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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. Although it was never completely out of fashion, it has lately become all the rage and no Instagram account that respects itself is complete without at least one snap in front of a cake tier stand.

This magnificent institution began when the Duchess of Bedford decided to end the misery of the long wait between lunch and dinner with a light meal of tea, sandwiches and cakes. 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, do quickly read through our top tips to make sure you look the part.

How to take Afternoon Tea like a gentleman

1. Should I eat at home?
Well, this is meant to be a light meal and a cosy opportunity for conversation. Food gorging is hardly acceptable.

2. Does High Tea sound more posh?
In the olden days of class segregation, workers and servants had High Tea and it was a proper meal. However, some fine establishments use this term to please tourists so, yes, you can sound like a tourist if you like. And before you ask, a Cream Tea only includes scones, cream and jam.

3. What should I wear?
Smart casual is appropriate in most places serving afternoon tea but do check with the venue as some implement a stricter dress code. If you find yourself in need of inspiration, check out our collection of ready-to-wear suits that boast tailoring details usually only found in bespoke fashion. Depending on the venue, you can style the suit up or down.

4. To tea or not to tea?
The name gives it away really. Loose leaf tea is the drink of choice. If there is a host, allow them to pour it for you. Milk, sugar and lemon can be added later, according to taste. When it’s time to drink, lift the cup, without the saucer please, and never raise your little finger because who does that?

5. Don’t cause a stir
The whole point of Afternoon Tea is to enjoy a civilised conversation with civilised people. Serving, eating and drinking should not be disruptive. To this effect, never stir your tea in a circular motion but gently wave the spoon back and forth. Connoisseurs argue that it makes for better stirring (whatever this means) and you reduce the risk of causing a commotion when your spoon hits the cup.

6. Fine, can I eat now?
Yes, starting with the sandwiches, then proceeding with the scones and ending with the cakes. Most are meant to be eaten with the fingers.

7. The scone is hard work
Indeed. First of all, you must break it into small pieces with your fingers or split in half, again with your fingers. It’s all very primitive really. Then, you have to lather it in clotted cream and jam because when Afternoon Tea first started people didn’t worry about their cholesterol as much. 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 are 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 quite possibly the swarms of tourists that surrounded you.

Although tea may not be your poison of choice, and you may feel that an Afternoon choreography of scones and cakes is somewhat lacking in adventure, the mere popularity of the experience suggests that there must be something to it so you should definitely give it a go. Besides, your other half is bound to love all the fancy cakes! In fact, if you are planning an Afternoon Tea date, you may want to read our blog on navigating the minefield of first dates! For more style and etiquette tips, sign up to our weekly newsletter and have them delivered to your inbox.