How to Throw a Globally Inspired Magical Tea Party

You don’t have to stick to scones and cucumber sandwiches.

alice in wonderland tea party guide lilly rose dtla
Photo courtesy of Lilly Rose
Photo courtesy of Lilly Rose

I was given a tea set when I was four years old, stamped with images from Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline books. Although the cups could barely hold a thimble of hot tea, the set became the centerpiece of many tea parties held in my backyard, attended by a lucky ensemble of stuffed animals and one tired mom.

Tea parties have always felt like a time for merriment, relaxation, and connection—hopefully with someone other than an inanimate teddy bear. But sometimes, the way high tea is held can feel rigid and self-important. Must we don fascinators and eat carefully assembled sandwiches on tiered serving trays with our pinkies up? Definitely not.

Tea is such a global drink—allegedly the most popular drink in the world, aside from water of course—and is consumed ritually in Japan, the U.K., India, China, Mexico, and beyond. There’s Thai tea, Japanese matcha, and South African rooibos, just to name a few. The way we prepare tea, and the foods we eat alongside a cuppa, are different in every part of the world.

So when we think of a tea party, there’s no need to feel restrained to a certain type of tea party. “I think the perception of afternoon tea in the U.S. is a really big teapot with pastries and sandwiches,” explains Amy Truong, the cofounder and blender at Paru Tea. “But for us it’s the tea that shines.”

We asked Truong, her partner Lani Gobaleza, as well as Radhi Devlukia-Shetty of Sama Tea and Erica Jenkins-Chavez, the corporate food and beverage manager at Pacifica Hotels, for their advice on how to host a tea party, solo or otherwise, that is genuinely your own.

Slow down & enjoy the ritual

Part of the joy of having tea is enjoying the calm that is intrinsically laced with its preparation. “You can’t rush tea,” Devlukia-Shetty says. “From boiling the kettle to steeping the tea bag, the whole process of preparing a cup of tea is a mindfulness routine in itself.” As the cofounder of Sama Tea, Devlukia-Shetty knows firsthand the hustle of running a small business while maintaining an Instagram of over a million followers. But tea serves as a pause among the chaos. “As we wait for the kettle to boil, we are practicing patience and stillness and as we steep our tea bags, we are inhaling the scent and watching the color spread throughout the cup,” she adds. “The whole process is extremely meditative, and the ritual allows us to bring a sense of presence back into our days by allowing us to reflect and slow down.” In this sense, a tea party can be a solo event—and time for meditation.

But even with hosting a tea party with multiple guests, the rules still apply. “The most important part is slowing down and taking time to connect with yourself or the people sharing tea with you,” says Jenkins-Chavez, adding that tea parties as the antithesis of social media. “It’s an opportunity to look someone you care about in the eye and have a conversation about nothing and everything.”

tea sampling party paru
Photo courtesy of Paru Tea

Pair tea with foods you want to eat

Tea food doesn’t have to consist of crustless sandwiches and scones (unless that’s what you enjoy!) and, for Gobazela, food pairing can be anything. “Although this was really unheard of for me, when we have parties with Amy’s family, there’s always a sashimi spread,” she mentions, laughing. “We pick teas based on that—usually a green or white tea.” Truong adds that the food is meant to “accentuate the tea.” For her, Yoku Moku cookies—a delicate, buttery cookie shaped like a cigar—does the trick.

Like traditional high teas, food pairings can be both savory and sweet. “I enjoy green tea with seafood items; chocolate and green tea is also a classic combination,” Jenkins-Chavez says. “White teas are so light in flavor and aroma that I would drink them with mild foods like melon or simple salads. Black teas have tannins like wine so I would pair them with rich food if I’m drinking it without milk and desserts if I’m drinking it with milk.”

Devlukia-Shetty even uses tea as inspiration for her recipes. “One of my favorite tea party pairings is my chai cookie recipe,” she says. “I love to pair my tea with something sweet. Everything from dark chocolate to brownies pairs well with tea, or flapjacks if you’re having a brunch tea party!”

Set the tone with teaware and music

Although the tea itself is a huge part of hosting a tea party, having teaware that brings joy is an important facet, too. “Making tea beautiful helps keep the ritual going,” Jenkins-Chavez says. “I would buy special tea cups or a teapot just for tea. It doesn’t have to be expensive—you can thrift or vintage shop and find the most beautiful things that aren’t made anymore.” At the Lilly Rose tea room in downtown Los Angeles, which Jenkins-Chavez oversees, everything is Alice in Wonderland themed, which feels cohesive and fun. That being said, tea cups don’t need to be frilly or accented by floral decor. They can be cozy mugs or simple designs with thin rims for easy sipping.

In addition to the tea cups, having accessories can be helpful in creating a mood. “We’re inspired by the people who are visiting—so if Amy’s mom is visiting, we’ll have something red on the table because she loves red,” Gobazela says. It could be flowers or tea pets—just something to enhance the design of the space and table. “We always focus on the guest.”

Lastly, music ties the whole party together. “Why not make a tea party playlist?” Jenkins-Chavez asks. “Music sets the mood so pick something chill.”

tea blending paru teas party
Photo courtesy of Paru Tea

Experiment with new teas

There are thousands of tea varieties to choose from and new blends being crafted everyday, including by Truong, who draws inspiration from nostalgic childhood memories. Paru has a tea blend called pandan waffle, one of Truong’s favorite desserts growing up. Although it may not be traditional, it’s new and exciting—something tea should always be. “What’s important about Paru is it’s a company that celebrates different cultures, but as queer people of color, we wanted to make sure that our culture is also translated through a Southeast Asian lens,” Truong explains. In addition to pandan waffle, there are other thoughtfully crafted blends like holiday fruitcake, coconut chai, and shiso hibiscus.

Aside from the blends, the preparation of tea can change the way you enjoy it. “You can drink tea hot or cold and it’s great as a base for a latte,” Jenkins-Chavez says.

Make your own rules

At the end of the day, tea parties should be something stress-free, which means breaking sterile rules and creating your own. “There’s a lot of fluidity in tea and I want to emphasize that the rules are just guidelines,” Truong says. “You can make it your own—it just tastes better that way.”

So whether that’s using soy milk instead of dairy, or combining blends to try something completely new, or bringing a sashimi platter to a tea party, anything goes. “We live in such a fast-paced world, and the thought of taking a second to regroup can seem incredibly daunting to some,” Devlukia-Shetty says. “[Tea] creates opportunities to find moments of presence, peace, and purpose within each day.”

And if you still want to grace your head with a fascinator, you totally can.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer of food & drink at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.