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Here at AfternoonTea.co.uk, we often get asked about the rules and etiquette that one must follow when indulging in this delightful institution. How long should you brew the tea for? Should you put the milk or tea in first? Fear not, as we have compiled together a list of the essential "dos and don'ts" of our favourite meal of the day.
Save for queuing and complaining about the weather, there are
very few traditions more British than 'Afternoon Tea'. What we now
know as Afternoon Tea derives from the Duchess of Bedford's desire
to fill the gap between lunch and dinner with a light meal of tea,
cakes and sandwiches in order to satisfy the hunger pangs. The
practice proved so popular that it soon developed into an
established social occasion amongst the higher classes and has
endured until today, where it has become more popular than
Read on below to ensure you are fully equipped when enjoying
Afternoon Tea at one of our many venues, but remember it is usually
a matter of personal taste and preference.
1 - What is the dress code for Afternoon
First things first, before you even sit down to enjoy a
delectable Afternoon Tea it is likely that you will be wondering
about the dress code for what seems such a formal occasion.
Most venues have a relaxed 'smart casual' dress code these
days, so there is no need for men to wear a jacket and tie (unless
otherwise specified) - trousers or smart jeans, collared shirt and
clean/un-scuffed shoes are acceptable. No sportswear or trainers
(sneakers). For the ladies it's the perfect excuse to get dressed
2 - Cream Tea or Afternoon Tea or High Tea or Royal
The terminology used often confuses people when talking about
Afternoon Tea. A 'Cream Tea' is usually just scones with cream and
preserves served with tea. 'Afternoon Tea' is traditionally
sandwiches, scones and a selection of cakes, served with tea.
Visitors from overseas often refer to the British Afternoon Tea as
'High Tea' but this term traditionally signifies an entirely
different meal, usually comprising more savoury foods and an
altogether heartier meal, historically taken by the lower
classes. Some hotels, such as the Ritz in London advertise
'High Tea in London' due to the popularity of Afternoon Tea with
'Royal Tea' is a less widely used term signifying the addition of
a glass of champagne to a traditional Afternoon Tea, for those
extra special occasions!
3 - Is it acceptable to dunk biscuits into my
There is not much to say on this matter, other than a very
stern and finger wagging no! In the privacy of your own home this
is a perfectly acceptable and enjoyable practice, however, we
suggest you do not partake in this when taking Afternoon Tea in one
of the finest hotels in the country.
4 - Cream or jam first?
An integral part of an Afternoon Tea experience is the
inclusion of freshly baked, warm scones with cream, butter and
preserves. This conundrum, along with the meaning of life and how
long is a piece of string, is yet another of life's on-going
debates. Both the Cornish and Devonshire people lay claim to the
invention of the Cream Tea, and each have a view on the order of
the toppings. The Devon tradition is cream first with jam spread on
top, whilst the Cornish tradition is to slather the jam on and top
it off with clotted cream. At the end of the day, it remains a
matter of preference.
5 - How should I stir the tea?
When preparing your tea, there are many ways in which you can
tailor the drink to your own personal tastes. This can be through
the addition of lemon, sugar or milk. No matter what your
accompaniment, there is one thing that always stands: you must
remember to stir correctly! Place your spoon in a 6 o'clock
position in the cup and fold the tea towards the 12 o'clock
position whilst making sure not to 'clink' the spoon against the
sides of the cup. You must also remember to not leave the spoon in
the cup, instead placing it on the saucer to the side of the
6 - How long should I let my tea brew
This is another common question, and another that lies firmly
in the realm of personal preference, although there is some science
involved as well. Depending on your own taste and the type of tea
used you can alter brewing time to suit, but the longer you brew
the tea the higher the level of antioxidants called flavonoids,
which research has shown to have many health benefits. We would
recommend three to six minutes of brewing time, no longer, so as to
avoid damaging the flavour of the tea.
7 - What type of tea should I use?
There are hundreds of different varieties of tea and each
particular tea suits certain tastes, accompaniments and brewing
times, however we would always stress the use of loose leaf tea
when crafting your perfect Afternoon Tea, so as to obtain the
finest experience possible. Tea bags and the popular brands of tea
certainly have their place, but the use of a speciality loose leaf
tea not only enhances the flavour, as well as the overall
experience of taking Afternoon Tea.
8 - Pinkies Up?
Absolutely not. The common misconception is that outstretching
one's little finger aids the balance of the cup when taking a sip
of tea; this is almost certainly not the case and is not only
pointless, but slightly silly. We wouldn't recommend grasping the
cup in the palm of your hand, but there is no need to stick a
pinkie out. It has rapidly become one of Afternoon Teas most common
9 - How should I eat my scones?
Common practice dictates that when eating the scone section of
an Afternoon Tea you would break small pieces off and top each
section with the desired amount of butter, cream or jam eating them
individually so as to avoid any social mishaps. This however is a
far less observed guideline and some may choose to slice the scone
in half and top each section with the desired preserves and
10 - Should I put milk or tea in to the cup
The question of the order in which you add milk to tea or tea
to milk is quite possibly the most hotly debated of all the tea
related enigmas and unfortunately, like many good tea connoisseurs
before us, we are unable to offer the definitive answer.
Both schools of thought have notable benefits. If you put the
tea in first then you allow the guest to flavour their own tea to
their personal preference. Putting milk in first apparently offers
a better combination of the two liquids and traditionally the cold
milk protected delicate china from boiling tea that may crack or
damage it. You can usually make the decision yourself by pouring
your own tea, but at some of the top hotels the tea is poured for
you and you add the milk afterwards.
Despite all of the quaint practices associated with the
experience, the important thing to remember is that Afternoon Tea
is meant to be fun, and you can't let the etiquette get too much in
the way of your own personal enjoyment.
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