Tradition meets trendy

Published 4:41 pm Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Julia Adams’ friends crowd around while she opens her gifts, which included a Fancy Nancy tea party book.

Tea parties are back — and not just in politics

The girls came wearing pink dresses, clutching pink-clothed Fancy Nancy dolls and carrying pink-wrapped birthday gifts.

They sat on chairs covered in white cloths and wrapped in pink bows. They dined on fruit, cheese, pretzels and turkey tea sandwiches shaped like butterflies and flowers.

It was Julia Adams’ fourth birthday, and she was having a tea party with 11 of her friends.

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“She has tea parties at home,” her mother, Hannah Adams, said. “She’s very girly-girly. I thought this would be perfect.”

Tea parties are making a resurgence nationwide — and not just because of politics.

“I think etiquette and manners are finally coming back into our society,” said Susan Wilkins-Piland, owner of Suffolk gift shop OutRAGEous, where Julia hosted her tea party. “We need to teach the next generation that it’s nice to have in the business world.”

Julia and her friends set down their dolls and gifts to find tables embellished with flowered centerpieces, plastic fluted glasses and a lollipop at every setting.

Julia’s party also featured peanut butter and jelly tea sandwiches, pink lemonade and ornately decorated cupcakes for dessert. But tea parties aren’t just for children. Older patrons might enjoy scones and actual tea at their parties, Wilkins-Piland said.

A tea party can even be a learning experience for all ages, she added.

“I think it’s important to know about different teas and different types of food,” she said.

Tea is among the world’s oldest beverages and a central figure in the history and society of many countries. It is so important in England that the United Kingdom has a Tea Council, a non-profit body dedicated to promoting tea.

Back here in America, tea is also important to Suffolk, where the Lipton Tea company produces many of its products in a manufacturing facility just west of the core downtown. For many years, Lipton even employed an Englishman as the Suffolk plant’s official tea taster.

The Tea Council claims that tea is such an integral part of life in Britain, it’s difficult to imagine life without it — a status that similar to that of coffee in America. But the American coffee tradition has never attained the status of British tea, which is as much an event as a drink.

In the British Isles, tea gained a reputation for being a high-society beverage because its cost was well beyond the means of the majority of the population. Even when it became more affordable, tea still was surrounded by the niceties of fine food and elegant company that sometimes still attach to its reputation today.

Companies like OutRAGEous are helping to revive the tradition here in America and can help you design the perfect tea party for all ages.

Or, look through the following pages to find recipes and ideas for planning a tea party that will mark your home as one of refined sensibility.