How to Host: A Regency Tea

Season 2 of Bridgerton comes out this week, and ever since this Shondaland adaptation of Julia Quinn’s steamy Regency romances first hit Netflix in December 2020, searches for tea party items has exploded on Etsy, Pinterest and Google. But here’s the thing: afternoon tea as we know it didn’t exist at the time. Afternoon tea became popular during the Victorian Era around 1840, decades after the Regency Era, which began in 1811 when King George III was declared mentally unfit, and his son was named Prince Regent to rule in his stead. Our Regency Tea Guide aims to recreate a teatime true to the tea customs of the day, which has a bonus for the hostess: the menu is much, much simpler.

Image Credit: Netflix/Shondaland
The iconic Julie Andrews voices Lady Whistledown’s letters.

Tea as a social affair in Jane Austen’s time (all her books were published and she herself passed away during the Regency era), was enjoyed in one of two ways. At home, tea was served after the last meal of the day, as a digestive and evening entertainment with family and friends invited over. During the day, the first tea shops, which served ices, candied fruits and other confections with tea, were one of the few public places a man could dine with a lady without sullying her reputation.

Gunter's Tea Shop in Bridgerton 2020 Season 1
Gunter’s Tea Shop as pictured in Bridgerton; Gunter’s was an actual tea shop in Regency-era Mayfair
© 2020 Netflix

Tea itself was outrageously expensive, and this luxury import was kept under lock and key, brewed only by the lady of the house in view of her guests to prove she was serving unadulterated tea leaves. In the evenings, in the drawing room or parlor, the mistress, assisted by her servants, would unlock her tea caddy or teapoy, blend, prepare and pour the tea, and pass cups of tea to guests sitting on low settees and chairs around a fire, with side tables nearby. Depending on how many guests came to call, some may remain standing, and so the tea service would need to be manageable with two hands. The food, if any, was minimal: no-mess breads or cakes that could be tidily served as finger foods to finely-dressed guests seated or mingling about the room.

Davenport House Museum in Savannah, GA teatime
Performer Jamie Credle prepares tea as would an 1820s housewife, during “Tea with Mrs. Davenport” at Davenport House in Savannah, GA

As a special feature of this tea party planning edition, we include suggestions for Regency Era books and films that you might watch together or gather after reading/watching to discuss, over your Regency Tea. For example, a Regency Tea would be the perfect complement to a Jane Austen book club meeting. [By the by, if you love this idea, make sure you have joined your local JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) chapter.]

Miss Austen Regrets, Jane taking tea
Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in Miss Austen Regrets
© 2007 BBC

Notes on Using Destination Tea to Plan Your Tea Party

Destination Tea's Tea Party Planner with shopping list for afternoon tea
Destination Tea's Tea Party Planner with shopping list for afternoon tea

Here’s how we suggest using our resources:

  1. Print out a front-and-back copy of Destination Tea’s Tea Party Planner.
  2. As you browse The Scene, Tea Selection, Regency Stories, Breads and Sweets ideas in our Regency Tea Pinterest board, choose which items you’ll have at your tea party, and fill in the related sections of your Tea Party Planner, adding needed items and ingredients to your Shopping List.
  3. Bookmark, pin or print any recipes you like from the Regency Tea Pinterest board, and have fun making your preparations!

Setting the Scene? That’s Everything!

Let the opulence and romance of the Regency Era guide your table setting, decorations and dress code. Think silver, crystal, feathers, lace, shimmer and fresh flowers. Also, a lady’s fine porcelain and bespoke tea accessories (such as a tea caddy or tea caddy spoon) all signaled her wealth and status.

Billy Nighy sipping tea in Emma 2020
Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse in Emma
© 2020 Focus Features

What to Wear

Regarding your party’s attire, the Internet is abuzz with “Regencycore” style guides (styling your outfit using Regency period fashions as inspiration). Though Regencycore has surged in popularity thanks again to Bridgerton, “Janeites,” sometimes also called “Austenites,” have been enjoying Regency cosplay at their gatherings for decades. We’ve pinned several looks and accessory suggestions to the “What to Wear” section to help your guests create a period-themed ensemble from head to toe.

Bridgerton fans also know that bumblebee Easter eggs are found throughout the episodes, in reference to the bee symbolism used in Julia Quinn’s books. So you may like to include bees in your decorations or favors. In the Scene board, you’ll find these and many creative touches, as well as Regency-era games, to make your Regency teatime authentic and special, which you can add to “The Scene” section of your Tea Party Planner, including:

  • Tablescape:
    • Lacy and damask tablecloths
    • Embroidered napkins with bumblebees
    • Decorative toast racks
    • Glass, crystal and china butter dishes
    • Decorative butter spreaders
    • Honey pot with wooden dipper
    • Small flower arrangement how-to
  • Teaware:
    • Flower teaspoons in rose gold
    • 3-tiered trays, creamers, tea plates, teacups and teapots by Mintons and Royal Doulton (popular Regency-era English pottery houses)
    • Handmade honey bee teacups
    • Vintage silver creamer and sugar sets
    • China cachepot (typically used as a planter, but we’ve included to inspire your table’s “slop bowl” used during the Regency to capture the dregs of cold tea and leaves before pouring a new round of tea)
  • Favors:
    • Bee brooches
    • Personalized honey mini jars and dippers
  • Activities:
    • Regency era games
    • Guide to Regency slang (to share or use as trivia)
    • Tea leaf reading how-to
2009 Emma evening tea scene
Christina Cole as Mrs. Elton and Laura Pyper as Jane Fairfax in Emma
© 2009 BBC

The Menu: Regency Tea

Will you be replicating the tea shop setting or after-dinner evening tea scene? For the daytime tea shop effect, we include recipes for confections one might find in a Gunter’s Tea Shop of the period. For the evening social hour after the last meal of the day, few foods would have been served, and these would need to be tidy foods so as not to muss one’s finery. We’ve pinned several recipes popular during the Regency era that can be spread with English butter or local honey.

Daphne in Gunter's Tea Shop in Bridgerton Season 1
Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne Bridgerton taking tea in Bridgerton
© 2020 Netflix

Selecting Your Teas

For your Regency Tea, why not sip on the same varieties that would be found in an early 19th century household? At the time, China held the monopoly on tea production, so any of the earliest Chinese tea exports would be appropriate to serve at your Regency Tea. We did our research to find imported teas in high demand during the Regency period. You might want to offer your guests the opportunity to sweeten their tea as was done at the time: with sugar broken off of a sugar loaf with sugar nippers (we include links to these). To prepare tea as they did in the Regency era, bring water to temperature and swirl some inside your teapot to warm it. Pour that water out, add tea leaves to the teapot, and pour in hot water. After steeping, pour the entirety of your steeped tea into teacups and pass around to guests. It is normal for some leaves to remain at the bottom of the cup – perfect for tea leaf reading!

  • Congou Tea by Oliver Pluff & Co.
  • Bohea Tea by Oliver Pluff & Co.
  • Young Hyson China Green Tea by Elmwood Inn Fine Teas
  • Gunpowder Green by Twinings
  • Organic Pennyroyal Herbal Tea by Starwest Botanicals
  • Late 18th-century style locking tea caddy
  • Decorative tea caddy spoons
  • Sugar Loaf
  • Sugar Nippers
Tea equipage of the 1820s at Davenport House Museum
Tea accessories of the Regency era, displayed at Davenport House in Savannah, GA

Breads and Sweets

Whether you serve the sweet confections of the tea shop or the simple breads and cakes of the evening teatime, know that just one or two foods is plenty to offer at your Regency Tea. After all, the conversation is the meal! Note, honey and/or butter may be offered alongside the breads.

  • Lemon Ices
  • Regency Fruit Ice Cream
  • Candied Fruits
  • Fortnum & Mason’s Glacé Fruits Selection
  • Sally Lunn Bread
  • Georgian Gingerbread
  • Sally Lunn Buns
  • Crumpets with British Butter (alternatively you may serve warm toast with butter)
  • Regency Queen Cakes
  • Seed Cake
  • Shrewsbury Cakes
Tea treats at Tea with Mrs. Davenport an 1820s teatime
Freshly baked gingerbread and Sally Lunn bread served at Davenport House Museum in Savannah, GA, during a reproduction of an 1820s evening tea

Let’s Get Started Planning Your Regency Tea

If you recommend a delicious treat, tea or fun Regency themed party game, please let us know in the comments, thank you! Click on the pinboard below to delve into our suggestions for your Regency Tea and happy party planning!

DestinationTea
Tea Voyageuse, discovering the world of afternoon tea, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

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