Afternoon Tea & Tea Etiquette

Afternoon Tea dates back to around the 1840s as a social gathering in England. During this ritual there are some specific customs in which people should conduct themselves. Proper etiquette is shown to be a sign of respect to the host and the rest of the guests at tea. If you find yourself heading to tea or hosting it, be sure to polish up and look over these tips.

Setting the Cake Stand

The food that is offered at afternoon teas should be displayed on a tiered cake stand. Each tier is very specific, the top tier is used for scones, the middle tier contains sandwiches, and the bottom tier has pastries or other desserts. 

Like how the food on the cake stand is precisely displayed, the order in which food should be consumed is as specific, first are sandwiches, then scones, and lastly sweets.

Classical British Afternoon Tea

Napkin Please

The formal way to set up a napkin on the table is to place it to the left of the plate. The napkin should have the folded edge facing the left and the open edge facing the right. 

If you need to excuse yourself from the table, the napkin should be properly set back how it was first presented, to the left of the plate. Napkin should never be left on a chair!

If you wish to be invited back for tea, neatly fold the napkin with a crease and place it back on the left of the plate, as it is a sign to the host.

Typical English Afternoon Tea.

No Slurping

The host is the one to pour the tea out, when the teapot is put back down on the table, it should be placed with the spout facing the host, the person that poured the tea. 

The proper way to drink tea is to leave the saucer on the table when raising the cup and place it back down between sips. It is considered rude to look anywhere else but into the cup while sipping tea, do not slurp your tea! 

Don’t Stir

It is not proper to stir your tea in a circular motion. To do so, properly place the spoon in the cup at a 12 o’clock position and gently fold the liquid back and forth a couple of times to the 6 o’clock position. When the spoon isn’t being used, it is placed back on the saucer, to the right of the cup. Never leave a teaspoon in the cup! 

Pinkies Up

The rising of the pinkie finger is now one of the most common social missteps with afternoon tea. 

The first porcelain cups from China had no handles. In order to avoid spills, people would cup their hand around these porcelain cups with their pinky up for balance. Even after the introduction of cups with handles and this not being a strict practice in tea, this trend continues.

Afternoon tea can seem intimidating to some since it appears to be so proper. In the end when attending tea just relax and enjoy the experience and meeting new people. Try not to focus too much on all the “rules”, unless attending tea with the Queen of course. The occasional slips are totally fine and will all be forgiven.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.