The crisp November air keeps us reaching for woven scarves, thick blankets, and bottomless cups of tea to keep warm. While we often think of tea as an introspective beverage, it’s also a wonderful way to warm up with friends and celebrate fall. Use outdoor cues to guide the planning of an autumn tea party, and with a bit of ingenuity, you can create a cozy gathering that makes the most of indoor season.
Sure, you can send a text, email, private snap or phone message as invitation, but why not craft something tangible to send by mail? Select swaths of paper in the hues of falling leaves. Pick a large leaf, like an oak leaf, to trace onto the paper. Cut with scissors and write the party details inside the leaves with gold ink to dispatch to invitees. To keep the tea party intimate, limit your guest list to six.
It doesn’t take a deep budget to pull together autumnal tabletop decor. Glean a rainbow of gold, garnet, and bronze colored leaves to scatter on the table and play off the hue of the teas to be brewed. Add a few tiny pumpkins and gourds. For flowers, go with mustard colored mums or fire-burst bright dahlias. Opt for linens in umber, rust, paprika, and amber to pair with white plates and cutlery.
Fall flavors embrace bold spices combined with seasonal ingredients, and afternoon tea bites tend toward finger foods. Steer classic finger sandwiches away from summery cucumber and cream cheese, instead pairing up ginger cream cheese with pear or apple. Roast acorn squash to pair with blue cheese, arugula, and fig jam for mini teatime sandwiches. Massage baby kale with maple Dijon vinaigrette and toss with slices of fresh persimmon. Instead of lemon curd, stir together a batch of aromatic pineapple guava curd to spread on crumpets or scones studded with candied ginger.
Convert one batch of sugar cookie dough into three flavors: cacao nib with pink peppercorn, ras al hanout with vanilla, and pumpkin pie spiced sparkling sugar.
One fun part of a tea party is trying several kinds of tea in one sitting, so set up three or four teapots. Expect to refresh the pots of tea throughout your party, so plan in advance with your favorite water-heating device. Provide saucers or small plates as resting places for tea bags, infusers, or filled loose leaf filters so they can be removed from the pots to avoid over-steeping.
Tea Brewing Tricks
A good rule of thumb when steeping tea is to use 1 teaspoon of black tea or 1 tablespoon herbal tea to 12 ounces of water. Brew black tea in 212°F water for 4 minutes—any longer than that, and over-steeped tea will taste sharp and bitter. Brew herbal teas in 212°F water for 5 minutes. A longer steep time won’t result in bitterness, because herbal teas don’t contain camellia sinensis leaves that contain the compounds that promote bitterness. But beware that a longer steeping time will increase the strength of the tea’s flavor, which isn’t always ideal for appreciating a tea profile’s subtlety.
For an autumn tea party, teas should be brisk enough to stand up to the assertive spices and warmly flavored foods. Masala Chai, hindi for Spice Tea, is not often a brew you’d see served at afternoon tea, but perfect for an autumn tea party. Typically, a chai is composed of black tea with a variety of spices, including ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon in the mix. Serve one type of chai, or center your Fall Tea Party selections solely on several types of chai to explore the spice profiles in each blend. Since chai is served with milk, play with alternative milks, and offer cow’s milk, almond, soy, and coconut milk. If you opt to include multiple kinds of chai, Dr. Townshend’s Tea out of Portland, Oregon offers a range of 12 different varieties.
Drink: Pu-Erh / Puer:
Pu-Erh teas get better with time. They come in little bird’s nests called tuochas, bricks, or as loose leaves. These aged teas vary dramatically in flavor and tend toward being earthy. Some Pu-Erh teas taste malty like dark Guinness ale, or velvety and chocolatey. Others, like Puer Rice Nuggets from Far Leaves Tea in Berkeley, CA steep a sweet aroma and flavor reminiscent of sticky rice.
Drink: Other Tea Characters
Brisk breakfast teas accompany a fall afternoon tea menu well, especially bold Irish Breakfast teas. Steep smoky Lapsang Souchong tea, or its blended cousin Russian Caravan. Go off-road with herbal teas peppered with autumnal non-camellia sinensis ingredients like Autumn Pear from Seattle’s Perennial Tea Room that includes chicory and barley malt with orange peel, or Gingered Milk N’ Honey, a blend of ginger root, apple, and nettle leaves from the Russian River Tea Company in Healdsburg, California. The sweet, roasted flavor of Buckwheat Qiao Mai from Berkeley, California’s Teance would be a welcome brew too.
So, stoke the fireplace. Put on a kettle. Cue a Pandora station created just for your Tea Fete. It’s finally fall, the season for hot tea and memories made around the table.