I’d like you to try something for me. Close your eyes and picture a table set for afternoon tea. In your mind’s eye, what do you see?
- A teapot, probably in a cozy.
- Place settings of teacups, plates, and flatware.
But I’m sure that’s not all. If you’re like me, the picture of “afternoon tea” wouldn’t be complete without one more item:
- A tiered stand holding savouries, sweets, and of course scones.
The difference between “tea” and “afternoon tea” is that very special serving stand that rises splendidly above the table to offer a beautiful array of delicious, elegant treats while taking up the smallest possible amount of space on your tea table.
Most tiered stands fall into the category of dessert servers, and comprise two or three layers of connected plates. These are usually made of metal, china, crystal, glass, Lucite®, or wood, tho’ there’s no reason to limit yourself to these materials: For example, you can add a whimsical touch to your tea with a tiered server made from phonograph records (remember phonographs …?).
Tiered stands are generally connected with hardware through the middle, altho’ not necessarily so. Tiers might swing out from a connection on the side, or fold out from the middle, like the green filigree stand on the left in the photo, which folds up to a convenient storage size when not in use. And the tiers don’t need to be round – they might be square or oblong. I’ve even seen servers where the top “tier” is a bowl or large cup.
Another type of serving device is called a three-tier curate stand. Usually made of metal, these stands allow you to use your own plates, resting them in the round holders, then removing them as your guests finish each tea course. This is the serving stand in the centre of the photo, showing how it looks with a plate added and without. A curate stand is small enough to be placed on your table; it is similar to a butler’s stand, a tall, slim piece of furniture with three serving shelves, and that often folds up to be stored away when tea time is over.
The price for a tiered serving stand can vary widely depending on materials, style, size, and if it’s an antique or handcrafted.
Now here’s some good news: It’s really simple to create your own tiered server!
Whether you want to go elegant with fine china (as I have with the server on the right of the photo, using antique dishes and handmade cups), craft a children’s server from plastic cups and dishes, or make a disposable serving stand from paper, the instructions are the same:
- Choose three plates – in graduated sizes or all the same – and two cups.
- One plate (the largest if you’re using different sizes) goes on the bottom.
- Place a cup – matching or not – at the centre, and top with another plate.
- Repeat one more time, with the smallest plate at the top.
- You’ll need to glue each layer together as you build the server.
- Use a strong glue or epoxy or, if you’re not ready to make a permanent commitment, attach the plates and cups with museum putty.
- If you use putty, place your foods into cupcake papers so they don’t come in contact with the chemicals.
Not the creative type, or need some inspiration? Check out my favourite handicrafts site to find the perfect tiered server for your tea table.
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