A Spot of Tea {Etiquette}

Aug 8 2013

by Erika Preval

Like most areas of etiquette, treating yourself to a proper tea comes with its own set of rules – my apologies. This is Simply Put, however, so I won’t go into all of the protocol attached to drinking tea or events surrounding the beverage. Here are a few basics that those across the pond hold to dearly, that will certainly have you on your way to being the perfect guest or host at your next tea.

What’s in a name? There is a distinct difference between Afternoon Tea and High Tea. Americans often equate high tea with high society, but that isn’t the case. My friend, Miss Sue Flay, summarizes it well here. In short, the British enjoy afternoon tea with tea sandwiches, scones and sweets (in that order). Historically, high tea was consumed by the lower classes, and your menu should include a heavy meat dish if you’d like to refer to your event as such.

Just say no! Pinkies are sensitive body parts – especially to temperature. When teacups had no handles, pinkies were held up for protection from the hot exteriors of cups. Teacups with handles require that the pinky be held down, with all fingers grasping the handle. No finger should be held away. Although it might be thought “proper” to hold your pinkies up while drinking tea, know that it’s actually quite a faux pas!

Quiet, please! Afternoon tea is a time to display your best table manners. So, with napkin across lap and gloves removed, you’re ready to enjoy your first sips! There should be no noise emitted while stirring additions into your tea. To stir quietly, please place your spoon in the 12:00 position and gently move it back and forth to the 6:00 position. Once ingredients are incorporated, place the teaspoon behind the cup; never leave the spoon inside the teacup or drink from the spoon itself. Tip: Add milk OR lemon, as adding both will cause curdling.

Please remember that the best etiquette is to always be certain that you and those around you are comfortable in any social situation. There are certain areas of etiquette where you are certain to see missteps – tea just happens to be one of them. Please remember your manners and don’t point out any that you might observe. Afternoon tea, above all, is a time to relax and enjoy the company of friends.


I’d love to host your next afternoon tea etiquette event. Give me a ring, and we’ll discuss the details over a nice hot cuppa!




Erika Preval View More Blog Posts from this Author

Erika Preval is a Certified Etiquette Consultant in Atlanta, Georgia and contributing writer for The Southern Coterie and Southern Living. Through her company, Charm Etiquette, she conduct experiential events that ensure leadership and social skills in youth and young adults, as well as adult-only events known as Social Studies: Finishing School for Adults. With Charm, she's put a modern spin on manners that makes each event both fun and relevant for guests.

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