Did you know that sticking out your pinkie when holding your teacup is rude? It implies one as trying to be “a class above” the rest. It stemmed from observations that cultured people eat tea time treats with 3 fingers whilst commoners hold them with all 5 fingers. That is one of the many Afternoon Tea do’s and don’ts to remember and here’s a basic guide to Afternoon Tea:
• Always serve loose tea, never teabags! Teapots are now fitted with strainers that are easily removable.
• In some places, tea sommeliers explain tea and take guests through the tasting process, recommend flavours matching one’s personality as well as to complement the cuisine.
• Tea pourers are designated and is an honour for it implies one has excellent social graces and is trusted but servers mostly do the duty now. They must remember to pour tea into cups one by one, passing it to the recipient before moving to the next.
• Sides include milk, sugar cubes (neater than granules), a plate of lemon slices and a pitcher of hot water in case anyone wants weaker tea.
• Milk is added after tea, followed by sugar. Certain teas are heightened by a slice of lemon. Tea should be stirred gently in and up-and-down motion, quietly. Put your spoon onto the saucer after stirring.
• Tea too hot? Leave to cool but never blow on it. Hold the cup by the handle and bring it to your mouth. Sip, not slurp. One should not cradle the cup in the fingers when it has a handle or swirl the tea as though it was wine in a glass.
• It is polite to have two cups of tea as one is not enough and 3 would come across as excessive and greedy if you were a guest. Of course, this is hardly practiced nowadays.
ENJOYING THE FOOD
• Finger sandwiches have a reason – pick it up with your fingers and eat it in a couple of bites.
• While cupcakes are not traditionally English, they are accepted today for its tiny size that fits into the bite-size morsels of teatime.
• Say “sconn” not “scoan”. Use your hand to lightly twist the scone lengthways (never cut through it). Spread jam and cream on each side and eat them individually, not make a sandwich. Eat with your fingers, no forks please.
• Always have a general spreader for cream and jams so nobody uses their own utensils.
While it comes across as rather regimented, Tea Etiquette plays a major role in encapsulating the entire meaning of this tradition. After all, how many of us have the time to make Afternoon Tea a daily affair? We might as well fully enjoy the posh experience!