E-‘Tea’-Quette: British Afternoon Tea

British life is synonymous with tea time, when you sit down to enjoy little cakes and savouries, and, of course, a cup or two of tea.

If you’re invited to afternoon tea by a British friend, or you decide to visit a hotel for tea, what should you expect? And what is the etiquette to follow?

Read on to know more.

Dress code

Most tea venues and tea parties require that you dress in smart casuals, so neither men nor women need to be too formal. But it’s best to avoid sneakers and t-shirts.  

Food and beverage

There will be tea, of course, along with little snacks like sandwiches and scones (pronounced “sconn”).

If there is a cake stand, each item is placed on a different tier. Generally, the top tier is for scones, the middle one for sandwiches and the bottom tier for desserts or pastries.

Preparing the tea

The tea will be served in a pot, with matching cups and saucers. Your host may even offer you different types of tea, usually of the loose-leaf variety. Each tea will need its suggested brewing time before it’s ready to be poured.

Serving the tea

Someone is nominated, or may offer to pour out the tea. They need to pour each cup one by one, using a strainer, and then passing the cup before pouring the next.

There’s a debate on whether milk should be added before or after the tea is poured. In hotels and tea houses, the host or staff may pour the tea for you and let you add the milk later. Everyone adds their own sugar.

Drinking the tea

Stir your teaspoon clockwise, starting at the six o’ clock position in your cup and moving towards 12 o’ clock. Make sure you don’t click against the edges of the cup. Then place the teaspoon to the right of your cup on the saucer.

Hold the cup by the handle with your thumb and index finger, and bring it up to your mouth. Place the cup on the saucer between sips.  Never raise your pinkie!

The right way to nibble

You should eat the sandwiches first.

Then you enjoy scones the proper way. Break the scone into two by hand, then use a knife to spread jam and cream on it. Each eat half separately. Don’t dunk them into your tea.

And finally, enjoy the delicious cakes and pastries!