About five years ago, I wandered into an antique shop and picked up a couple of lovely china tea cups. At the time, we were living in a townhouse and had no extra room for any tchotchkes, so I put them back. But I thought about them day after day until one day I returned and I bought those two tea cups.
That was the beginning of my vintage china tea cup collection. Since then I’ve amassed some 15 tea cups, hunting for them online, in consignment shops, antique shops, yard sales. My favourite brands are Royal Albert, Aynsley, Paragon but really I’m just looking for vibrant colours that will stand the test of time. Then the collecting moved on to dinner plates and dessert plates and I realized it wouldn’t do to just let them collect dust, I had to put my china to good use.
So I decided to host a birthday tea party this summer, using all of my beloved pieces and gathering some of my nearest and dearest girlfriends.
The planning began in earnest months before the actual event. I wrote and revised my menu many times over, mailed out the custom invites, bought a fascinator I’ll probably never wear again, and before I knew it, the day drew near. With my eldest son with my husband out for the day, and my youngest son at my parents’ place, we had the house to ourselves….
Savoury items included:
- Cheddar and apple scones served alongside various jams, heart-shaped butter, clotted cream.
- Smoked salmon tea sandwiches
- Herbed goat cheese sandwiches
- Mini quiches and puff pastry hors d’oeuvres I purchased ready made
- Crispy chili polenta cubes
Sweet items included:
- Almond mini donuts with cherry glaze
- Fresh strawberries ( I meant to fill these with whipped cream, but was unable to carry this out at the last minute after I realized I had stored the whipping cream in the freezer rather than the fridge)
- Dulce de leche and walnut tartlets, and lemon curd and blueberry tartlets
- White chocolate lollipops I made using coloured candy melts, and placed in layers of chocolate almonds and green jelly beans as if they were growing in grass
- Le tigre tea cakes with chocolate ganache rosettes
- Chocolate cups filled with custard and raspberries
- Store-bought pink meringues
- Fondant-covered birthday cake I purchased from a local pastry shop
I decided to cut myself a break by using tea bags of various kinds rather than the tea leaves you’d see at a traditional tea party, but I did make my own pink heart-shaped sugar cubes using the same molds I used for the butter. I also used star molds to make ice cubes, but not sure anyone noticed by the time they started melting.
I aimed to have some sort of pink element in almost all of the items on the menu. Pink and white flowers of all kinds set the mood – namely my favourite hydrangeas and peonies. I did the arrangements myself, arranging them in different teapots I already owned. I also took my beloved Le Jacquard Francais tablecloth out of its cardboard box, where it had been stored since I purchased it at Lafayette Maison in Paris.
The butterflies you see perched on the edges of the tea cups are edible wafers I purchased from an Etsy vendor who I’d bookmarked years ago, thinking I might be able to use it for my baby shower if I were to have a girl (I have two boys…)
The music: Songza playlists Martini Swing and Fancy China
The favours: Sachets of Armenian tea from Authentic Teas, amber rock candy stir sticks, tags made by the design studio I own with my sister. The toppers you see placed here and there on the tarts and sandwiches are also from Frost and Fete.
I was pleased with how everything turned out, although there were some clear favourites and some other underdogs. The clear winner by a huge margin – the apple and cheddar scones. I gave the recipe away, and I ran out of them too. Next time, though, I’ll keep things simple and stick to the usual wedge shape rather than the hearts I tried to fashion with my hands.
The chocolate cups filled with custard, on the other hand, sat completely untouched. I suppose they were pretty, but perhaps there were just too many sweet things to pick from.
As for me, despite my undeniable sweet tooth, I was bowled over by the tea sandwiches. I never thought such an underwhelming mix of ingredients could result in something so delicious. There were quite a few leftover as I had completely overestimated the number I had to make, and I happily ate them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next few days. The amount of butter in the sandwiches I ate pushed my Weight Watchers points way over the edge that week, but…. it was worth it.
The lollipops, for the most part, also sat untouched but I think the time it took to make them was worth it because they looked just lovely. And my son also scarfed down a couple when he came home later that day.
Would I do this again? Yes, for the right person and for the right event. It was a lot of work but I was extremely proud of how it turned out.