a treat, and make an occasion of it. Perhaps in our fast paced, chaotic, ever changing world, we’re taking comfort in the things that never change – cake, tea, tradition with which of course comes the additional bonus of ‘this is how it’s done’ providing us with a fail safe, fool proof method and approach.
Tradition serves us well, in all areas of life, however it serves us even better when we sprinkle a little bit of our own magic all over it, which is possibly the main reason afternoon tea has take a gigantic leap away from the cucumber sandwich affair to something a bit more exciting. People are doing afternoon tea their way, taking tradition and mixing it right up with different themes and ideas (and a good serving of botanicals!).
Enter…the afternoon gin tea. The newest accompaniment to the ‘Mary Berry’ is the Juniper Berry it seems, with gin now a staple part of what some of the coolest places in town are serving with a cheese and chorizo scone and smoked salmon sandwich.
Ideal we say if you’re thinking of getting a group of friends together for an occasion whether it’s a long overdue catch up, a hen doo, birthday, other celebration or ‘just because’.
A gin afternoon tea has the right balance of occasion, fun and tradition and we can’t think of a better time of year to put your party planner hat on and set a date for your summer ‘Gin and Jam’ event.
Things just work better when there’s a glue that holds everything together, the glue in party planning being the theme. Yes, a gin afternoon tea is a theme in itself but it helps to mull over a few things before you spring into full planning mode:
Why are you throwing the occasion?
Are you throwing it as a celebration for someone else or ‘just because’?
Is it an outdoors afternoon tea or are you hosting indoors?
What’s your colour scheme? If you’re hosting for a bride to be for example, will you be theming the tea in her favourite colour/colour of her favourite flowers?
What themes appeal to you? (It could be anything!)
The colour and theme you choose should run through everything from your invitations, flowers, table décor, place settings and goody bags. You don’t need to go overboard with a theme; you can be as subtle as you like but it really does help to bring things together and focus your mind as you build the ideas in your head and make out your ‘to do’ and ‘to buy’ lists.
One of the most exciting steps in the planning process is the invitation part. This is your first ‘dazzle’ moment, when your guests receive their invite through the post or via email, which is absolutely fine nowadays. In fact, we love putting a modern twist on tradition and head straight to Canva, a free and easy to use graphic design tool which lets you design all manner of things, from invitations to social media posts and presentations. It allows you to upload images too, so if you’re organising a ‘Gin and Jam’ for a bride to be, you can design a fabulous invitation with picture of her when she was little. If you’re feeling less of a digital whizz, then there are a load of places on the internet where you can choose and personalise a design to send out digitally or by post that feels right for your event and theme. If you’re sending by post you can even pop in a little teabag (we’re thinking one of the wrapped ones… rather than a round Tetley!) to set the tone.
Head over to Pinterest and you’ll find a gazillion different table settings and afternoon tea displays. Two hours later you’ll probably feel completely overwhelmed and wonder why you ever thought to do such a thing, but don’t panic at the sheer scale of ‘gorgeous ways of doing things’. Pinterest is brilliant for ideas but remember to keep looping your mind back to your theme and narrow your search for inspiration that way.
This is our list of décor mandatories and tips.
Colours – try to keep your table décor to three main colours, otherwise it looks a bit busy and ‘un-together’
Place cards – every guest should have a place setting so put your design hat on if you’re feeling whizzy and go straight to Canva to create or think about some quirky ideas for place cards. One idea we love is a packet of different flower seeds for every guest with their name on it. There are loads of things you can do when you think outside the box and put a twist on tradition. These are the little things that people gasp at and remember!
Crockery – if you don’t have a tea set, mismatched china has such a wonderful vintage appeal and you’ll get it easily by having a mooch around some charity shops. Sometimes the mis-matchier, the better. When you stand back and see the table in its full glory, it all just works. Or, you can ask each guest to bring their favourite teacup and saucer to make it feel even more special.
Lighting – give each guest a twinkly place to sit by winding fairy lights round the chair. You can get some great ones nowadays that don’t need plugged in and fairy lights will add a little bit of special sparkle to your table rather than candles.
Flowers – an absolute must for the table setting but it doesn’t have to be all tall glass vases and bouquets that obliterate your guests heads when you’re sitting opposite them! You can present a show stopping table by thinking a little bit creatively, using every day items to dot mini-flower arrangements all over your table. Little teapots, jars, glasses, milk bottles. We love a simple jam jar (empty of course…) with a few stems and a little bit of lace tied round the middle. Perfect simplicity.
Tablecloth – a must. Doesn’t have to be white, doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be ironed beautifully and laid carefully to set the stage for your table décor, crockery, drinks and food.
Cake stands – you’ll need at least a couple of cake stands depending on how many people you’re inviting. Place the cakes on the top, scones on the second layer and sandwiches on the bottom.
Milk and sugar bowls – again, depending on the number of guests you might need to put out a couple of each and remember, they don’t have to match.
Teapots – teabags or loose tea, it’s entirely up to you but we like to give our guests a variety of tea - Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Assam, peppermint, camomile, fruit and herbal.
Jam and cream bowls – you might want to put out a selection of jams along with the traditional clotted cream
Place settings – place plates in the centre of each place setting. Guests have one main plate only for afternoon tea.
Side plate – fold the napkin and place on each guests’ side plate. There are loads of alternatives to the traditional napkin ring. Some ribbon or lace securing a pretty stem to the napkin, beads, sparkly accessory or a little floral arrangement held together with twine.
Cutlery – a teaspoon and pastry fork is all that’s required since it’s all ‘mini-food’!
We would always welcome guests to our Gin and Jam afternoon tea with a glass of Caorunn Gin Fizz and set the tone for a fun afternoon.
Pour all ingredients (apart from the almond soda water) into a shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Fill a balloon glass with fresh ice. Double strain and top with almond soda water. Garnish with a mint sprig and red apple fan.
You might like to draw inspiration from Caorunn and be extra fancy by incorporating some of its 11 botanicals such as apple, Juniper berries, orange and lemon peel, throughout your menu to complement your Caorunn Fizz but if you’re feeling less Mary Berry-ish, then stick with what you’re comfortable serving. It’s your party too – your guests will enjoy it so much more if you’re having fun and not stressing about whether all of your sandwiches are exactly the same length!
An afternoon tea menu should consist of a selection of savouries, sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries. You may bake, you may buy – do whatever works best for you.
Some of the ideas we love for the afternoon tea foodie treats (that are easy to make!) are:
Cucumber and cream cheese
Smoked salmon and dill sandwich
Goats cheese, walnut and roasted pepper
Crab and sweetcorn quiches
Mini pork and apple sausage rolls
Warm crab choux bites
Sweets and Scones
Raisin and apple scones
Rhubarb and custard macaron
Lemon and lime tart
Apple crumble and custard cupcakes
The devil is always in the detail; the little things that set your party apart from any other and a lovely way to thank your guests for coming is with a little goody bag of an assortment of treats.
In our Gin and Jam goody bags we’d be putting: