It’s no secret that Afternoon Tea may be more popular than ever and what’s not to love? Delicious food, fragrant tea, friends and fancy china but did you know there are certain rules of etiquette surrounding the mid-day ritual?

So what is the expected behavior? The etiquette around afternoon tea can become quite involved, ranging from rules for invitations all the way to which direction the teapot faces on the table after being poured. We are highlighting the main points you will need to know to enjoy yourself while not committing any missteps.

A young brown-haired lady clad in a white chiffon dress pours tea from a white teapot into a white teacup in her opposite hand
A Young Lady Enjoys Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea Dress Code

Although most establishments have no formal dress code, it is always a good idea to pay good attention to your clothing. Smart casual is a good start. If attending an afternoon tea at a high-end hotel, they will usually specify their dress code directly on their website. Remember that afternoon tea is about tradition and tradition dictates that you pay attention to your appearance. Something one could argue that has fallen to the wayside in recent years.

Dresses are always nice. I tend to shy away from them in winter but in summer, a nice classic below-the-knee dress is appropriate. Remember, nobody wants to see your shoulders, extensive cleavage or the color of your knickers. Modesty is your friend.

If you opt for pants, opt for pants and not jeans. Although jeans are perfectly acceptable in many establishments, opting for dress pants will ensure that you are neither over or under dressed. Complete your outfit with a nice blouse or sweater and you are ready to go!

Essentials of The Afternoon Tea Menu

Oh the food! Food is generally eaten from the bottom tier to the top, starting with savories and sandwiches, then scones and finally sweets. Everything served at Afternoon Tea is bite-sized and to be eaten with the fingers.

A scone split in two sit on a plate. The scone has cream and jam. The scone is on a white plate
Jam or Cream First?

As a general rule, anything that takes more than 3 bites should be broken or cut, like a scone. Scones are to be broken apart with your hands.
As for which comes first, cream or jam on the scone, well that’s another discussion! Once the scones are dressed, they are never to be sandwiched back together.

A silver tiered tray sits on a white table
The Afternoon Tea Table

Sandwiches are bite-sized and easily eaten with your hands while sweets are eaten with a pastry or dessert fork. Remember, this isn’t competitive eating and while conversation at Afternoon Tea is always welcome, standard etiquette rules apply. Never speak with your mouth full and chew with your mouth closed. You would be surprised how often the latter eludes many!

2 dainty crustless tea sandwiches sit on a white plate on a table
Dainty Tea Sandwiches

The Correct Way to Stir Your Tea

There is one way and one way only. The correct way of stirring tea is to imagine a clock. Place the spoon at the 6 o’clock position and gently stir the tea towards 12 o’clock without touching the sides of the teacup. There is no need to cause a whirlpool and splash your tea all about! Stirring in this manner is the most effective way to dissolve added sugar. Once you’ve completed the task, place your spoon beside your cup on the saucer, not on the table. There is no need to clang the spoon on the side of the cup. I shudder! Remember, beautiful bone china teacups are to be admired and treasured and when in use, respected. Beating them into submission is a surefire way to chip them or worse break them!

Pinkies DOWN

I’ve seen the hashtag #pinkiesup on social media more times than I care to admit and each time I find the entries cringeworthy! Pinkies up should be discouraged at all costs and if you can remember nothing from this guide, remember this: PUT YOUR PINKIES DOWN!

Once considered a sign of class and elegance, the risen pinkie finger is now one of the most common faux pas of afternoon tea. So, if there are any etiquette rules for afternoon tea that you must follow, this would be the one.

So how do you hold your cup? Well, if you are seated at a table, you should raise your cup without the saucer. The saucer remains on the table. If you are standing, then you hold both the cup and saucer. Never craddle your cup with both hands. You aren’t sipping hot chocolate around a campfire.

William Hanson, Etiquette Expert, walks us through Afternoon Tea

Milk or Tea First?

There will never be a definitive answer to this question. Both schools of thought have notable benefits. Pouring the tea first allows you to flavor the tea to your personal taste. I find that when trying new teas, I like to taste the tea first and decide if it needs any modification. Personal preference will have me add milk and sugar to a stronger tea like English Breakfast or Irish Breakfast but a Lady Grey or Cream Earl Grey is perfectly fine on its own. The traditional school of thought is that putting milk first protected the delicate china from the damage of the boiling water. Along the same lines as the jam/cream debate, there is no hard and fast rule.

An overhead shot of milk being poured into a white teacup full of tea sitting on a table
Milk or Tea First?

Although afternoon tea is traditional, it should be also fun. With these afternoon tea etiquette rules in hand, grab your friends and head to tea. If you would like to read more about the different types of afternoon tea, you can read up about them here. If you want to delve into all the pomp and circumstance of afternoon tea, then perhaps a webinar with none other than William Hansen, Etiquette Expert, is in order. Hurry and register as the next installment takes place on April 15th

Enter Our Contest

As always, we love giving away a teacup each and every month! This month we have a lovely pink Aynsley up for grabs. To enter follow the link below. Our contest runs from April 5th until April 25th. For our full contest rules click here.

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