A party with rules: Staging a tea party is not for the casual

Mary Bowe (middle), and friends, interact with each other at the Naples home of Patty Sandick.

Photo by KERA HOLZINGER // Buy this photo

Mary Bowe (middle), and friends, interact with each other at the Naples home of Patty Sandick.

■ “The Essential Tea Companion: Favorite Menus for Tea Parties and Celebrations” by the editors of Victoria magazine (Hearst; 2009; $19.95 list)

■ “Afternoon Tea,” by two different authors: Lesley Mackey (Hyperion; 1992; $12.95 list); Susannah Blake and Martin Briggdale (Ryland Peters & Small; 2005; $15.95 list)

■ “The Pleasures of Tea: Recipes and Rituals” by Claire Whitcomb (Sterling Publishing; 2005; $12.95 list)

— There has been a lot of talk about tea parties recently.

Not the sort with sign waving. The sort with scone nibbling.

If that sounds like a tempting treat, Patti Sandick can give you a few white-gloved pointers. With friend Patti Meistrell, Sandick attended the “Royal Afternoon Tea Party” with Darren McGrady, former senior chef at Buckingham Palace and Princess Diana’s personal chef. The May 2 event was at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, in conjunction with the von Liebig Art Center’s Princess Diana dress exhibition.

Post-party, an idea started to percolate in Sandick’s mind. Or, more accurately, to steep. Sandick has a group of friends with whom she regularly gathers for parties at each other’s homes; the last time she played hostess was Christmas.

“I just thought springtime was the perfect time for a tea,” said the Golden Gate resident. “And an experience they don’t have everyday.”

For Sandick, putting together an afternoon tea suitable for royalty, even in spirit, wasn’t a question of merely pulling out some cups and firing up the kettle. She aimed for authenticity, which meant significant shopping. Some ingredients, such as the Parma ham for one of the menu’s finger sandwiches, were difficult to find.

Baking the delicacies, too, was a new experience. For the party, Meistrell baked a chocolate raspberry charlotte, an elegantly-decorated chocolate mousse sponge cake bordered with ladyfingers and topped by fresh raspberries. She discovered the recipe online, and the cake — which has three separate steps — took her several hours to make.

Cookbook in hand, Sandick created a royal birthday cake, a chocolate confection that’s presented to Queen Elizabeth on her birthday; she estimates the cake took six hours to complete.

But that’s crumbs compared to her total party preparation time.

“I put 100 hours into this tea party,” Sandick said. “I really did.”

On May 15, Sandick and Meistrell revealed the results of their labors to seven of their female friends. A hand-written menu listed the afternoon’s delights, including sandwiches such as sage derby with tomato, and pastries, such as clotted cream blueberry scones.

Around Sandick’s pool, linen-lined tables were arranged for her guests. Black china with a rose pattern was selected for the tea service, and pink parasols were used as décor. Pink paper fans were readily available to any lady who needed to create a bit of a breeze.

At the door to greet guest was — naturally — a butler. Dressed in a three-piece suit for the occasion, server Dave Lipinski also poured the tea.

Hats and gloves were de rigeur for all the attendees. Coordinating their outfits was part of the pre-party fun, Meistrell explained.

“Everyday, we were calling and talking,” she said.

Guest Mary Collins said she found and bought her gloves online, while Mary Bawe, not sure which to wear, brought two sets of gloves to the party, one long and one short. The short pair came with its own story: They belonged to a friend whose mother wore them in the 1940s.

When Sandick announced she planned to hold an afternoon tea, Collins remembers being impressed, she said.

“I think our society needs more events of this nature,” Collins said. “We’ve lost some of the formality of society. Even when I went to dress up for this, I realized my closet didn’t have some of these things.”

Meistrell described the tea as “a simple pleasure.”

“I love rituals,” she said. “I love the whole idea of taking special time to do something.”

Then there’s the idea of preserving the past.

“These things shouldn’t be lost, the traditions,” Sandick said.

As for preparing a proper tea, Christopher Burgess, owner of Brambles English Tearoom and Gift Shop in Naples, offered a few suggestions. The eatery is participating in an ongoing “Tuesday Tea” tour event in connection with the Princess Diana event.

For a true afternoon tea, a tiered tea stand is almost a must. Three-tiered is preferred, since the bottom tier provides a spot for sandwiches. The middle tier is reserved for traditional English scones. At the top are the pastries.

Afternoon tea was typically the domain of society ladies, Burgess explained, and generally served between 2 and 3 p.m., when they received guests. High tea is more of a dinner affair, where the fare includes meat, cheese and bread.

As for what to pour, it’s difficult to go wrong with English Breakfast Tea, he said. This black tea is robust, and delicious with milk, as it’s usually served in Great Britain.

There’s a longstanding debate among tea drinkers about the correct moment to add milk, but Burgess is graciously staying out of that.

“Nobody knows,” he said. “You’ll never get two people to agree to it.”

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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