Afternoon tea cover
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How my Parents Learned to Afternoon Tea

I watched Reading Rainbow a lot growing up. This is because my family loved going to the library, loved reading, and also because we didn’t have cable television. PBS was the best channel on TV! One of my favorite books that was featured on the show was a children’s story called “How My Parents Learned to Eat

How My Parents Learned to Eat book cover
One of my favorite books growing up!

It’s about a Japanese woman and an American man who try to learn the eating customs of each other’s respective cultures. I liked the book because it was cool seeing some Asian representation in the children’s section of a library during my childhood and also because eating mashed potatoes and peas like a bird’s nest sounded awesome. 

While my parents didn’t have different customs when it came to eating each other’s food when they first met, they have never had afternoon tea before nor have they ever had the urge to find out how exciting it is. They are aware that Xak and I LOVE afternoon tea: enough to even start a blog about it! 😄

Since they were planning on visiting us during Thanksgiving time, we planned several activities including Thanksgiving dinner, lots of Switch sports, Hallmark films, and… an afternoon tea!

My parents had lots of questions: 

  • What kind of food do you eat?
  • What if you don’t like tea? 😢
  • What if you’re still hungry?
  • What are you supposed to do at an afternoon tea???

I reassured them that we would share all the information they needed and to just prepare for a wonderful experience. Xak and I were ready to teach them how to “afternoon tea.”

Picking out the Tea

Pa is a tea drinker. He particularly enjoys drinking tea with milk. On the other hand, Ma is not a tea fan. While she might have drank the occasional unsweetened iced tea, this is pretty rare and not something I recall witnessing in this millennium. You can probably guess who asked Question Number 2.

When it comes to serving tea to guests, it’s important to give them options. We explained to Pa that our house tea (the tea that would be in our tea pots) would be Yorkshire Red. This is one of our favorites and we like to put milk and sugar cubes in it, or sometimes even drink it plain.

Although we had several options for black tea, Pa decided Yorkshire sounded good for him too. Ma, on the other hand, was unsure exactly what she wanted. Since she is not a tea drinker, I recommended she try a fruit tea or we could get her something else. After much debate, she finally selected Jasmine Peach tea. Since we knew she would likely not want too much, we prepared hot water for a single cup.

Tip: Provide different Beverage Options

Since not every guest can handle caffeine, decaf options should always be available. Hot chocolate and cider are also nice ways to enjoy something warm if you’re not a tea fan.

Planning the Menu

Most afternoon tea places will serve the traditional three tiered tray along with a bottomless pot of tea. Some places like The Tea Cart will include additional courses such as soup or a salad which we enjoy immensely.

Since it was my parents’ first time having afternoon tea, Xak and I wanted to give them a traditional experience, but also wanted to make sure they wouldn’t be too hungry if for some reason they decided they didn’t want dainty little sandwiches and treats. Soup seemed like a good option. I also just love having soup in general.

After discussing with Ma and Pa in advance about dietary restrictions, we decided on the following menu:

  • Chicken Noodle Soup
  • Cucumber Sandwiches
  • Mini Quiche Lorraine
  • Cream Scone with various preserves and mascarpone
  • Ginger Snaps
  • Lemon Bars
  • Kedem Tea Biscuits
  • Mcvitie’s Digestive Biscuits
Afternoon tea for parents
Welcome to afternoon tea, Ma and Pa.

Tip: Find Out Dietary Needs in Advance

The last thing you want is to find out you spent 10+ hours making something that people can’t even eat.

First Course: Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken Noodle Soup is one of my favorite soups to eat when it’s cold outside. Not only was it a cold day during our tea party, it was also blustery, windy, and rainy. A hot bowl of hearty soup would be the ultimate comfort food on a day like this.

I make a classic chicken soup containing chicken, carrots, egg noodles, celery, onion, parsley, and plenty of broth. As a quick shortcut, I use rotisserie chicken (just like with my chicken sandwiches), but I’ve used seasoned baked chicken breasts too with delicious results. It’s recommended to take off the chicken skin, but I love rotisserie chicken skin. I hoped Ma and Pa wouldn’t mind it too much.

Chicken Noodle Soup
Bowls of hot, homemade chicken noodle soup. Lots of noodles, veggies, and delicious chicken is perfect for a rainy day.

They both seemed pleased with the soup and it was a nice way to start the meal. They even asked for an extra ladleful which in turn made me very pleased. Everyone looked forward to the second course.

Second Course: Savories

As we cleared away the soup bowls and progressed to the three tiered tray, we took a moment to explain the afternoon tea etiquette of starting from the bottom of the tray and moving your way up. We also took the time to explain each course and answer any questions so everyone could decide if they wanted to eat something or not. 

I’ve noticed that this is something that my favorite tea room experiences have done in the past. It’s always nice to know what you’re eating, especially if there’s no written menu. Even when there’s a written menu, it’s even better knowing what you’re about to take a bite of so there are no surprises. The best tea places I’ve visited always explain what each tier is without me even having to ask. This is great because I like being informed.

Tip: Take time to explain the food

Not everyone enjoys a surprise mouthful of raw onions or olives when they least expect it.

Since the chicken noodle soup can be filling, we opted for only two savories: the classic cucumber sandwich, and a mini Quiche Lorraine

Savories on three tiered tray
Our savories tray featured a new to us option: mini Quiche Lorraine

Because my parents were experiencing afternoon tea for the first time, we really wanted them to try a cucumber sandwich. Most people seem to think cucumber sandwiches are just bread with cucumbers on it, which doesn’t sound exciting at all. But, once they try the tiny triangle of herby, dill and chives cream cheese spread topped with delicate cucumbers, they realize just how awesome a cucumber sandwich is! I have yet to meet anyone who hates a proper cucumber sandwich with their tea.

For the mini quiches, I wanted to try something new with a different base than bread. Since we were already using bread for the cucumber sandwiches, a pastry crust seemed like a nice way to shake things up. In the past we’ve had large quiche lorraines for breakfast and they’ve been an absolute delight. Since I like to use minimal silverware while taking tea, I wanted something a little more bite size.

Luckily, RecipeTin Eats had yet another great recipe that I wanted to use. Quiche Lorraines are made up of eggs, bacon, and cheese, usually gruyere. While we’ve made our own pastry in the past, planning an afternoon tea during a holiday can be extremely difficult. Instead, we opted for some refrigerated pastry dough. Sometimes you just have to take shortcuts.

The mini quiche lorraines were baked in little muffin tins and turned out nice, crisp, and flavorful. We made enough to also have it for breakfasts the next few days. To reheat, just pop them in the air fryer and they’re as delicious as straight out the oven.

Ma and Pa enjoyed both the cucumber sandwiches and the quiche lorraines and were ready to move up to the scone course on the second tier.

Third Course: Scones

Xak (aka the “Scone” in Scones and Doughns) as usual prepared our scones and opted to make his classic cream scones. We explained to Ma and Pa that we usually rip the scone in half and then put a combination of cream and preserves on the scone, or you can just eat them plain if you prefer. I heartily encouraged them to try it with some cream and preserves so they could have the full cream tea effect.

At the tea houses I go to, you’re usually offered strawberry preserves, Devonshire cream, and lemon curd. One place gave us grape jam (Xak was very upset), and others gave us orange marmalade, and butter. I like when we have a choice. I actually enjoy Xak’s scones plain, but they’re enhanced when they’re paired with different preserves. We wanted to make sure that Ma and Pa had their favorite flavor for the best first time experience. Since Xak makes scones all the time, we usually have a ton of jams, jellies, and preserves in the house so Ma and Pa were able to choose the one they wanted. We even had homemade raspberry jam from Xak’s previous Viennese Whirls adventure! Xak’s reliably delicious scones proved to be a big hit and Ma and Pa were delighted with their son in law’s scone expertise 😄

Preserves and spreads
A small sampling of the preserves and spreads in our house including some homemade raspberry from when Xak made Viennese Whirls!

Tip: Choose Scone Toppings Carefully

When possible, offer a variety of scone toppings so people can have their favorite. If you hate grape jam, you’re unlikely to enjoy the scone no matter how delicious it is.

Fourth Course: Dessert

For our last and final tier, Xak and I chose a mix of our favorite treats. It can be difficult to please everyone’s preferences, so I’ve found it best to offer a variety for people to pick and choose what they want, just like with tea and scone toppings. Some people will pick a few, and others (like Xak and I) will eat everything.

We decided to go with two items we baked and two store bought items: gingersnaps and lemon bars (homemade), Kedem tea biscuits and Mcvitie’s Digestive Biscuits (store bought).

I’ve known my parents my whole life (heh), so I’m also aware that they don’t like when things are too sweet. Ma also doesn’t really like spicy desserts (like my spice cake) so I had a feeling she would turn down the gingersnaps. 

However… I like gingersnaps! And it’s always important when you have an afternoon tea to make sure you (the cook) have something you like as well.

Tip: Don’t forget Yourself!

If you just spent 10+ hours preparing afternoon tea, you better have something on the menu that you like.

While the lemon bars weren’t as big of a hit with my parents (as I expected), they did enjoy both the Kedem tea biscuits and the Mcvitie’s. Xak and I love eating both of these during our daily tea time. They may be store bought, but they’re really good. The flavor isn’t overpowering, but it’s also not bland. It’s tasty and honestly hard to describe so you should just get some yourself. You can get different flavors of both (Ex. Chocolate Kedem or Chocolate bottom dipped Mcvitie’s), but I prefer the plain ones since they feel like tea time.

Store Bought Desserts
Our dessert tier had homemade lemon bars, plain Kedem tea biscuits, and plain Mcvitie’s Digestive biscuits.

Whenever I eat either a Kedem or a digestive biscuit, I think of the American Girl book where Felicity drinks tea and chooses the smallest tea biscuit to eat. Even though my biscuits don’t completely resemble the illustration in the book showing Queen Cakes surrounded by plain biscuits with fluted edging, I still like to pretend I’m also a student in Miss Manderly’s class, minus the whole tooth incident. 😄

^Found someone else on Instagram who apparently had Felicity’s tooth loss from a biscuit seared into their brain too.

Translation: I am very happy when I eat tea biscuits.

Both Ma and Pa seemed happy eating these as well. Not because they felt like Felicity, but because they really are that good. Pa remarked that they reminded him of the cookies he ate when he was younger. It’s kind of cool that eating these biscuits evoked a nice childhood memory for both of us. I think that’s a good sign.

I had also strategically placed small votives filled with Hershey Kisses in front of Ma and throughout the tea, the amount of Kisses dwindled. Knowing what your guests like always increases the likelihood of a successful tea.

After the top tier was done, we offered more tea and seconds on anything and everything. Both Ma and Pa asked for seconds for some things which is the best outcome we could have hoped for.

Can we have seconds?

-A Paraphrase of one of the best things my parents have ever said to me

While I could have swapped out some items for food that my parents were already familiar with, I felt like I would have cheated them from a new experience. This may be ironic coming from the person who orders English Breakfast tea at every tea place they visit, however when someone invites me to try a new food experience with them, I do my best to go in with an open mind and be gracious and respectful. My parents did just that and gave us “5 stars” when we sent them our mandatory Rate Your Experience survey. 😄

Ultimately, I am glad that Xak and I were able to share something that’s very important in our lives with Ma and Pa, and I think they were grateful that we aren’t terrible cooks. 🤣 All in all, it was a pretty good day.

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