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The Ultimate Guide to Afternoon Tea Etiquette

Afternoon tea is a quintessentially British tradition, much like Trooping the Colour and complaining about the weather. It’s also very instagrammable, which explains why it’s made a huge comeback with popular establishments requiring a reservation weeks in advance.

It all began when the Duchess of Bedford decided the wait between lunch and dinner was simply too long and arranged a light meal of tea, sandwiches and cakes halfway through. Scones were later added to the menu giving us the traditional Afternoon Tea we enjoy today. Before you embark on this culinary and social delight, read through our top Afternoon Tea etiquette tips to make the most of the experience.

How to take Afternoon Tea like a gentleman

1. Should I eat beforehand?
Most establishments offer a filling selection of finger sandwiches and cakes so, unless you’re absolutely starving, you should be ok.

2. Does High Tea sound more posh?
In the olden days of class segregation, workers and servants had High Tea that was a proper meal. Nowadays, some restaurants use this term to please tourists but you may want to check what they mean by it. You may also come across Cream Tea, which only includes scones, cream and jam.

3. What should I wear?
Some establishments, especially hotels, implement a strict dress code so you may want to check. If you’re unsure a lounge suit
and tie will never fail you.

4. To tea or not to tea?
Is it even Afternoon Tea if you don’t accompany it with tea? You’re most likely to be offered loose leaf team and, if there’s a host, allow them to pour it for you. Milk, sugar and lemon can be added later. When it’s time to drink, lift the cup without the saucer and avoid lifting your little finger because who does that?

5. Don’t cause a stir
According to tea experts, you should never stir your tea in a circular motion but gently wave the spoon back and forth. Apparently, this makes for better stirring and also reduces the risk of causing a commotion when your spoon hits the cup.

6. Fine, can I eat now?
Start with the sandwiches, then proceed to the scones and finish your Afternoon Tea with the cakes. Most are meant to be picked up with the fingers.

7. The scone is hard work
Break the scone into small pieces with your fingers or split it in half, again with your fingers. Then lather it in clotted cream and jam and enjoy. Interestingly, the Devon way is to spread cream first and then jam whereas the Cornish way is to start with the jam.

8. Am I excused?
When you’re done, lift the napkin from you lap, pat your mouth and then place it next to the plate. You survived your first Afternoon Tea and the swarms of tourists that surrounded you.

The Afternoon Tea experience is very enjoyable, which explains its enduring popularity. Book it as a special treat for yourself or a loved one and, if you want more style and etiquette tips delivered straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter!