Patisserie Valerie's Guide to Afternoon Tea Etiquette
Afternoon tea is an English tradition dating all the way back to 1840. It was first enjoyed by Anna Maria Russel, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. Anna felt the period between lunch and dinner was simply too long, leading to the first afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is generally served between 2pm and 4pm but really does depend on the venue.
If you're planning on enjoying a delicious afternoon tea with family and friends, you will need to know the correct afternoon tea etiquette. Here, we list all you need to know before your afternoon tea. We explore everything from what to wear to if to whether pinkies really should be up or down, and everything else in between. So, without further ado, let's dig in!
What to Wear to Afternoon Tea?
First and foremost, what to wear? The general rule for afternoon tea attire is 'smart casual'. The dress code can vary depending on the venue, so be sure to check on the venue website prior to attending to see if they have any specific guidelines, the general rules to follow are no trainers or sportswear and nothing skin-tight or too short.
Afternoon Tea Attire for Women
Knee to floor-length dresses and skirts are a firm favourite for women attending afternoon tea, but that's not the only option. A pair of well-tailored trousers, a stylish blouse or shirt paired with a blazer and brogues, or heels is another option for those who prefer to not wear a dress or skirt.
Afternoon Tea Attire for Men
Men attending afternoon tea should wear trousers, a simple collared shirt (top button and tie are not totally necessary depending on venue), a clean pair of proper shoes and a blazer or jumper.
Pinkies Up or Down?
We know! No pinkies? Contrary to popular belief, your little pinkie should be down while drinking tea. Stretching out your pinkie while drinking tea is actually pretty pointless. Teacups should really be held with the handle resting on your middle finger and your thumb and index finger meeting in the handle. The saucer for your tea should be left on the table at all times.
As a nation, we are all glued to our phones and this can come across as somewhat rude, especially while dining, and even more so while attending afternoon tea. While you're at the table, leave your phone in your bag. You will probably be enjoying yourself so much you won't even want to check it.
What to Eat First
Believe it or not, there is a correct order to eat your afternoon tea. There are three courses to a proper afternoon tea. Firstly, you should eat the sandwiches, then the scones, and finally, the cakes. All of which can be enjoyed while drinking your tea.
Jam or Cream First?
The great British debate… This depends on where you are. Those in Cornwall will say jam first, then cream. However, those in Devon will say the opposite. Ultimately, we don't think it will be the end of the world if you prefer one over the other. Perhaps it can be a topic of conversation for the table.
Use Your Hands
All sandwiches for afternoon tea are considered 'finger food'. So, ditch the cutlery and enjoy your sandwiches in 2-3 bites for the 'proper' experience. Obviously, you will need some cutlery to spread your jam and cream.
Ending on a High
To indicate you are finished with your afternoon tea, place the cutlery used for your scones in the 4:20 position and place your napkin on the table to the left, or on your chair. There is some debate around which is the correct way to do this. Just do what feels right at your venue.
Most importantly, enjoy your afternoon tea and don't feel like you can't ask your server questions about what is best practice.
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