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Afternoon tea should not be confused with what is referred to as ''high tea.'' Although both originate in Britain and we often interchange the terms, they are in fact two very different things. High tea serves as an early evening meal and includes dishes such as meats, casseroles and vegetables. Afternoon tea occurs earlier in the day and is more on par with what we think of when we imagine these kinds of parties: elegant teapots and an assortment of small pastries and sandwiches.
How to host the perfect tea party
What you'll need for your afternoon tea
Depending on the size of your party, you will need to have a few small teapots on hand, as well as a few loose-leaf tea steepers. You will also need teacups and saucers, small appetizer dishes, small forks, a sugar pot and a creamer.
Don’t fret about not having a matching tea service. Employ a shabby chic esthetic by visiting your nearest flea market, thrift store or antique shop to find an array of teapots, teacups and saucers that have lovely designs and mixing and matching them instead of buying an entire matching set.
To present your treats, you will need a serving tray with one or two tiers. If you're in a bind, you can make your own two-tiered serving tray by taking a large dinner plate and placing it on the table, placing a short candlestick holder or a short glass centred on the plate and then topping it with a smaller plate.
What to drink
At Zoé's Lounge inside the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel in Ottawa they serve up to 13 types of loose-leaf tea during their popular afternoon tea service.
''The most traditional being English breakfast and our Fairmont Earl Grey,'' says Deneen Perrin, director of public relations at the hotel. ''We also have a bubble gum tea for the kids, which they love, and we have a wonderful icewine tea -- very Canadian!''
Popular teas to include at your event are Earl Grey, Darjeeling, English breakfast, jasmine, orange pekoe, chai, green and peppermint. Opt for loose-leaf teas that your guests can brew individually via the tea steepers, as this is the most traditional method.
''Loose leaf is what we serve for afternoon tea -- we do have bags available, but most of our guests enjoy the ritual around the tea cart,'' says Perrin. ''The water must come to a complete boil to really extract the proper tastes from the tea. Steeping is important and for each tea there is a proper steep time.''
In general, black teas take longer to steep (about four minutes) than green teas (about three minutes).
What to eat: pastries, sandwiches and scones
At Zoé's Lounge they serve all of the classic dishes we associate with afternoon tea, including French pastries, scones with Devonshire cream and small finger sandwiches, including cucumber, chicken salad and smoked salmon. These are all wonderful treats to make for your own party, with the only caveat being that everything must be small and easy to consume in one or two bites. For the sandwiches, purchase different types of breads, remove the crusts, add your filling of choice and then cut them into small rectangles. You can also make pinwheel-style sandwiches by remove the crusts, flattening the slices of bread with a rolling pin, adding your filling and then rolling and slicing off sandwiches as if you were making icebox cookies.
You may also want to offer your guests a flute of Champagne or Prosecco (or sparkling grape juice for non-drinkers) as they are arriving and getting settled, as well as a small bowl of berries with whipped cream before the service. Some afternoon teas also include a selection of quality chocolates to end the event.
Great recipes for scones, finger sandwiches and pretty desserts:
Open-Face Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
Thin crisp slices of cucumber top these dainty herb-butter bites.
Waldorf Chicken Salad
Created in New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1890s, the original salad was simply apples, celery and mayonnaise. For a sandwich, stuff the chicken salad into pita pockets.
Asparagus Smoked Salmon Pinwheels
These crunchy and creamy little pinwheels are tasty and easy to make.
Mini Lemon Scones With Strawberries and Cream
Don't worry about leftovers; scones freeze well and are perfect for breakfast. Devonshire cream (a clotted cream from England) is very thick and rich and does not require whipping. Look for small jars in the dairy section of the grocery store.
Buttermilk gives a slight tangy flavour to these dense, cakelike scones. The simple shaping requires no rolling or cutting out -- making them quick and easy to bake when the mood strikes.
White Chocolate Petit Foursâ€¨
Petits fours are decorated with candied violets or borage flowers for a pretty sweet tray.
Almond Raspberry French Macarons
These impressive little French jewels are perfectly bite-size and add an elegant touch to a dessert tray. They are notoriously tricky to make, but we've made this recipe as foolproof as possible. They demand all of your attention while making them, but the accolades you'll receive from guests make it all worthwhile. These cookies can easily be reinvented with different flavours of preserves, such as peach or apricot. Or try dulce de leche or chocolate ganache for a richer filling.
Mini Lemon Meringue Tarts
A shortbread crust makes easy work of these pretty little tarts. Simply roll the dough into balls to press into mini muffin cups -- no finicky pastry to roll and cut. Plus, the buttery crust pairs wonderfully with the citrusy zing of the filling.