Afternoon Tea Etiquette


Have you enjoyed a proper afternoon tea? I recently had the pleasure of taking a trip with Kat to London. It was thrilling to see the iconic buildings and those precious red phone booths and double decker buses! While there, we of course had to partake in a posh afternoon tea. Kat was a bit nervous about attending her first true afternoon tea in a British restaurant. So we set off to learn all of the etiquette rules. Here are the important things we learned:

First off dearies, the right way to refer to this meal is afternoon tea. Never ever say ‘high tea’.  High tea is actually a completely different meal with mostly savory food, more like an early dinner.

What to wear: If you are attending an afternoon tea in a hotel or fancier restaurant, across the board it seems like ‘smart casual’ attire is appropriate. But Kat likes to use the occasion to dress up a bit, no matter where the tea is being served. Tea just tastes better when you are dressed up in your finest clothes!

Meal Choices: When you finally sit down for your afternoon tea and are handed a menu, there are sometimes a few different options. You could see a ‘cream tea’ which is just scones served with clotted cream, jam, and a pot of tea. You’ll of course see your full afternoon tea, and sometimes there is a ‘champagne tea’ option (sometimes called ‘royal tea’ in the UK). This just means a glass of the bubbly stuff is added to your afternoon tea. You may also see a children’s tea option, which is perfect if you have little tea aficionados along with you!

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Drinking your tea:  You should add whatever milk and/or sweetener you prefer. There are many debates on whether the milk should be added before or after the tea. I say just do what you like! And please don’t sip with your pinkies up- that is a very common misconception. And let’s face it, it just looks silly!

Some establishments will give you a small strainer to put on top of your teacup when you pour out the tea. This is because the leaves are still in the pot. Simply put the strainer on your cup when you pour, and remove after. Many places will either remove the leaves, or use a pot that is enough for a single serving. This way the leaves do not sit in the tea, continuing to steep and get bitter.


Stirring your tea: try to stir your tea gently trying not to clink the sides of the cup (that can be painful for us teacups, you know!). You should try to be as neat as possible. Also be sure not to leave your spoon in the teacup. Place it on the saucer.

The lovely food: The proper sequence to eat the delicacies presented is first the finger sandwiches, then scones, and then finally the pastries.  The sandwiches can vary in style but often have one with cucumber, one chicken salad, one egg, and one with smoked salmon. Scones can be plain or have bits of fruit, ginger, or even cinnamon in them. When it comes to adding the clotted cream and jam, add as much or as little as you like. But be sure to put a small serving of each on your plate to use as you go, instead of constantly dipping into the serving vessels.

Of course dearies, you should first and foremost enjoy yourselves! Relax, choose your tea, and take in the gorgeous surroundings. There may even be live music playing and fresh flowers to enjoy. Do you enjoy afternoon tea on occasion? If so, where do you go?

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