I’ve got a confession—I’m addicted to pretty paper napkins, especially if they have a tea theme or look Victorian. So although I also have an unhealthy obsession with vintage linens, I use my fancy paper napkins quite often for tea. For instance, when we had our Titanic Tea, I found paper napkins emblazoned with the logo of the White Star Lines to use along with the china and silver place settings. I’m sure there must be real linen napkins with the White Star logo, but paper worked just fine. And if you don’t have enough “real” dishes or you’re serving dozens of people, there are lovely paper and plastic plates available. You already know that you can find themed party ware for kids (think Dora the Explorer and Star Wars), but a visit to the local party store might just open your eyes to a world of exquisite party ware you may never have known existed. And there’s always Chinet from the supermarket. It’s sturdy, comes in white and is perfect for an informal gathering.
No tablecloth? There are paper and plastic ones—some of them with matching the plates and napkins. One of my favorite tablecloths is a plastic one that resembles white Battenberg Lace. It’s pretty, goes with just about any place setting and if someone spills tea or jam, the stains come right out. Since most teas I host are informal, this works wonderfully well. If the tea were going to be formal, I’d use a linen cloth and napkins.
I’ve never used plastic cutlery, but I’ve used some that looks and almost feels like silverware. If you’re going to use plastic, get the sturdy kind that will hold up to whatever you’re serving. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to use a flimsy plastic knife to cut anything more challenging than a marshmallow.
There are plastic cups that can be used without burning your fingers—the paper hot cups tend to have fold-out handles that make the cup hard to drink from. And if you’re drinking black tea (brewed with boiling water) your fingers will get hot rather quickly.
Now before you call the EPA on me, let me defend myself by saying that I recommend reusable tableware over the use of disposable tableware. But if you need to use the disposable stuff, use paper as much as possible. There are also plates that look plastic but easily biodegrade. Another way to protect the environment is to raid your cupboard or your Mom’s cupboard and use some of that tableware you only see at holiday time or pay a visit to your local thrift shop and see what treasures you can find to make your next tea an occasion.