Traditional English Tea Service Etiquette

Tea Service Etiquette

Growing up in England, my favorite day of the week always was Sunday. On Sundays, my family and I would make the drive down to Haverford West and visit my great-grandma. She was a proper old-fashioned lady, who loved knitting and tea time. Every Sunday she would create an incredible spread of sweets and sandwiches and beautiful china tea sets. Then, at 4 p.m. on the dot, tea would be served. Here are some tips on how to flawlessly execute a traditional English tea service, even if it is a new skill for you.

Items needed in a traditional tea display include a teapot full of hot water from the kettle, china cups and saucers with spoons, and cloth napkins. An assortment of teas (most commonly used are black teas) and creamer or milk with a side bowl of sugar cubes. Lemons should be also available, although if you like milk in your tea, I don’t recommend adding lemon as it will curdle the milk.

A misconception of many non-tea drinkers is that you should drink tea with your pinky out. That is actually quite the faux pas. The proper way to drink tea is to hold the handle of the tea cup with your thumb, index finger and middle finger. When you are not drinking the tea, the cup should be on the saucer. Blowing on your tea is also considered to be a faux pas; you must wait until it cools down.

To serve the tea, generally the milk (due to denaturing of milk proteins when hot water is added) and sugar go in first. The person serving, which is considered an honor, serves the tea to the guests first and him or herself last. Make sure to ask each guest whether they would like their tea to be strong or weak.

Traditional English tea service often includes many delicious sweets and treats such as tea sandwiches (my personal favorite was always cucumber and cream cheese), scones and clotted cream, cakes, biscuits, jams and more. Tea sandwiches, scones and desserts are fine to eat with your fingers, unless it’s a messy item − then use a fork, take small bites and be careful as your napkin is cloth. Napkins should never be placed on the table; if you need to get up from your seat, the napkin can be placed on your chair. When stirring the tea, make sure that you do so quietly and that the spoon does not touch the edges of the cup. Then, take small sips and enjoy!


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