The Watts Blog

Hosting the Perfect Afternoon Tea

Since the 1930s, the Watts Tea Shop has been a go-to destination for Milwaukee residents and visitors alike for afternoon tea. Sometimes, though, it is nice to host a tea party in one’s own home. The staff at George Watts & Son receive quite a number of inquiries from people who would like to know how to properly host an afternoon tea. No matter whether you want to be formal or informal, we have some great ideas to make your afternoon everyone’s perfect cup of tea…

It all starts with the key ingredients – tea, sandwiches, sweets, and, of course, a great tea service. Whether you are using your grandmother’s china, or are still in search of the perfect tea cup, it is important to have a great vehicle to drink your tea out of! If you are serving tea for a large group, you can heat your water in a tea kettle, then carefully pour it into a tea pot with loose tea inside, and allow it to steep. Or, if everyone has different preferences for their tea, you can use smaller individual tea pots that will allow your guests to decide what type of tea they would like to sample for themselves.

We recommend using loose tea and brewing it in a pot, and then using individual tea strainers over each tea cup, with a drip basket to keep your linens clean, like this one that we use in The Watts Tea Shop ( If using individual tea bags, individual tea bag holders allow your guests to remove their tea bags once the tea has steeped.

Proper tea cups and saucers really do enhance the tea experience. Besides looking beautiful, a great porcelain or bone china tea cup with a thin rim enhances the flavor of your wonderful tea, and a saucer helps to catch any drips or spills from your tea cup. You also need a bread and butter or dessert plate to put your sandwiches and sweets on. And of course, a creamer for milk and a sugar bowl – “for one lump or two!”

Afternoon tea has a number of traditional sandwiches – everyone always thinks of the cucumber sandwich with the crusts trimmed off, but you can experiment with your favorite flavors to serve to your guests. Freshly baked scones are also an important part of the traditional tea – but whether you serve them with clotted cream or with your favorite jam or preserves is up to you. Other sweets and cakes should be small enough for your guests to sample something of everything – and we highly recommend using a tiered server to display your sweets. A domed cake plate can also be a beautiful way of displaying your pastries.

The traditional time to serve tea is 4 pm, to offset that “sinking feeling” in the mid-afternoon, as declared by the Duchess of Bedford in 1840.  At The Watts Tea Shop, we serve afternoon tea any time from 11 to 4 – what you do in your home is up to you!

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