So an invitation to Afternoon Tea from the Queen of England isn’t forthcoming to us mere mortals, but that is no reason to not brush up on the proper protocol. It might come in handy for your next baby shower invitation or a day out with your girlfriends. Whether you are hosting, attending, or simply curious about how the aristocracy likes its Afternoon Tea, here’s everything you need to know.
Cultural Significance of Afternoon TeaThe quintessentially British, and seemingly reserved for the aristocratic blue-blood royal tradition of Afternoon Tea, is relatively speaking, new. Though the British have been consuming and enjoying tea since the 1660s, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that ‘Afternoon Tea’ became a part of the British royal household. It was Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who, famished between lunch and late dinners at 8 o’clock, asked for a light meal around four in the afternoon. She requested a pot of tea accompanied by bread, butter, jam and/or cucumber sandwiches to be brought into her chambers. The Duchess then started inviting and hosting her friends during the late afternoons, and the charming ritual of gathering friends for tea began.
Given how it first came into vogue, Afternoon Tea remained for a considerable amount of time in history an upper-class ritual. Aristocratic women and socialites would wear fashionably long gowns with gloves and hats and drink tea imported from India and Ceylon. Over the years, Afternoon Tea became more democratic and started becoming a staple in almost every household in Britain, irrespective of class boundaries. The tradition also spread across the world, especially in the British colonies across the globe. To this day, Afternoon Tea holds a special place in the British royal household and is an integral part of Britain’s tea tradition.
9 Afternoon Tea Etiquette Rules
1. Afternoon Tea vs High Tea
2. The Saucer Stays, on the Table
3. It is not a Coffee Mug
4. Parallel to the edge of the table
5. No Storms in the Teacup
Don’t stir up a whirlpool in your cup of tea when dissolving the sugar or honey. Simply and smoothly move the teaspoon up and down, and gently fold in the milk and/or sugar. Don’t tap the teaspoon on the side of the cup. Don’t sip the tea with the spoon still in the cup. Don’t lick the spoon after stirring in the enhancements.
6. Tea comes First
First, the tea is poured into teacups. The milk and sugar are added after that and folded in. Premium loose leaf tea is used for Afternoon Tea at most restaurants and formal tea rooms, so don’t expect a teabag. A strainer will be placed over the teacups and tea from a teapot will be poured through it. The strainer will be removed, before the tea is served.
7. The Set Stays Together
8. Savoury to Sweet
There is a correct order when it comes to eating the food that accompanies Afternoon Tea. You can use fingers to eat the food, it should just be eaten in a certain order. First the sandwiches, then the scones, the cakes and pastries come last.
9. Rein in the Pinkie
Should the pinkie be up or down, that is the question. IN, that is the answer. Your little finger neither needs to salute the Queen of England, nor be curled up like an Austen heroine, rein it in as you naturally would when enjoying a cup of tea.
Faux Pas to Avoid
4. Don’t cut the scones into two halves with a knife or bite into it as a whole. Use your fingers to break bite size portions as you eat. Do not dunk the scone into the tea.
5. Don’t place the napkin on your knees or on your chair. The napkin should always be placed on the left side of the plate, even when you have excused yourself from the table. The open edge should be on the right, i.e., towards the plate, and the folded edge should be on the left.
10. Don’t lick your fingers when you eat, as delicious as the sandwiches and luxurious cakes may be.
11. Dab your mouth with the napkin, don’t wipe it. It’s a napkin, not a face towel and shouldn’t be used as one to wipe away the crumbs. Dab the napkin gently around the corners of your mouth to wipe away anything that might be there.
12. Don’t use the same spoon for the cream, jam, and sugar. Use a separate spoon for each.
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