The Best Afternoon Tea Etiquette Rules to Follow

Did you know that afternoon tea began in the 1840s with Anne, the Duchess of Bedford? Back in the day, people tended to eat dinner at around 8 in the evening. This is in contrast to lunch which people would eat several hours earlier. Most people forced themselves to tolerate this long time period without snacking, but the Duchess of Bedford decided to change that.

She would become ravenous in the middle of the day and simply could not wait for dinner. So, she asked her servants to bring her some tea, butter, bread, and pastries. Thus, afternoon tea was born. While afternoon tea is not as popular of a practice as it once was, it can still be fun to have afternoon tea with your friends or family even today.

After all, it’s a pretty great excuse to take a break from work and snack on some delicious pastries and tea. But there are some afternoon tea etiquette rules you and your company should follow to have the best and most authentic experience.

afternoon tea

Afternoon Tea Etiquette Rules

1. Dress well – Most of the time, torn jeans and a baggy t-shirt are enough to bring you into most types of restaurants and cafes. However, afternoon tea gives you a chance to dress up a little. This doesn’t mean you should show up to afternoon tea in a ballgown. However, you shouldn’t show up in the clothes you haven’t washed for three days either. Dressing well is a sign of respect for your host. After all, your host is going to all the trouble to serve you tea and snacks. By dressing well, you can show your host that you are putting in some effort as well.

2. Don’t serve yourself first – Many of us are accustomed to diving right into our food as soon as the plate hits the table without considering what anyone else at the table is doing. However, when you’re at afternoon tea, you should avoid serving yourself first whether you are the host or the guest. As a guest, it is important to let the host serve you. This is because it is the job of the host to take care of the guests. If you serve yourself first, you are taking away this important responsibility from your host and, in a way, disrespecting them. If you are the host, you should avoid serving yourself first for the same reason.

3. Don’t use your phone – Many of us have no qualms about staring at our phones at the dinner table. However, at afternoon tea, this would be a sign of disrespect. This is because afternoon tea is a time for friends and family to sit down together, eat, and talk. It is important to be in the moment. You can’t do that very well if you have one eye on your phone and the other eye on your croissant. By putting away your phone and talking, you might learn something new about your friends or family members.

4. Do not stick your pinky out – The famous stereotype of afternoon tea involves people haughtily sticking out their pinkies as they grasp their teacups. However, sticking out your pinky is not as fancy of a gesture as you might think. In fact, you aren’t supposed to stick out your pinky at all when you drink tea. Instead, you should gently grasp the tea handle with your thumb and index finger while your middle finger supports the bottom of the handle. This will give you maximum control over the small teacup so you won’t spill anything or damage the cup.

5. Stir your tea the right way – It is the instinct for most of us to stir our tea in a circular motion. However, when you’re having afternoon tea, you should avoid doing this at all costs. Instead, you should stir up and down. Why does this matter? Because stirring in a circular motion can cause a lot of noise that might interrupt your riveting conversations. More than that, you might end up splashing your tea or damaging the delicate interior of the teacup with your spoon. This is especially true if you or your host is using antique or otherwise fragile teacups.

6. Don’t gulp your tea – This one may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people unconsciously slurp down their tea and other beverages. Since the teacups used for afternoon tea tend to be quite small compared to the average coffee mug, you might be especially tempted to down your entire teacup in one gulp. Try to avoid this urge. Instead, sip your tea slowly. By doing this, you won’t make the host or other guests feel rushed. You will also be able to distinguish flavors in the tea you might have not otherwise noticed. You will also reduce the risk of burning your mouth on your tea.

7. Use your fingers for the food – This rule may be surprising to you. Afternoon tea seems like such a prestigious occasion so shouldn’t you use a fork and knife for everything? Not at all! In fact, everything served at afternoon tea is meant to be eaten with your hands. The food may include bread and butter, jam, or clotted cream, cakes, croissants, tuna or cucumber sandwiches, and other pastries. Of course, don’t wrap your entire fist around the nearest bonbon and shove it into your mouth. Try to move with delicate movements and use two or three fingers when picking up a piece of food. Also, don’t be touching all the food without actually taking it. The only time you should use a utensil is when you use a knife to apply a spread to your bread.

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