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At any rate I’ll never go THERE again!’ said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. ‘It’s the stupidest tea–party I ever was at in all my life!’ – “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

Original Title Page                                               Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland,1865



The Mad Tea Party in Lewis Carroll’s book, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” was perplexing. Alice was offered wine although they had none. The tea party was “stupid” (that’s what Alice called it) but it became a popular tea party theme. And, stupid as it was, The Mad Tea Party spurned Disney’s basically unrelated recreation in its theme parks and movies.

Why a Tea Party? 

19th Century Afternoon Tea for the Wealthy – Frédéric Soulacroix

 The Madhatter Tea Party, 1924

The stage was set for tea parties in 1840. It seems Anna Maria Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, England was getting peckish in the long, food-less span between early breakfast and 8:00 dinner, as was the custom at the time. So, she started taking tea and light fare in her boudoir mid-afternoon. Before you knew it, Anna was inviting friends to her house for afternoon tea. The event took off among others in high society, set in elegant rooms, with fine China, hot tea, and small sandwiches.

Among the highest of society was Anna’s good friend Queen Victoria, who enjoyed the tea parties so much, she started holding her own. Victoria, ever the trendsetter, instantly made tea a tradition. The middle class soon joined in with their own tea parties – inexpensive, easy to prepare, and a great way to create a social gathering with relatively little mess to clean up in the end.

Here’s another possibility: Common folk, aka workers, no longer went home for lunch. Industry was chugging along and they worked in factories and other industrial settings for long hours, often without breaks. So, these workers carried small lunches, often leftovers from dinner, they could eat by hand. Did Anna and Victoria follow the lead of the “lower classes”? Who knows? But the upper crust and the masses who supported them were eating at the same time and for the same reason. They were hungry mid-day.

                     The Madhatter Tea Party, 1924

What Kind of Tea Did They Drink?

The Tea Party in Lewis Carroll’s book was certainly black tea, common throughout Great Britian. But the British did drink botanical teas, as well, such as chamomile and rose petal. Earl Grey tea is another British favorite – essentially black teas with additions such as lavender or orange peels.

Host Your Own Authentic Mad Tea Party

So, what was served at the original party? And how do you create a more-or-less accurate rendition? In the story, Lewis Carroll’s characters enjoyed tea and toast with butter, common fare, not exactly scintillating.  They also discussed treacle (although they didn’t serve it), which is a British relative of molasses, and wine, of course, which was likewise not served. Of course, that arrangement might be rather boring, not to mention unsatisfying.

So, here’s what you do:

Serve treats from the actual book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”:

  • Buttered Toast: Sounds boring, right? But it was common tea party fare in the U.K. and the U.S. Why not butter, sprinkle on sugar and cinnamon, and cut into triangles or easy-to-hold squares. Your guests – no matter how old or old fashioned – will love it!
  • Treacle: In candy or toffee form, or use molasses, instead, such as molasses pulls or molasses drops. You may even want to serve molasses syrup to slather on toast.
  • Lemonade: This option goes particularly well in warm weather and especially for kids. Make your own or use the modern powdered variety. Some even comes with real crystalized lemon!
  • Wine: Mentioned, by not served in the book. Still, a tea party standard from the get-go. And yes, you can serve wine first then follow with tea. Perfectly appropriate.
  • Chocolate: At the time, most chocolate was gritty. In 1879, chocolatier Rudolf Lindt (of Lindt Chocolate fame) invented a “conching” machine to make chocolate silky smooth, as we know it today. As “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published in 1865, chocolate wasn’t actually smooth. No worries. At the time other editions appeared, chocolate was silky smooth.
  • Biscuits, cookies, or cakes: The possibilities are practically limitless. Shortbread dates back to 16th century Scotland. Use those and no one will consider you too modern.
Alice’s Tea Party Robinson Carrol,1907

Then — fill in with other pleasures of 19th century tea parties… Sandwiches? Yes! Cucumber sandwiches, buttered bread, the variety is endless.  Think the table is bare? Add mixed nuts and an assortment of olives and cheese which are filling and traditional at tea parties. But remember, afternoon tea was light and breezy so keep it simple.

To be truly loyal to the original: Dispense with adherence to all things polite and be perfectly frank and rude, if you feel like it. Then, afterward, explain to the kids that behavior is actually not ok in real life.

DON’T STRESS: Why not get a True Treats® Alice in Wonderland Edible Book? Comes with the marvelous treats Alice ate throughout the book and a keepsake card describing each item…all tucked in a closable book-shaped box.