The first year the Dunwoody Preservation Trust held its Annual Tea, Destination Tea came to review it. At last year’s tea, I was honored to be invited to speak about afternoon tea etiquette. While those experiences were lovely, this year, I was in for a real treat, when the Tea Committee welcomed me behind the scenes, to be a part of preparations, and to document the incredible planning and effort that goes into this community event. These generous women donate their time, talents and energy to producing this afternoon tea, beginning the work months in advance.
Several ladies on the committee contribute their baking and cooking talents to produce this afternoon tea menu of 11 homemade recipes, most of which are made entirely from scratch. Once the menu is set, menu cards are printed to be tucked into a cloth napkin at each place setting.
Months and Days Ahead of the Tea
The ladies are always on the lookout for affordable and beautiful teapots, teacups, condiment dishes, sugar bowls and creamers, which they hunt for in thrift shops year-round. Several years in, they have gathered quite a lovely collections of teaware to set the tables.
The two teas (one black, one herbal) are selected and purchased, while shopping, baking and freezing (of scones and desserts) begins! Several committee members each contribute one or more desserts, while committee leader Suzanne Boothe works on the homemade lemon curd and scones.
The Boothe family currant scone recipe is made for this afternoon tea, by daughter Suzanne, pictured above with mom Inez, using this baking pan that’s been in the family for 75 years. The week ahead, Suzanne makes and freezes 100+ scones (allotting 2 per guest), to be glazed and baked on the day of. Watch the whole process and get the recipe in the video below.
The week before the tea, Suzanne snips bunches of fresh dill and mixes the fresh herb with cream cheese, giving the flavors time to merge. Using a mandoline, she pre-slices the cucumber in advance to cut down on prep time the day of. She also blends horseradish and mayonnaise to ready the spread for the roast beef sandwiches, and using an electric knife, cuts all the crusts off of the white and wheat bread slices.
The Morning Of
Four of us meet at 8 am on the morning of the tea to find Suzanne has already begun baking the scones, so our task will be to prepare the finger sandwiches and two tea concentrates. After cooling, scones are tucked into pans and covered.
The quickest to assemble, a pimiento cheese spread on wheat is cut with electric knife into rectangular finger sandwiches, stacked and layered with damp paper towels and covered.
Using food scissors, roast beef is cut to fit neatly on the slices we spread with the prepared horseradish mayo. For the final two tea sandwiches, we smooth a not-too-thick layer of the dill cream cheese, layering on cucumber or smoked salmon slices. Our assembly line of sandwich prep to slicing takes the bulk of the morning’s work as we produce 65+ of each finger sandwich (in case seconds are requested).
As we near completion, Maria Gabor – the tea master – boils giant pots of water to create the two tea concentrates. Maria researched and introduced this idea as the simplest way to serve large amounts of tea in a timely manner. She intentionally brews a super-strong tea, having done the math on how much hot water we will use to properly dilute the concentrate right before serving…to create the perfect pot of hot tea.
The food prep team has time to dash home and get themselves ready, before meeting the rest of the Tea Committee at the event space 90 minutes prior to teatime to finish preparations.
It’s Go Time! Arriving at Donaldson-Bannister Farm
Maria and Suzanne load up all their goodies, using wagons to bring them into the kitchen adjacent to the outdoor event space, a tented patio at this historic Dunwoody property. Meanwhile, Director of Private and Special Events Dolores Lauderdale has overseen the team that handled set-up at the farm, from tables and chairs, to dishes and floral arrangements.
Step-by-step instructions are posted to the kitchen door, though having worked together to host this affair several years already, these ladies are off-book. Even so, this is a great visual of just how many details are planned out to host an afternoon tea service.
Serving Tea and Champagne
Tea master Maria did her math in advance, posting laminated tables to make it quick and easy to prepare various pots of tea. Each teapot has been labeled underneath with the number of cups it holds to further facilitate this process. Smart thinking!
Here’s how it works: 1. Check under your teapot to see how many cups it holds. 2. Follow the guide to determine how many cups of concentrate and water you’ll use. 3. Use a liquid measuring cup to pour in the proper amount of tea and hot water. Now you’re ready to serve!
Another smart trick — this one for the quick pouring of even glasses of champagne: a flute with a measured five-ounces of water is set next to other glasses as the example proper fill line.
Plating and Serving Afternoon Tea
In the last hour before the event, heaping mounds of cream and lemon curd are spooned into dishes, creamers are filled and the ladies begin plating the three courses of finger sandwiches, scones and sweets.
China dinner plates assembled according to the particular number of guests at each table will fill the waiting three-tiered trays once the tea begins.
The homemade goodies for the dessert course are made by three Tea Committee members. My favorite are Maria’s almond-flavored Venetian Cakes topped with a thin layer of chocolate. Divine!
After the guests have had time to mingle and be seated, we retrieve each table’s three-tiered tray, slipping one of each plated course into the tower, and very, very carefully bringing it to the table.
This happy table of afternoon tea guests is the culminating effect of the Tea Committee’s efforts, and the true reward of hosting an afternoon tea. Smiles all around, friends and family looking their best and at at their leisure, sipping tea together and enjoying homemade treats, while a harpist softly plays.
The moral of this story: be sure to express heaps of gratitude to your afternoon tea host because throwing a proper tea party is a labor of love, justified by the joy it gives to guests.
Below is a short video we made with some behind the scened footage of the Tea Committee in action. If you’d like to attend this Annual Tea in future, consider becoming a member of the Dunwoody Preservation Trust, because members receive first notice of ticket sales.
Special thanks to the Tea Committee of the Dunwoody Preservation Trust for welcoming Destination Tea behind the scenes of their afternoon tea production!