Afternoon Tea Etiquette
Whilst tea drinking can be dated back to the third millennium in China, the most quintessential of English traditions, the “Afternoon Tea” is a relatively new. The English concept of Afternoon Tea was introduced by Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford in 1840, to satisfy her afternoon hunger pangs! The Duchess started to request a tray of tea, bread, butter and cake be bought to her room in the afternoons. It became a popular habit of hers and she began inviting her friends to join her. Afternoon Tea quickly evolved into a fashionable society event with women changing into long gowns, gloves and hats to attend. As with most highbrow English occasions, it became associated with strict rules of etiquette, that, if not observed could completely tarnish your reputation and social standing! Luckily over the years Afternoon Tea has become a much more relaxed affair, however, there are still some faux pas that can easily be avoided!
Its’s all in the name
The terminology used to describe Afternoon Tea can be quite confusing. So here is our quick guide:
A Cream Tea refers to scones with cream and preserves, served with a pot or a cup of tea. An Afternoon Tea is traditionally a larger affair consisting of sandwiches, scones and a selection of sweet treats, served with tea. Overseas visitors often confuse High Tea with Afternoon Tea. High Tea is a heartier meal comprising of more savoury foods, which historically was taken by the lower classes. Finally, a less widely used term, Royal Tea signifies the addition of a glass of champagne to a traditional Afternoon Tea, for those extra special occasions!
To dunk or not to dunk?
Are you a biscuit dunker?
Whilst this is a perfectly acceptable and enjoyable practice in the comfort of your home, it is a big faux pas, we suggest you restrain from dunking during your Afternoon Tea, instead enjoy your sweet treats and tea separately!
Stir it up!
No matter how you prepare your tea, with sugar, milk or both, you must always remember to stir correctly
Place your spoon at a 6 o'clock position in the cup and fold the tea towards the 12 o'clock position whilst making sure not to 'clink' the spoon against the sides of the cup.
Put it down!
Did you know that it is correct etiquette to leave your saucer on the table when drinking your tea?
The only time deemed to be proper to move your saucer away from the table is when you are more than a foot away, if you were standing for example. Traditionally one would hold the saucer in the left hand and the cup in the right.
The Perfect Pinkie
There is a common misconception that outstretching one's little finger aids the balance of the cup when taking a sip of tea.
This could be traced back to Roman times where cultured people would eat with three fingers, and commoners with their whole hand, however it is more likely to be related to the porcelain cups historically used for Afternoon Tea service. The porcelain cups that made their way from China in the early days of tea drinking had no handles, so to drink from them and avoid spilling it on yourself it was common to spread the hand around with the pinkie up for balance and support in the stretch. Once considered a sign of class and elegance, the risen pinkie finger is now one of the most common faux pas of Afternoon Tea.
Which should be poured first, the milk or the tea?
In earlier times milk was added to delicate, soft porcelain first to prevent the cups from cracking, but now porcelain is tougher this practice redundant. We advise adding the milk after the tea so you can easily judge the colour and strength of your tea and adjust it to your personal preference.
Here at England’s oldest hotel the ritual of Afternoon Tea is far more relaxed than it once was and of course a faux pas here and there, especially from those new to the ceremony of Afternoon Tea, will certainly be forgiven. Afternoon tea is meant to be a fun occasion so don’t let the etiquette get in the way of your personal enjoyment!