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Origin of Teas

The legendary origin of tea drinking has been traced back to the Chinese Emperor Chen Nung of 2737 BC, who was also a scholar and herbalist, who discovered this refreshing drink when he was sitting beneath a tree while his servant was boiling a pot of water. A few leaves from a tea plant  dropped into the pot of water, gave an excellent aroma and he found it tasted as good when sipped.

Tea and it's role in History


Tea consumption spread throughout the Chinese culture reaching into every aspect of the society. It was another 4,000 years before the brewing method that we use today was developed. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), the Chinese began steeping tea leaves in boiled water. With a few adaptations, the traditional Chinese lidded wine-ewer became a perfect teapot.



It was not until after 725 AD that tea cultivation spread from China to Japan. In Japan, Tea was elevated to an art form resulting in the creation of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.


The first consignment of tea reached Europe in 1610, brought by the Dutch from China to Java and from there to Holland. Because of the success of the Dutch navy in the Pacific, tea became very fashionable in the Dutch capital, the Hague. This was due in part to the high cost of the tea (over $100 per pound) which immediately made it the domain of the wealthy. Slowly, as the amount of tea imported increased, the price fell as the volume of sale expanded. Initially available to the public in apothecaries along with such rare and new spices as ginger and sugar, by 1675 it was available in common food shops throughout Holland.


The first mention of adding milk to tea came in 1680. During the same period, Dutch inns provided the first restaurant service of tea. Tavern owners would furnish guests with a portable tea set complete with a heating unit. The independent Dutchman would then prepare tea for himself and his friends outside in the tavern's garden. Tea remained popular in France for only about fifty years, being replaced by a stronger preference for wine, chocolate, and exotic coffees.





The first tea used in England came from Dutch sources between 1652 and 1654. When Charles II of England married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, she introduced the pleasures of tea drinking to the English Court.


Prior to the introduction of tea into Britain, the English had two main meals for the day - breakfast and dinner. Breakfast was ale, bread and beef. Dinner was a long, massive meal at the end of the day. It was no wonder that Anna, the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861) experienced a "sinking feeling" in the late afternoon. Adopting the European tea service format, she invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and tea. The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other social hostesses.

The Victorian tea ceremonies demanded the necessary tea-drinking accoutrements. A successful tea party required the full kit – cups, saucers, pots, jugs, spoons, tongs, strainers, and napkins – in the season’s styles and colors. Silversmiths, potters, and linen manufacturers were quick to respond. The strain of so many afternoon tea parties produced its own style of clothing as well. The tea gown was a purpose-built outfit – soft, flowing, and feminine – into which an extra slice of cake could expand unseen.

Tea cuisine soon expanded to include wafer thin crustless sandwiches, shrimp or fish pates, toasted breads with jams, and regional British pastries such as scones (Scottish) and crumpets (English).  At this time two different forms of tea services evolved: "High" and "Low". "Low" Tea (served in the low part of the afternoon) was served in aristocratic homes of the wealthy and featured gourmet tidbits rather than solid meals. The emphasis was on presentation and conversation. "High" Tea on the other hand, was the main meal of the day for the middle and lower classes and consisted mostly of full dinner items such as roast beef, mashed potatoes, peas, and of course, tea.

After experiencing the Dutch "tavern garden teas", soon the English developed the idea of Tea Gardens. Here ladies and gentlemen took their tea outdoors surrounded by music, flowers, greenery, hidden arbors, or other forms of entertainment.  Tipping as a response to proper service developed in the Tea Gardens of England. Small, locked wooden boxes were placed on the tables throughout the Garden. Inscribed on each were the letters "T.I.P.S." which stood for the sentence "To Insure Prompt Service". If a guest wished the waiter to hurry he dropped a coin into the box on being seated "to insure prompt service". Thus, the custom of tipping servers was created.







The Russians were early devotees of tea. Their tea arrived overland from China by camel train.  The trip was 11,000 miles long and took over sixteen months to complete.  As the passion for tea increased in Russia, the lines of camels that snaked across Asia lengthened. By the end of the eighteenth century, several thousand camels in trains of 200–300 at a time were crossing the Chinese border.  The Russians invented the samovar, a combination of bubbling hot water heater and tea pot, that could run all day and serve up to forty cups of tea at a time.


By 1650 the Peter Stuyvesant brought the first tea to America to the colonists in the Dutch settlement of 'New Amsterdam' (later re-named New York after the British took over in 1674). Settlers here were avid tea drinkers and it was found that the small settlement consumed more tea at that time then all of England put together. Colonists took the habit of tea drinking with them to other parts of the world, such as Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

In 1765 Britain began to tax its American colony without its consent, imposing a tax on tea. The colonists were infuriated. When the first three tea ships arrived at Boston a band of men dressed as Indians descended on the ships during the night of December sixteenth 1773. This was the famous "Boston tea party" when they threw 342 chests of tea into the sea. Such leading citizens as Samuel Adams and John Hancock took part. England had had enough. In retaliation, the port of Boston was closed and the city was occupied by royal troops. The colonial leaders met and war was declared. The War of Independence was the outcome. By 1776 the Declaration of Independence had been made and, within a few years, America was free.


India and other countries

As tea consumption increased in the early nineteenth century, the East India Company looked for new sources of supply. Since the Chinese had a monopoly on tea-growing, the solution was to plant tea elsewhere. The first experiments with Chinese tea seed were conducted in Assam, North East India. They were not successful, although the same seeds subsequently grew well in Darjeeling, North India and tea cultivation became well established by 1875. That same year, a new source of tea was found in Ceylon, Sri Lanka and by the end of the 19th Century, Java was added to the list by the Dutch.

Tea rooms and the Tango
After the popularity of the English tea gardens diminished during the early part of the nineteenth Century, the first official
tea room in Britain came around 1864.  Fine hotels in America and England began to offer tea service in the late 1880's and Victorian ladies and gentlemen would meet for afternoon tea.  They continued to be popular meeting places especially when the concept of afternoon tea dances were introduced at these elegant hotels as the popularity of certain dance crazes, like tango were sweeping the nation.




Tea Today



Tea is more popular than ever in America today. Millions of Americans still reach for that first cup of coffee in the morning, but tea is making inroads into the coffee market. National tea sales have climbed from just over $1 billion to about $5.1 billion over the last decade, according to the Tea Council of the USA, a trade group. And it's not just traditional black and orange pekoe tea behind that growth - more people are buying green and specialty teas. 

Health is perhaps one of the biggest driving forces behind tea's acclaim.  The re-awakening of interest in tea can be predominantly contributed to Americans seeking a more positive, healthy lifestyle.  A recent study by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Harvard medical School showed that tea, unlike coffee, boosts the body's immune system to fight infection. It also showed blood cells from tea drinkers responded five times faster to germs than did those of coffee drinkers.

Baby boomers, looking to move away from traditional coffee drinks, have likely helped feed into the tea frenzy.  This graying market segment is considering the important health benefits as they age. In addition, the emergence of bottled ready-to-drink teas have brought tea to younger people who normally view it as a drink for the older generation. Fine hotels throughout the United States are re-establishing or planning for the first time afternoon tea services. Countless Tea Shops and Tea Rooms have sprung up around the United States with the increasing demand and the numbers are climbing steadily.  

Tea parties are ever also popular among ladies of all ages as well. Young girls enjoy the fantasy of pretending to be grown-ups with their friends, dressing up in pretty gowns and using special cups and dishes.  A fringe benefit, is the etiquette, respect, and social skills that the children learn in the process. Adults are also enjoying the re-emerging of tea at informal or formal tea gatherings.  It is a time they can enjoy and relax with their friends or family and take time off from their busy schedule to indulge in the niceties of an era long gone.




Types of Tea

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Green Sampler

Black Teas:

e.g. Ceylon, Darjeeling, Assam, China Black, Nilgiri, Sikkim, Nepal and Kenya.
In black teas, the fresh green leaves are rolled and crushed, then allowed to fully ferment. This imparts the dark color and characteristic flavor of Black Teas can be enjoyed with or without milk.

Green teas:  

e.g. Genmaicha, Green Darjeeling, Gyokuro Jade Dew, Kukicha First Flush Yama, Jasmine Dragon Phoenix, Jasmine Litchi, Lungching, Gold Flecked Green, Chunmee Green, Gunpowder.

Green teas are heated immediately after harvesting to prevent fermentation. This preserves a fresh, vegetal or slightly pungent, green flavor, a delicate body and aroma. The infusion is clean and light. Milk is never used. A great way to savor the different flavors and variety of green teas is to try a Green Sampler.


e.g. China Ti Kuan Yin Oolong, Farmosa Oolong, Imperial Gold, Orchid Oolong.

Oolongs are partially fermented and fall somewhere between black and green, often combining features of both. They vary from light, greenish, and flowery to dark, spicy or toasted. Like the greens, they are taken without milk.


e.g. Amaretto, Chamomile, Honeybush, Raspberry Leaf, Peppermint, Rooibos, Yerba Mate.

Herbal teas, properly speaking, should not be referred to as "teas" at all. Tea is the beverage made from the leaves of the tea plant, and comes from no other plant. Herbal infusions, on the other hand, are beverages made from one or more herbs and spices. The history of herbs and spices is more ancient than that of tea and coffee, and in much of the world herbal infusions are referred to as Tisanes. All Herbal Infusions are naturally caffeine free.

White tea:

e.g. White Peony, Sow Mee.

White Tea, originally produced in China's Fujian Province, is unique. It is different from all other teas in that the fresh leaves undergo only two processing operations, in a rigourously natural fashion: Withering and drying.  Very little white tea is produced and its manufacture requires particular care. The name white tea comes from the silvery-white colour of its leaves, wich often have a white down on them. China is practically the only supplier of high quality white teas.  The tea is also only picked one week a year, as it is composed of the tea leaf buds and very little leaf.




Brewing a Perfect Cup

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Hot Tea 

  • Use a hot teapot, preheating it by filling it with hot tap water and letting it sit while boiling the water for the tea.
  • Bring fresh cold water to a full rolling boil. Water that has been reheated gives tea a flat taste, and only boiling water can extract the full flavor and benefit from the leaves.
  • Use one teaspoon of tea per six ounce cup of water, empty the hot water from the teapot, place tea in teapot and pour the boiling water over the tea.
  • Brew for five minutes, stir and serve. Don't judge the strength of tea by its color. It takes time for the leaves to unfold and release their flavor. If you like tea less strong, add hot water after the brewing period.



Glossary of Tea Service

Afternoon Tea is served at approximately four o'clock and can consist of whatever the hostess chooses (sandwiches, scones, cookies, a special dessert such as a fruit tart or a rich cake). It can be formally served in the dining room or at the living room tea table. Informal teas can be enjoyed in the kitchen, garden, as a picnic, or any location of choice.

Farmer's Tea is a combination of a Ploughman's Lunch (heavy grained bread, sharp cheese, fruit, and sausages or a meat pie), popular in British pubs, served with a sweet.

Full Tea is a complete four-course Afternoon Tea with sandwiches, scones, sweets, and a dessert finale.

Royal Tea adds a glass of champagne or sherry to the Full Tea.

Light Tea is a lighter version of Afternoon Tea with a scone and a sweet.

Cream Tea is an afternoon tea that features scones and clotted cream.

High Tea is most often served as a Full Tea, only more of the same. It is enjoyed at approximately six o'clock and is a light supper for the family or a before-theater meal. An entree such as chicken a la king or meat pie may be served with breads, biscuits, salad, cheese, fruit, and sweets.