A proper tea was a gathering of friends with light refreshments and chat.  Later the working and farming communties adopted the afternoon tea, but incorporated more hearty foods and the addition of meat dishes.  They called this High Tea, so called because it was taken at a high dining table instead of lower small tables found in a parlor or boudoir.  Whichever suits you, a tea is a wonderful excuse to get together.  It can be inside or out, very formal, by today's standards , or not. 

Below is exerpts from The Home Manual: Everybody's Guide in Social, Domestic, & Business Life, 1889

These are among the most informal entertainments given, and the difference between a large afternoon tea and an afternoon reception is little more than the name, although the latter is perhaps a shade more formal. 

The day and hour of an afternoon tea may be written on a visiting card.  For an afternoon reception, an "At Home" card is used.

Only simple refreshments should be served at an afternoon tea.  Thin slices of bread and butter, sandwiches, fancy biscuit or cake, tea, coffee, or chocolate, ice-cream, and bullion are offered.  Punch and lemonade- but no wine of any kink- may be added if desired; and also salted almonds, cakes, candies, and other dainty trifles.

The hostess should shake hands with her guests and recieve them cordially; any formality is out of place on an informal occasion.  If the number of guests is small, the hostess should walk about the room, talking with her visitors; if large, she should remain near the door, and have the aid of other ladies, who should entertain the guests, ask them to take refreshments, and make introductions, when necessary.

At a large and elegant afternoon reception, the windows may be darkened, the gas light, and musicians employed, if the hostess desires.

When planning your tea some things to consider are:

Invitations Hand written, computer generated, or a phone call.  If hand written, use lovely stationery, do not abreviate anything.  A computer invitation can be very elaborate.  A phone call should be your last choice, but as a follow up to a written invitation, a phone call  is fine.

The theme of your tea ~  Some themes might be some occasion like a birthday, wedding or baby shower, a holiday, a mother and daughter occasion, to honor someone, a celebration of a season.
The decorations ~ A fall tea might be decorated with a bowl of fall leaves, pinecones, anything from your yard.  Candles or lovely kerosene lamps can set the mood.  Try them on mantles and side tables.  Put them in front of mirrors for a great effect, or sit them on mirrors laid on tables.  Flowers are a must.  The Victorians loved roses, but don't forget the great flowers found in Victorian gardens, pansys, hollyhocks and snapdragons.  Even wild daisys, queen anne's lace, and clover blooms look lovely in an arrangement.

The "props"~ Are you going to ask your attendants to come dressed up in any way?  You might provide big hats with yards of tule for your guests to wear, easy enough with straw hats and tule by the yard, or an assortment of gloves, or ask guests to wear a long skirt.  Not enough teacups?  Ask them to bring their favorite cup and saucer. 
The Menu~  The most important part.  Choose your menu from some of the recipies in "The Pantry" a collection of authentic vintage recipies and modern adaptations contributed by several Complete Victorian members.
Click on the Menu to take you directly to The Pantry where you can choose authentic Victorian dishes to serve at your tea.
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