The Do’s And Dont’s Of Hosting A Haute Holiday Tea

A sumptuous holiday tea spread
A sumptuous holiday tea spread

Photo Credit: Top of the Mark

For ladies who lunch, no holiday season is complete without a celebratory and festive tea. A holiday tea is ideal for adults and children and is relatively more affordable than a cocktail or dinner party. It happens during the day, preferably in the afternoon, and less alcohol is consumed. A holiday tea makes an excellent event for a child with a December birthday or a shower for a December bride or mother-to-be. To learn how to host a memorable Christmas season tea at home, we reached out to chef Michael Wong, of the Top of the Mark restaurant at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. Wong is in charge of planning the rooftop restaurant’s annual holiday tea offerings. He starts planning the menu as early as June! Here are his tips for planning the perfect fete.

Do consider dietary needs.

When formulating your menu, begin with your audience in mind. Will there be any dietary restrictions, especially guests with nut allergies? How many guests will be attending? After gathering information on your guests, menu planning can begin. It should be festive and related to the holiday, but the most important thing to remember is to always have fun.

An assortment of pastries at the Top of the Mark's holiday tea

Photo Credit: Top of the Mark

Don’t make the food to big.

Tea sandwiches should be bite size—no more than one or two bites each.

Do get creative with the sandwich fillings.

Some of Wong’s favorite sandwich combinations include: classic cucumber and cream cheese; smoked salmon, cucumber, caviar and dill cream cheese on rye bread; prosciutto and cranberry spread; egg, black forest ham salad and watercress; avocado, lettuce and tomato, smoked duck and kumquat chutney; and crab roll.

Don’t serve only sandwiches.

Have a few other foods to complement the tea spread. For soup, Wong recommends a light broth flavor soup or a classic clear broth. Stick to traditional holiday flavors such as acorn squash, parsnip, butternut squash or any type of fall vegetable-based soup. Serve a green salad with Champagne dressing tossed with roasted fall root vegetables like beets, carrots, parsnip or roasted butternut squash and some toasted Pignolia nuts.

37678432935_57cf898eaa_oPhoto Credit: Top of the Mark

Do consider the type of bread you’re using for the sandwiches.

Choose bread that will complement the rest of the ingredients. For example, pumpernickel is a classic pairing with smoked salmon and can pair well with other ingredients. Avoid herbed bread since it can overpower the taste of your finger sandwiches. These include rosemary, thyme, and sage which can distract from the main taste of what you are serving. The safe bet is to go with sweet and mild tasting breads like brioche, buttermilk bread or even sourdough.

Don’t underestimate how much time you need to prepare.

Think about the time you need to prepare and execute. Will you need help or can you do it by yourself? And, can certain items be prepared in advance and refrigerated?

Do make things in advance.

Cream cheese mixtures, desserts, cooked eggs, and cooked meats can be made or sliced in advance, and stored in refrigeration up to two days prior. Tea Sandwiches can be prepared and held in the refrigerator one day in advance; just make sure they are nicely covered. The secret to preventing your bread from getting soggy during storage in the refrigerator is to thinly spread whipped unsalted butter on the breads evenly before applying the ingredient like an egg salad, or anything that is mayonnaise based.

10846770555_d549c20e61_oPhoto Credit: Top of the Mark

Don’t forget the tea.

The kind of tea you serve should complement your tea sandwiches. Think of it like a wine pairing with food. Loose tea is always best, but nowadays there are many well received silk satchel tea bags. Choose what works best for you and your guests.

Do present the food and tea beautifully.

What type of China plates, platters, and silverware do you need? Think about presentation of each sandwich. The colors should coordinate and height of the sandwich is also key. All must be appealing and presentable.

Don’t skip décor.

Seasonal flowers and holiday themed decorations work.

38566986051_0541a90c07_oPhoto Credit: Top of the Mark

Do serve scones.

It won’t be a tea party without scones and lemon curd. So don’t forget to pick them up or bake some—if you are brave enough!

Don’t overdo it.

Keep things simple with quality and not quantity. Well executed events require planning weeks beforehand and are never rushed. You want to impress your guests, therefore, keep it simple.

Do serve alcohol.

If you want to offer champagne, egg nog, or mulled wine, why not?! It’s the holiday season.