A Guide to Afternoon Tea


Afternoon Tea is a lovely time honored tradition. Often enjoyed at a low table, with similarly low chairs, Afternoon Tea is served between the hours of 2pm and 5pm. Not to be confused with High Tea, the traditional name for the English evening meal, which is served at a “high” dining table after 6pm. Afternoon Tea is less of a meal and more an occasion.

Let’s say you’ve found yourself at a tea service. Perhaps the fine china, tiered trays and elegance feels intimidating. You are not alone. Afternoon Tea can be compared to the childlike practice of playing dress-up. Take the opportunity to indulge in the ceremony of it all, avoid the temptation to check your phone or snap too many pictures. Be present, enjoying the company of those around you. 

Now…time for tea!

Once you seat yourself, you may be asked which type you prefer: Cream Tea or Royal Tea:

  • Cream Tea includes finger sandwiches, scones (a quick bread from Scotland, pronounced “skohn,” like gone), and an assortment of tarts and small cakes.
  • Royal Tea would likely have the same fare (perhaps with a few trendy or expensive upgrades like caviar), with the inclusion of a glass of champagne – cheers!

Once you are served, get acquainted with your surroundings. An Afternoon tea setting includes the aforementioned three tiered tray, fork & knife, tea cup with saucer, demitasse spoon, lemon wedges, sometimes a tea strainer, tea pot, milk, sugar and tongs. One person (historically the host or whoever made the reservation) is designated to serve the tea to others (and will continue to be mindful and serve the tea throughout the duration). He or she may ask how you take your tea:

  • weak – less tea will be poured for you to dilute with milk
  • strong – more tea will be poured, leaving less room for milk

If you intend to enjoy sugar in your tea, you would add that once the tea is poured, stir and then if you like, add milk. If you enjoy sugar and lemon, you must omit the milk. If you are a tea enthusiast, you know to never add lemon to a cup of Earl Grey because it disguises the delightful touch of bergamot oil that makes it uniquely it’s own. You also know milk is never added to green, oolong, white or herbal teas because it may curdle – oh my!

A few final rules you may not know to help you feel confident and comfortable at an Afternoon Tea:

  1. Finger sandwiches may be cut with a knife and fork, but are brought to your mouth with fingers
  2. Scones should be enjoyed first because they are still warm! You may break them apart with your hand and enjoy one piece at a time. Place a dollop of jam and cream on your plate first, then introduce them to your scone. The order you put them on your scone is up to you but beware, it is hotly debated in parts of the world which should be put on first. Like finger sandwiches, scones are fellow “finger foods”
  3. Desserts are to be enjoyed at the very end (save the best for last)
  4. Lift only your tea cup when sitting at a table
  5. Be sure your spoon rests on the backside of the saucer after stirring your tea
  6. Look into your tea cup while drinking (never over the rim)
  7. The correct way to hold a tea cup is to pinch the handle with your index finger and thumb rather (hooking your finger through the little hole might get it stuck)
  8. And never ever slurp your tea…it will scare away the fairies!

Mrs. B

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