Did you know that January is International Hot Tea Month? In honor of the special month dedicated to this delicate beverage, let’s examine the fine etiquette of Afternoon Tea or AKA, Low Tea. In North America, afternoon tea is often incorrectly referred to as High Tea. I’m not sure when the error began. High Tea actually refers to the supper meal served at 7:00 pm or so. And Low Tea refers to the fact that the goodies are served on low tables. Therefore, the difference is that the supper meal is served on…you guessed it!! High tables!!

Nonetheless, Afternoon Tea conjures up thoughts of elegant surroundings, gentility and civility from a Jane Austen novel, perhaps. By 1840, afternoon tea in England was widespread. We can credit Anna, the Duchess of Bedford for beginning the practice. Apparently, she suffered from weak spells between lunch and the evening meal which was served quite late. She remedied the situation with a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake. It caught on and the rest, as the saying goes, is history!!

Every year in July, Queen Elizabeth hosts at least three garden parties at Buckingham Palace and an additional one at Hollyroodhouse, her castle in Edinburgh, Scotland. Ten thousand invitations are sent out for each garden party which takes place between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm. This is where you can don your fancy hat!! The food that is normally served is standard afternoon tea fare: sandwiches, an assortment of cakes, bridge rolls, coffee, tea and juice. While concert bands play, you can stroll through the gardens enjoying the flowers and may even meet the Queen or a member of the Royal Family. Now in case you receive an invitation to one of these parties, let me give you some etiquette pointers:

Tea Do’s:

  • Do try a little of each course
  • Do stir your tea as quietly as possible
  • Do take small bites so you can swallow easily and still engage in conversation
  • Do swallow the food in your mouth before taking a sip of tea
  • Do place your spoon in your saucer behind the cup in the 4:00 position
  • Do introduce yourself to the other guests and make appropriate small talk
  • Do send a thank you note to your hostess

Tea Don’ts:

  • Don’t place personal items on the table such as cell phone, keys, purses or anything that is not part of the meal
  • Don’t wear gloves to shake hands, eat or drink
  • Don’t overload your plate when serving yourself from platters
  • Don’t use your utensils to gesture to others when engaged in conversation
  • Don’t slurp when you drink
  • Don’t swirl the liquid around in the cup as if it was wine in a glass
  • Don’t lift just your cup leaving the saucer on the table if you are standing
  • Don’t leave before the honored or special guest leaves

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

~ Henry James, 1843 – 1916


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