National Afternoon Tea Week | Debrett’s Etiquette Guide to Tea

We’re celebrating National Afternoon Tea Week with daily features on some of our members’ amazing afternoon tea offerings. Today, Debrett’s shed light on the origins and etiquette of afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea is said to have been invented in 1840 by Anna, Duchess of Bedford, who first asked for a selection of cakes and savouries to be served with tea in her room at around 4pm, when she found herself hungry in the long gap between meals. She began inviting friends to join her, and the popularity of the ritual spread. Today, afternoon tea is an indulgent treat, often enjoyed at a traditional hotel, café or tearoom. As well as tea (typically served in fine china cups), it usually includes finger sandwiches, small cakes and scones.

As with many treasured traditions, debate rages around some of the finer details of afternoon tea: should the milk be poured first or second? Do you spread cream on your scone before the jam, or should it be dolloped on top? Whatever protocol you follow, taking an hour or two out of a busy day to enjoy this tradition with friends or family feels like the ultimate in civilised socialising.

An etiquette guide to traditional tea:

• It’s usual to serve two kinds of tea: Indian such as Assam, and China such as Lapsang Souchong.
• Milk should be added after the tea has been poured. In the past, this signified that good quality china was being used, which wouldn’t crack under assault from the hot tea.
• The host typically pours and passes around the tea, and guests add their own milk and sugar. Provide lemon slices, too, for Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong.
• Resist the urge to raise your little finger when lifting the cup to sip from it.
• Scones are broken by hand, not cut with a knife. According to a survey by Afternoon Tea Week, most of us (58%) opt for the Cornish method of spreading the jam first, then adding the cream.

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