Last summer I gave my daughter a tea party bridal shower and it was so much fun. I have done teas for baby showers and birthday parties also. I learned how from a friend who does this as a business.
I did an internet search on tea parties. I found all kinds of websites, and soooo much info. Unfortunately I didn't save any of it, but you'll have fun with the search, I assure you.
Yes, you can make the tea and serve it from a large coffee urn. I would suggest, tho, that you have the wait staff serve the tea from silver tea pot/servers--you know, those fancy kinds, like the vintage coffee pots and tea pots that sat on gramma's sideboard on a pretty silver tray, along with fancy silverplate sugar bowl and creamer. You probably can rent those from a wedding rental business. You should have sugar, cream and/or milk in little pitchers, and lemon slices on each table.
You should definitely have the words, "tea reception" on the invite, or a card inserted inside the invitation. Keep in mind that not everyone likes tea, so along with the iced and hot tea, make sure you have something available for those guests, also. A nice light punch is good. Or lemonade.
For hot tea, figure 6 oz is a portion/cup. so to yield 50 servings, you'll need 2 1/2 gallons. Use a stainless steel, enamel. or earthenware container to brew the tea in. You'll need 2--1oz tea bags to 2 1/2 gals of hot water. Let steep for 3 to 5 min. I think that would be like those large Lipton teabags that make a gallon or so. Not sure. For iced tea, figure 8 oz per portion or glass, using 12 oz glasses. My recipe for 48 says use 6--1 oz bags and steep 4 to 6 min. in 1 gal boiling water. Then remove teabages and pour hot tea into 2 gals cold water. 10 to 15 lbs of chipped or cubed ice. Fill glasses with ice and pour tea over to fill each glass Serve with lemon slices and tall spoons(use clear plastic) Always pour the hot tea into cold water to prevent cloudiness. Do not refrigerate the tea before serving. That also will prevent cloudiness.
To save time, I think those large cold brew Lipton teabags would do just fine also, and you can save a few minutes also. I have used those for a large crowd also.(picnics)
As for food, open faced sandwiches are synonomous with teas. If you want an authentic tea, cut the crusts off all the bread. Of course the sandwiches will dry out faster, but they look prettier. The British use only white bread I have been told, but I think a variety of breads adds something to the display. And, you MUST have cucumber sandwiches!!! Look on line for recipe. Cocktail rye bread is good for those. Chicken salad is another typical filling.Other ideas for open faced sandwiches include a variety of fillings and decorated attractively; rolled, ribbon, checkerboard, or pinwheel sandwiches, nut breads with butter, fruit breads spread with cream cheese, cut in triangles, squares, round, or oblong shapes. cheese wafers or cheese straws; miniature cream puffs filled with chicken, ham, or tuna salad.
Dips with cheese, cream cheese, or sour cream, served with vegies, fruits, or crackers.
Cookies, cakes, and tarts. Petit ffours,, miniature decorated cupcakes, miniature cheese cakes, meringue shells with whipped cream and fruit fillings small pecan or fruit tarts, small tea cookies that offer a variety of shapes, flavors, and colors.
Nuts and Candies. Salted, toasted, or spiced nuts, candied orange or grapefruit peel, mints in pastel colors. These you could put in cute little containers or bowls as favors at each guests place setting if you are having a sit down tea.
If you have a Sam's Club near you, they have alot of food items you can use in bulk. You'll save money if you buy supplies in bulk instead of at a local food store.
I suggest a food and beverage table arrangement using 2 lines of service, i on each side of the table, and set up so that each guest may start with a plate and napkin first, then select food items, and pick up silverware and beverage last. The table covering, centerpiece if you are having one, tea service, silver, and serving dishes should be the best available, and the food should be colorful, attractively arranged, and interesting. You may be able to borrow serving dishes, plates, tea service, etc from relatives on both sides of the family. People used to entertain in their own homes with fancy dishes more than we do now. Be sure you label each with their name so you can return the right dish to aunt Betty or Gramma Anne!! To prevent a crowded appearance, there should be a limited amount of silver, china, napkins, and food on the table when serving begins. A small serving table with extra china and silver near the tea table is convenient. Replacements of small dishes and appointments are brought on trays from the kitchen on trays . If 2 beverages are served, they may be served from a seperate table, otherwise one beverage would be served at the end of the food table. Use small serving platters, plates, or dishes for the food so that nothing looks crowded. They can be replenished with dishes brought from the kitchen when nearly empty. Assign a wait staff member or if you are having friends or relatives serve the food, to frequently replace the food on the table. One or 2 people can be assigned to serve the beverages.
For the tea cookies, may I suggest those cute cookies that you put thru a cookie press at holidays? They are usually butter cookies and can be made ahead of time. They can be flavored, colored, or plain and sugared.
I could give you recipes also, but it would make this post too long. If you'd like to email me privately, I can send you some that I found in a cookbook.
Have fun at your tea party wedding....wish I could be there to help serve!!!!
experienced tea party hostess