Afternoon Tea Etiquette

Tea Party at Four Seasons and The Lanesborough Hotel

Posted by Liz Taylor Jun 15, 2012

I traveled to London last weekend to get an authentic feel for afternoon tea and the etiquette involved with this popular pastime.

Some of the interesting things I observed throughout my afternoon tea at Four Seasons and The Lanesborough Hotel were:

  1. London Afternoon Tea includes freshly baked scones, thick clotted cream, homemade fruit preserves, finger sandwiches (chicken, salmon, roast beef, cucumber and egg salad varieties), petit four cakes and of course, tea. 
  2. Sandwiches are eaten first (delicately with your hands), followed by sweets such as cakes, pastries and scones.
  3. The actual drinking of tea can take place throughout the ‘meal’. If you take milk with your tea, milk is poured in after the tea itself. Cubed sugar is offered- not packets of sugar.
  4. A tea strainer is provided to prevent the loose leaf tea from pouring into your cup.
  5. Scones are always broken; never cut. They should be served with jam and clotted cream. The jam goes on first, followed by the cream. 
  6. Cakes and pastries should be prepared so that a pastry fork is not necessary; although, if that is not the case, the use of such an implement is perfectly acceptable.
  7. Teacups, saucers and plates do not have to match.
  8. The small teaspoon is placed on the saucer, behind the cup when not in use. The spoon never remains in the cup while sipping tea.
  9. Hold the teacup handle with your fingers placed to the front and back of the handle (this was the hardest part for me). It is considered rude to loop fingers through the handle or to hold the body of the cup with the palm of the hand.

Exactly how did tea start? In 1840, Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, asked for a tea tray and cakes at four o’clock, as she found she was hungry at this time and had nothing to do. She found this new pastime hard to break and soon invited other ladies in society to join her. The Duchess’ guests went back to their houses and initiated the ritual, thus spreading the new custom. Queen Victoria liked the idea so much she started Garden Parties – the first of which was in 1868. They were extremely popular and are still held to this day.  

Afternoon tea parties are now available through Etiquette Principles upon request.



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