At Ahmad Tea we have some fabulous blends that are perfect for afternoon tea. But what of the occasion itself? What is the etiquette that comes with this centuries old English tradition? We caught up with Eileen Donaghey, The Afternoon Tea Expert, for her hints and tips on the ‘proper’ way to enjoy afternoon tea.

Traditional afternoon tea evokes images of butlers and white starched tablecloths, but thankfully times have changed and the fun and entertaining experience can be enjoyed in restaurants, cafes, garden centres and even online with friends. If you are going for afternoon tea for the first time and you aren’t sure of all the do’s and don’ts then this short guide will help you navigate the experience and avoid the key afternoon tea faux pas.

Of course, afternoon tea is intended to be an enjoyable experience and you don’t want to feel under pressure to remember a long list of rules so here are some of the key things to remember, if you want to do things ‘properly’.

The Crockery & Tea

Let’s start with pouring the tea. Some venues will do this for you but if you are doing it yourself you may need some specialist equipment. If you are drinking loose leaf tea, you’ll need a tea strainer or a teapot with an in-built infuser. If not, you will end up with a cup full of tea leaves. Simply place the strainer on the teacup and fill, leaving enough space for milk, if desired.

Next is the stirring, whatever you do, don’t clank the teaspoon off the side of the cup. It should be a gentle movement going vertically from the top to the bottom of your teacup, and when you are finished place the teaspoon behind the teacup on the saucer.

Holding the tea cup itself is an artform but whatever you do, do not stick your little finger out. It doesn’t make you appear ‘fancier’ and is actually considered a major faux pas!

Milk or Tea First?

To answer this question you first must consider what kind of tea you are drinking. If you’re drinking a darjeeling or a green tea then milk is not required and would spoil the taste of the tea. If you are drinking an afternoon tea or an English Breakfast blend for example, then you can add milk. The rule is always to pour the tea first. This is due to two reasons – first is from a practical point of view that you want to see the strength of the tea before adding the milk. You can always add more milk if needed but you can’t take it away.

The second reason is that when porcelain came to England not everyone could afford it so a cheaper alternative was made. Unfortunately, the cheaper alternative couldn’t withstand the heat of the hot tea being poured in and would crack. To get around this people would instead add the milk first to act as a barrier between the hot tea and the teacup to prevent it breaking. So there is no real need to add milk first nowadays. An old saying which you don’t hear too much of today is to describe someone as ‘cream first’ which essentially means you are calling someone cheap! So remember, it is always tea first please!


Order of service

Afternoon tea is a very leisurely affair so there is no need to rush or jump ahead to different courses or try something from each course all in one go. Take your time.  Allow yourself to relax by starting with the sandwich or savoury course, then the scones and then the pastries. A good rule of thumb is to eat the same course that the rest of your guests are eating. You wouldn’t eat your dessert in a restaurant if your friend is still eating their main course, so it is the same for afternoon tea. Afternoon Tea Expert tip – don’t over do it on the sandwiches, save some room for all the delicious courses.

Modern Day Technology

Anna, Duchess of Bedford, who is credited for the invention of afternoon tea, didn’t have to worry about smartphones in her day. As is the way nowadays everyone has a mobile phone on their person at all times. Of course, do take photographs of your friends but make sure to put your mobile phone in your handbag or pocket while you enjoy your afternoon tea. It is a time to catch up with friends instead of catching up on your Instagram messages.

My last top etiquette tip when it comes to afternoon tea, and I think is probably the most important, is to enjoy yourself! Afternoon tea is such a lovely way to talk to your friends and guests, and I have spent many hours in London over afternoon tea lost in good conversation. Enjoy yourself and remember no pinkie fingers out!

Written by Eileen Donaghey, The Afternoon Tea Expert

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