We've all heard of High Tea – it's that thing only rich people do, right? Wrong. High Tea's malnourished younger sister has finally come to the forefront of collective cultural consciousness and is showing her skirts in kitchens across the country. Get down from your high horse, tighten your purse-strings and frolic with the masses by hosting a Low Tea – guaranteed to be 110% more fun.
Think of a grungy, cheap version of High Tea and you're pretty much on the money – and follow this simple guide.
Instead of a tablecloth, spread some newspaper around. That way you can get clues about witty conversation topics you may have with your friends, as well as catching any spills. If you'd prefer not to fork out $3 for the local paper, just cut laps of your nearest train station in various disguises, collecting a new copy of MX each time. Too simple!
The newspaper-as-tablecloth: classic and informative
Unless you grow your own or have access to a local market, flowers can be expensive. For a Low Tea, try piling up some lawn clippings in an old jam jar, or break a few small branches off a nearby tree and scatter them across the table.
Of course, the most decorative and most important piece at a tea party is the tea set. However, fine china comes with a not-so-fine price, so fans of Low Tea should instead buy some polystyrene cups and a packet of permanent textas. You can write the word 'China' across your cup, or perhaps draw a dainty blue floral pattern around the rim. While you're at it, write your name on as well so you don't lose your precious beverage.
This is the most important Low (or High) Tea element. It draws attention and sets the tone of the entire event. Try to come up with something creative that reflects your individuality, while maintaining a tea-party theme. Perhaps you could fill your old boots with used tea leaves, and set them on a tiny pedestal? Another idea is to set a money tin in the centre of the table and invite guests to donate loose change – profits can go to a local or international tea-related aid organisation, such as STREAT or Noar Foundation.
Luckily, cucumber sandwiches are both affordable and easy to make, but if you truly lack time you may just serve everyone a cucumber. However, it's worth the extra ten minutes to butter some fresh white bread, layer in wafer-thin slices of fresh cucumber (cut on an angle, to make more broad) and of course, chop off the crusts. Arrange your sandwiches on the largest plate you can find, or any large flat surface such as an ironing-board.
Scones are usually a classic choice for tea parties. What people don't like to admit though is that scones are made of the same core ingredients as damper. Therefore, all you need is some plain flour, water and a microwave to feed the masses. You may also like to host a 'raw tea', in which none of your foods are cooked – after all, going green and clean is all the rage these days. For this option, mix equal parts flour and water in a large bowl, and give each of your guests a spoon.
The only things you need for a classic Low Tea nibble
If you really don't want your guests to leave hungry (or potentially ill), ask them each to bring a platter of something cheap to prepare and easy to share. You can also visit a local discount supermarket for biscuits and dip, or just a few bags of chips and lollies.
Tea, of course! It's polite to offer a few different varieties, including both caffeinated and decaf. You should also have milk and sugar on hand. Hot tip: buy full-cream milk and then thin it out by adding an equal amount of water. Hey presto! Double the results but not double the cost.
Loose-leaf tea may be better, but on the whole tea bags are generally the cheaper option. If you can't afford to buy some just be sure to wear an outfit with waterproof pockets to any events you attend in the three months prior. You can then surreptitiously take both used and unused tea bags home with you, dry them out in the sun for a bit, and use them again at your party. This has the added benefit of giving your tea bags a somewhat different flavour – remember to refer to it as "cosmopolitan", and pretend your supplier is an expensive Italian agent who prefers to remain anonymous.
Green tea bags - on offer at a Low Tea party near you!
Your Low Tea can have any theme you choose, however it's best to stick with something relevant. Perhaps only invite short people, or those willing to wear low-cut clothing. You may also make the wearing of tracksuit pants and slippers mandatory, or dictate that everyone leave their hair unwashed. If you've some old sackcloth, any guest is sure to appreciate a hand-made sackcloth hair accessory. Delightful!
Tea parties are often associated with Britain, so be sure to polish up your vocab before the big event. Try referring to the monarchy as "brill" or nominating your recent work assignment "beastly". You may also put the word "well" in front of pretty much any adjective, to give more emphasis, or simply leave your Harry Potter books lying around for an 'understated' British twist.
Last but most certainly not least, your Low Tea needs to have a surprising finale to ensure your event remains unforgettable – something to keep your guests talking long after the final drop has been poured. Perhaps you could give them all a rousing pinch on the cheek as they leave, or entertain them with a rendition of your top-ten favourite love songs, a cappella?
Whatever your design, I hope your Low Tea is a success.
Please note: the author of this article takes no responsibility for negative effects incurred as a result of taking this advice seriously. Aside from a brief note about giving to aid organisations, it is intended as a tongue-in-cheek way of showing that events don't have to follow traditional lines. Happy drinking.