Afternoon Tea Etiquette: The Do’s and Don’ts

Did you know that the concept of afternoon tea only started in 1840? The idea began with the Seventh Duchess of Bedford of England, Anna, who would get quite hungry in the middle of the day.

Back then, people would eat dinner at a late hour, usually around 8 in the evening, thus leaving a large gap of time between lunch and dinner.

While most people back then preferred to put up with their hunger, Anna instead requested some tea, cake, bread, and butter to be brought to her sometime in the afternoon. This idea caught on, as did tea etiquette which was a byproduct of people naturally gathering together to enjoy afternoon tea (which is more or less the same as high tea).

While afternoon tea may not be as popular as it once was, many people still practice it and it can be a very enjoyable experience. But what kind of high tea etiquette should you keep in mind when you find yourself being invited to afternoon tea with some friends? Keep reading to find out.

What Not to Do When Enjoying Afternoon Tea

Many of the more formal meal manners of years past have been lost to time, but afternoon tea retains some of them. For that reason, it would be considered rude to break some of these rules, even by accident. For example, one thing people don’t realize is that proper tea etiquette does not involve serving yourself first.

In most dining situations, no one cares who takes what kind of food first. But with afternoon tea, especially since it isn’t a whole meal, who gets served first is actually an important consideration. If you are a guest, you should never serve yourself first.

Instead, it is the host’s job to serve the guests and ensure that everyone is satisfied. Besides serving sandwiches or pastries, the host will also be responsible for filling up everyone’s teacups and providing honey, milk, and sugar. By serving yourself first, you would be depriving your host of his or her duty.

And, if you are the host, absolutely do not serve yourself first. As the gracious host, you should prioritize your guests above yourself and serve yourself last. Another thing you should avoid as the host is pouring milk into teacups before the tea.

This is an old rule that comes from the fact that teacups used to crack when exposed to different temperatures. However, today’s technology allows us to have much tougher teacups.

Whether you are the guest or the host, you should never stir your tea in a circular motion. Instead, stir gently back and forth and then leave your spoon on your saucer. Circular stirring tends to make a mess and can also make a lot of noise.

If you have delicate teacups, circular stirring may also end up damaging your cups.

Proper Afternoon Tea Etiquette to Keep in Mind

One of the most important things you need to keep in mind when enjoying afternoon tea is to dress well. In our modern age, no one has a problem showing up to dinner in ripped jeans or a stained or wrinkled shirt. Most of the time, our meals are rushed and we have no need to enjoy the moment.

The situation is quite different with afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is a moment during the day in which everyone can come together, snack a little, chat, and relax. This little period of snacking is all about people sharing interests and admiring each other as friends.

It is also an effort that your host has made to serve tea and pastries to close friends. If you show up in clothes that you haven’t washed in a few days or wear a pair of dirty shoes, your appearance shows that you are not respecting the effort your host has made for you and the other guests. Dressing poorly also shows that you have not made any effort yourself.

After all, even if you are a guest at high tea, you shouldn’t be lazy. Being an accommodating guest is always important, and by dressing well, you can show the host and the other guests that you care. In the same vein, you should keep your posture in mind as you enjoy afternoon tea.

Drinking tea is the easy part of afternoon tea, and many people find that it is much harder to remember not to slouch.

Back in the 1950s and before, people learned to sit up straight at the dinner table, but once the youth culture of the 1960s took over, slouching became popular and still is. But sitting up straight at afternoon tea is important and it helps with digestion.

How to Drink Tea

Your host may serve any kind of tea during afternoon tea from lapsang souchong to oolong to Earl Grey tea. You might feel overwhelmed by the selection of sugar cubes, honey, and milk, but you shouldn’t be. Your host will ask you if would like any of these additions in your tea and add them for you.

When you drink, be sure not to gulp it down. The teacups are small for a reason, and the reason is that they’re made to sip from. Also, don’t stick your pinky out.

Many people think this is the proper way to enjoy afternoon tea, but it isn’t. Instead, keep your pinky tucked in and grasp the teacup’s handle between your index finger and thumb.

Everything You Need to Know About Afternoon Tea Etiquette

While tea etiquette might not be as popular as it was in the past, it can still be a fun way to spend your afternoon.

By knowing the right way to behave when invited to afternoon tea, you can be sure you won’t end up disrespecting your host or fellow guests. You will also be much more confident with all your eloquent tea knowledge under your belt!

To learn more about related topics, check out the food section on our blog.

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