The Ladies' Tea Guild

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to have a Jane Austen tea party.

Jane Austen sketch, ca. 1804, by Cassandra Austen. Wikipedia, public domain.
In honor of the author Jane Austen, who died in July of 1817, why not have a Regency tea party? While afternoon tea – as a codified ceremonial social event – hadn’t been invented yet during Jane Austen’s lifetime, tea was already an important part of life for many people in England. In the Austen household, Jane herself was in charge of the tea and tea equipment, as well as making breakfast for the family, as part of her daily household chores.

Specialized tea china and silverware had been manufactured in Holland, England and France for almost 100 years by 1800, and was widely purchased along with imported Chinese porcelain. The tea cups were usually handle-less, after the Chinese style, and were used with cup plates which were small, shallow bowls, rather than fitted, flat “saucers” as we do today. These were accompanied by teapots and slop bowls (for the used tea leaves), and occasonally matching sugar bowls and milk jugs; when made of pottery or porcelain, tea things were included with small plates and coffee or chocolate pots and cups in “breakfast sets” which were highly popular with the middle and upper classes. Silver and pewter tea and coffee pots, tea spoons, tea scoops, sugar nippers and sugar tongs were available to upper and middle class families like the Austens.

It is unnecessary to use expensive 200-year-old antiques in order to get the Jane Austen/Regency “look”. Use a small round table, if you have one, just big enough to hold your teapot, sugar bowl and milk jug, and maybe a plate of toast. Any small table or flat-topped piece of furniture will do. Cover the table with a plain white tablecloth, an embroidered one if you have it, or a pretty tray to protect the surface from any spills and the heat of the filled teapot. You can have the cups, saucers, plates and cloth napkins on another table, like your coffee table – even a folding TV tray covered with a small tablecloth -- and the guests will sit on chairs and sofas around the room, holding their cup and saucer in their hand, and their plate in their lap. This is why non-messy finger food – bread and butter, and small tea cakes -- became the standard for tea parties; nobody can handle food plus a knife and fork! Just a spoon for stirring the tea.

As for the china itself, Blue Wedgwood, Spode and “Blue Willow” are patterns that were available to Jane Austen and are available to us, and “Blue Willow” and Spode dishes can be found at Marshall’s in the Great Mall of Milpitas! Use real silver flatware if you have it, or nice stainless flatware in a vintage-style pattern – nothing obviously modern. Some nice things can be found at thrift stores, Marshall’s, and Target, as well as the specialty dish stores. Try to find a decorative tea scoop and a pair of sugar tongs, as well. Make sure you have a tea strainer and an extra bowl to hold the used tea leaves.

Choose Twinings loose tea, tea from an established English company, or an unflavored Chinese black or green tea. Jane Austen’s England was familiar with jasmine-scented green tea, as well, although Earl Grey tea was not available until after Jane’s death. Take your tea out of its store packaging and put it into a decorative tea caddy for your party; this is an ornamental wood or metal container which can hold about a cup of loose tea leaves, and has a tight-fitting lid to seal out air, light and moisture. Empty tea caddies can be purchased at Marshall’s, at Cost Plus World Markets, and occasionally at Target in the housewares section. Measure out the tea leaves from the tea caddy into the tea pot with a decorative tea scoop or tea spoon. Put together a Regency-style menu and you are set!

“The Georgian Breakfast” from the Jane Austen Centre, Bath, England
“Tea in the Regency Era”
“Jane Austen Lived Before the Inventor of the Tea Party” by Jenny Wells
Jane Austen Life and Works Timeline History
“Chinese black tea in San Jose”
“Favorite Chinese green teas in the San Jose area”
“Tea history: what type of tea did American Founders drink?”
Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson


Bernideen said...

We loveJane Austen anything at Bernideen's and I would like to share some ideas....

This is a link to a Jane Austen event we had.....

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Thanks for the link, Bernideen! Your Jane Austen Tea looks like it was a lot of fun, and well-attended, too.

I'm currently making a Jane Austen-era costume for Costume College, so I've been reading and thinking a lot about the Regency these days!

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)