It is said that the tradition of afternoon tea was established by Anne, Duchess of Bedford. Anne requested that light sandwiches be brought to her in the late afternoon because she had a “sinking feeling” during the long gap between meals. She then began to invite others to join her and thus became the tradition.
It is important to use proper etiquette when attending afternoon tea.
- After sitting down, place your purse on your lap or behind you against the chair back.
- Unfold your napkin and carefully place it upon your lap.
- If you must leave the table, temporarily, place the napkin on the chair.
- Never blot or wipe your lipstick with a linen or cloth napkin or use it as a handkerchief!
- Sugar is placed in your teacup first, then thinly sliced lemon.
- If you like to have milk in your tea, add it after the tea is poured. Never use milk and lemon together.
- Hold the handle of the teacup using your thumb and your first one or two fingers.
- Never put your pinkie out whilst drinking. That is deemed rude.
- Do not loop your fingers through the teacup handle or cradle the side or bottom of the cup with your hands.
- A guest should look into the teacup when drinking, never over it.
- When stirring your tea, be careful not to clink your spoon against the cup.
- Gently swish the spoon back and forth without touching the sides of the cup.
- When through stirring, remove the spoon and place it on the saucer behind the tea cup and to the right of the handle.
- Of course, never take a drink of your tea without removing the spoon first, and please never, ever sip from the spoon.
- Take small, quiet sips of your tea. Do not blow on the tea if it is too hot.
- When you are not drinking tea, place the cup on the saucer.
- If seated at a table, never pick up the saucer.
- If standing, you may lift the saucer with the cup.
- It is fine to eat most of the foods with your fingers with small, dainty bites.
- Use a fork when trying to eat messy foods.
- Scones are a traditional part of a proper tea. Split the scone with a knife. Since the knife is now used, either place it on your knife rest, or lay it gently on the side of your plate.
- Jam or curds are usually placed on the scone and then top off with a dollop of clotted cream.
- Simply spoon a small amount of jam or curds onto your plate then spread the jam, curds, and clotted cream onto your scone.
- Never use the serving spoon for this task.
- In the privacy of your own home one might dunk biscuits into tea, however, do not partake in this practice when taking Afternoon Tea!
- Be sure to take small bites, since attending a tea is a social occasion and you will want to participate in the conversation without always having a full mouth.
- Chew and swallow completely before taking a drink of tea, since it is hot and is not meant to wash the food down.
- The hostess will signal the end of the tea by picking up her napkin. Everyone else will then pick up their napkin by the center and loosely lay to the left of their plate.
“But indeed I would rather have nothing but tea.”
— Jane Austen