4 O’clock in Kensington Palace rings the time for one of the most famous English customs: the traditional afternoon tea. If it’s true that nowadays having an afternoon tea is not very common in most popular households because of our contemporary lives, it is nevertheless still well-known and offered in every coffee shop and tea salon, and very much appreciated. So, if you have the opportunity to sit down for an afternoon tea, you have to do it right by following a few rules of the afternoon tea etiquette. 


The little history of the afternoon tea

Afternoon Tea history

The habit of drinking tea in England has been around for a little while now, since the 17th century. It was popularised during the 1660s by the King Charles II and his Portuguese wife Catherine the Braganza. However, it’s only in 1840, that the concept of “afternoon tea” appeared. The seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna, initiated this tradition to calm down her afternoon anger. And because, the more the merrier, she used to invite friends to join her. And this is how the so British afternoon tea was born. 

For the longer version it’s here

1. It’s Afternoon Tea not High Tea

Afternoon tea vs high tea

Do not get confused if you hear the expression “high tea”. It exists but it’s all about the time and the food. Afternoon tea is usually served/taken from 3 pm to 5 pm and includes of course tea, but also crust-less finger sandwiches, scones with butter, cream and jam, and other sweet desserts. When the afternoon tea is over, that’s when the High starts, around 5 pm. It can be heavy with meat dishes so it closer to an early dinner than a snacks time. 


2.The set stays together

set stays together

If you are asked to pass your teacup to someone wishing to pour some for you, you must pass the saucer and teacup all together. 


3.Use the strainer


If you are having a proper afternoon tea, do not expect a teabag. You must use the strainer placed over your teacup that you will remove before drinking if the teapot contains loose leaf tea. Some teapots already filter the loose leaves so you just need to pour the tea with both hands.


4. Tea comes first

pouring tea first

This is the moment to show how well you know about the afternoon tea etiquette: what is hot always comes before what is cold. Therefore, first, you pour the tea and then the milk, only milk, no cream in a traditional afternoon tea. 


5. The art of stirring

british stirring teacup

Always keep a clock in your mind and be gentle with the tea. You must not stir it completely because you mustn’t create a whirlpool no matter the direction (clockwise or counterclockwise). Your spoon must go only from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock, and you repeat elegantly. 


6. Where is your handle point?


It depends on your hand. If you are right-handed the handle of your teacup will be at 3 o’clock. If you are left-handed it will be the opposite side…. at 9 o’clock. 


7. It’s a TEA cup 


Forget the habit of wrapping your hands around the cup because this is not a coffee mug. You must not loop your thumb and put your index on the top of the handle. Instead, you pinch your index and thumb between the loop of the handle and then put your middle finger along the bottom of the handle to support it. That’s how you drink from a teacup. 


8. Leave the saucer alone

 tea rule about saucer

Unless you are standing up or sitting with no table close by, the saucer stays on the table while you are drinking your tea. 


9. What about the pinkie finger?

 pinkie finger tea cup

You may have heard that you should lift your pinkie finger up when you’re enjoying your tea. Unfortunately, it’s all wrong, according to the afternoon tea etiquette you must never put your pinkie out. Let it remain peacefully with the other fingers. 


Now that you know the basics of the tea etiquette, your perfect manners will most likely make you stand out at your next afternoon tea. But, if you happen, somehow, not to be a tea lover, do not worry because if the name has been kept in the language, the afternoon tea has turned out to be more a snack time these days, so you can still dare to enjoy a cup of coffee or a cold healthy juice (during the few sunny warm days) instead of tea.

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