High Tea Etiquette

Have you ever wondered about the proper way to conduct yourself at an afternoon tea event?

Afternoon tea is a traditional and elegant affair, and there are certain etiquette rules that apply to the occasion.

In modern society, afternoon tea and high tea are often used interchangeably. However, there are distinct differences between them. Afternoon tea also known as “low tea” originated as an elegant and upper class occasion, intended to fill the large gap between lunch and dinner. It was made famous in the 19th century by Anna the Duchess of Bedford. Afternoon tea consisted of scones, petite cakes and finger sandwiches. Afternoon tea is typically served in low and comfortable arm chairs. High tea on the other hand, originated as a meal or early supper for labourers and the working class. Men would often arrive home famished after a long day at work and were served a meal consisting of meat, vegetables and bread, and in my family, we often refer to dinner as “tea”. “High” refers to tea served at a table with high back dining chairs.

Traditionally speaking, afternoon tea is served at 4pm. High tea is served between 5pm and 7pm in the evening. However, due to cultural differences and the evolution of social habits, it has become increasingly common for establishments to refer to afternoon tea as high tea and to offer sittings between 1pm and 3pm in the afternoon.

It is traditional to organise a three-tier tower in a particular order, with the scones on top, the sandwiches and savouries in the middle, and sweets on the bottom. Sandwiches are consumed first, then scones, and then sweets.

Afternoon Tea Etiquette:

1. Always remember basic table manners. In other words remember to keep the mess to a minimum, don’t slurp your tea, don’t blow your nose using your napkin, and chew with your mouth closed.

2. Dress for the occasion. Most establishments will have a “smart casual” dress code, which for men refers to a collared shirt, trousers, clean/ un-scuffed shoes, no ripped jeans, and no sportswear (including trainers). Ladies are encouraged to dress elegantly. As Coco Chanel once said, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman”.

3. As my grandmother would always say, “elbows off the table!”

4. “Should the teacup accompany the saucer when I pick it up?” Some etiquette experts say yes, however other experts disagree. It really comes down to your own personal preference. If you do choose to drink your tea whilst holding the saucer, remember that the saucer is held in the left hand and the teacup in the right (reversed if you are left-handed). The saucer is held in the palm of your hand, resting on four fingers (slightly spread apart) with the thumb resting on the rim. The teacup is held by placing your index finger through the handle, the thumb just above to support the grip, and the middle finger just below the handle for added security. If you choose not to use the saucer, then the same rule applies to holding the teacup, and once you have finished gently place the teacup back onto the saucer.

5. It is an affectation to raise your pinky finger even slightly. Tuck it away ladies, because it’s a big no-no at the afternoon tea table.

6. When it comes to stirring your tea, ensure that you place your spoon in the cup at a 6 O’clock position and fold the liquid in a gentle back and forth motion towards the 12 O’clock position. Be mindful not to hit the sides of the cup with your spoon to avoid making “clinking” sounds. When you have finished with the spoon place it on the right side of the saucer.

7. Never fill your cup to the rim. The last thing you want is to spill tea onto your saucer.

8. If you need to leave the table temporarily, always place your napkin to the right side of the place setting. If you leave a soiled napkin on your chair, you could potentially damage the upholstery.

9. If you are offered biscuits, avoid dunking them into your tea.

10. Scones should be consumed in bite sized pieces. Simply break off a piece, put it on your plate, and use your knife to apply the jam and cream.

11. Macaron vs Macaroon.

This is a Macaron

This is a Macaroon