Traditional Afternoon Tea Etiquette
I have shelves of etiquette books lining my bookcases, dating from the early 1800s. It’s just a thing with me. An era of charm and beauty I hope we never completely lose.
Twinings Tea U.K. has put together the following list that they say is, “all about making the experience perfect for you and your guests – so in our mind replacing the firm handshake with a hug is no taboo broken.”
Always greet your guests or host with a firm handshake.
Once sat, place your handbag or clutch on your lap, or for more convenience place it behind you resting against the chair – this will also stop you from slouching.
When the host announces it’s time to begin your afternoon tea, take your napkin, unfold it and place it on your lap. However, if you must leave the table for any reason fold it neatly and place it on your chair. Never leave it on the table; you will ruin the beauty of the place settings and features that you or the host has spent hours preparing.
If you take sugar in your tea then this must be placed into the cup first.
For those of you drinking Earl Grey the traditional way, place a thin slice of lemon into the cup first. You can place sugar and lemon together in the cup but not the milk.
Milk is added to the tea after you have added your tea, sugar, and/or lemon (this is a preference though). “To put milk in your tea before sugar is to cross the path of love, perhaps never to marry.”1 This is a tea superstition from the French – they also recommend you put the milk in last.
When you’re stirring your tea make sure your spoon doesn’t touch the sides of the cup and when you’ve finished place it behind the cup on the saucer – never leave the spoon in the cup.
Now you must hold your cup in the correct way, never grasp your cup with both hands, you must always use the delicate handle provided. There are many debates about the ‘pinky finger’ and how it should sit when drinking tea. Some may say you must stick your little finger out, however; many etiquette experts frown upon extending the pinky finger while drinking and deem it a sign of pretentiousness. We say it’s your choice if you want to stick your pinky out then go for it!
The correct order to eat the traditional afternoon tea is to eat the sandwiches and savories first, then move on to the scones and ending on the sweets.
There are many traditions and superstitions about the way you should eat your scones, the Cornish believe you should cut the scone in half and then cover it in jam then add clotted cream. The Devonshire folk believe you should cut the scone in half, cover it in clotted cream first then add a teaspoon of jam. These are the traditions they have set in place, there is no right or wrong. Try both and see what you prefer.