Afternoon tea is one of Britain’s greatest pastimes and is very much set in British tradition. There are many variations on this iconic meal and a lot of confusion over the etiquette and guidelines of the correct procedures to enjoy afternoon tea.
Let’s begin with the historical part of afternoon tea. In the 1840s, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna Marie, was visiting the Duke of Rutland at his ancestral home Belvoir Castle in Rutland.
While staying at the castle, the Duchess was slightly shocked to discover that dinner was taken later than she was used to. Ladies usually took lunch around midday, as it was a relatively new meal. Anna Marie is rumoured to have said that she had a sunken feeling in the afternoon brought on by the need for something to drink and eat. The Duchess requested the butler to bring her some tea with sandwiches.
It was at this point that afternoon tea was created. The Duchess of Bedford’s good friend, Her Majesty Queen Victoria, embraced this new meal and encouraged it at court. The Queen and Prince Albert began the Royal tradition of taking afternoon tea between 4pm and 6pm. Below are my top 15 tips for hosting a successful afternoon tea.
1. Dress codes: Always dress appropriately for example no board shorts as we are not surfing across the table.
2. Mother: Nominate someone to play mother but don’t turn it into a shakespearian performance. Mother always pours tea, therefore a lady would be the ideal choice.
3. Pinky’s: When drinking tea one must always remember that Pinky’s (little fingers) are always tucked in when holding the handle on the cup.
4. Milk and Lemon: Milks always after the tea. The tradition goes back to the days of clay mugs vs china mugs. Of course if we have lemon then no milk.
5. Timings: Let’s avoid breakfast tea which would be taken between 8am - 10am. Tea should be taken between 4pm and finishes at 6pm. If you are running late, then you must advise the host. You can only be 10mins late.
6. Gifts: If you wish to take a gift then can I recommend home made produce. This is always appreciated but let us avoid home made glitter picture gifts.
7. High Tea v Afternoon Tea: Please remember that a high tea is not an afternoon tea, as this is a more substantial meal at a high table normally for children. An afternoon tea is a lighter meal for the adults. High tea was originally created for the working class in 18th - 19th century.
8. Menu: When hosting an afternoon tea party offer home made finger sandwiches, scones and of course cake. Pastries and macaroons tend to be offered at hotels. In the winter it is a nice idea to offer hot buttered crumpets with salt or marmite.
9. Cutlery: Afternoon tea is a meal the can be enjoyed with the fingers, however occasionally you may wish to use a small knife and fork for cutting the scones or eating the cake, but remember to eat gracefully and not to resemble a food blender.
10. Cream or Jam: We always put cream on the scone first followed by jam, after all we wouldn’t put butter onto jam now would we?
11. Dunking: We never dunk anything in a tea cup other that the tea spoon. When using the spoon we move it in a back and forward motion and never in a circular motion as this makes less noice.
12. Napkins: Creases away for the ladies so they can use a corner to dap not wipe, which then allows us to place it back down down which conceals lipstick etc. When finished leave unfolded on the table. Tea napkins are normally 12 inches squared.
13. Blowing: You never blow on your tea as the tea will cool down in its own time. The only thing you blow on is candles on your birthday cake.
14. The Goldilocks method: One cup of tea is never enough but three is over excessive. Two cups are just right.
15. The Founder: Afternoon tea was founded by Anna Maria, Duchess of Bedford in the 1840s. She was staying with the Duke of Rutland and was rather peckish in the afternoon due to the dinner been rather late. So she asked for tea and sandwiches and the afternoon tea was born. She was also a friend of Queen Victoria who embraced the tradition.