The conventional tea etiquette of the past Extend your pinkie finger—discover all there is to know about traditional afternoon tea ceremony decorum. We’ve been looking at all things classically British and some of the quintessentially British customs and traditions connected with tea.
In this post, we’d play pretend and pretend to host an afternoon tea party with all of the various historical “regulations” of etiquette that must be followed, as well as the mistakes to be avoided.
Setting the Cake Stand
At an afternoon tea, the food should be served in a tiered cake stand, since we all have one of those cluttering up our cupboards. The top layer is for scones (in the 1700s, when tea parties became popular, the top tier was the only one that would fit a warming dome over it, so that’s where the scones had to go), followed by sandwiches in the middle tier, and sweets, pastries, and desserts on the bottom layer.
Sandwiches, scones, and sweets should be eaten in that order (no cheating!).
Scones-“sc-on” or “s-cone”?
However, if you pronounce the phrase “scones,” the only thing to remember in terms of appropriate etiquette is how they should be consumed.
It’s better to cut them in half and spread jam and butter on them the right way rather than cut them in half directly followed by spreading jam and butter on top.
Take Notice of the Napkin
To the left of the plate, with the folded edge to the left and the open edge to the right, is where you should rest your napkin. Whatever form it takes, whether square, rectangular, or triangular, this rule applies.
When leaving the table, a napkin should never be set on a chair; if excusing oneself from the table, the napkin should be placed to the left of the plate.
Did you know that folding the napkin with a crease and placing it to the left of the plate at the end of dinner is an indication to the host that you’d like to be invited back?
It’s standard practice for the host to pour out the tea and leave the teapot on the table with the spout facing him or her.
When sitting at a table, the best way to drink tea is to raise the teacup, leave the saucer on the table, and return the cup to the saucer between sips. It’s considered bad form to gaze anywhere but into the teacup while drinking tea. And no slurping!
Unfortunately, it is not a good form to dunk one’s biscuits in tea! (Of course, this only applies when dining in polite company!) Finally, no washing down your dinner with tea!
Don’t Cause a Stir
You should never swirl your tea! To properly stir, place the spoon in the 12 o’clock position and gently fold the liquid back and forth 2-3 times to the 6 o’clock location, never letting your teaspoon rest in the cup. Place your teaspoon on the saucer to the right of the cup when it’s not in use.
Today, the debate over whether milk should be poured before or after the tea is still vigorously contested. When delicate, soft porcelain was first invented, milk was added to deluxe, flexible porcelain first in order to avoid fractures, but once more robust porcelain became available, this became no longer necessary. So it’s entirely a matter of personal preference today.
Put Down the Pinkie
The raised pinkie finger has long been seen as a sign of elegance and refinement, but it is now one of the most frequent faux pas at afternoon tea.
The origins of a raised pinkie may be traced back to Roman times when people would dine with three fingers and peasants with their whole hand, yet it’s more probable to link it to the first tea cups.
The earliest porcelain cups had no handles, so in order to drink from them without spilling them on oneself, you would spread your hand around with the pinkie up for balance and support while stretching. Even after cups were invented with handles, no one knows how it began, but it’s critical to keep doing it!
So there you have it: a little bit of etiquette knowledge to get you through an elegant tea ceremony.