reviewing a copy of Etiquette Faux Pas and Other Misconceptions
About Afternoon Tea by Ellen Easton, sources in the British
Royal Household confirm the information as correct with the
comments: "We would not make any amendments to the text" and
"What a good article."
- September, 2004
Check out more of Ellen Easton's
Tea Travels™ articles and recipes.
Learn about the
History of English High Tea and more delicious
Afternoon Tea Recipes.
In preface to my article Etiquette Faux Pas and
Other Misconceptions About Afternoon Tea, I
would like to clarify the distinctions between the
classification of class status, etiquette, social
protocols, morals, and ethics as per the dining/afternoon tea experience.
Etiquette and social protocols are not synonymous with morals or
ethics. One has nothing to do with the other. A
perfectly well mannered person may not have any morals,
whilst in reverse a highly ethical person may not have
the command of any social graces.
In addition, the term high class or upper
class is often confused with one's
In particular, during the Victorian Era, the upper class
was not a social state one could achieve by economic
measures. One was born into the upper class. The
Victorian upper class represented a status of birthright
that included ancestral lineage, where one received
one's education and how one behaved and was received
within a certain social circle. Many a famous author
has chronicled the trials and tribulations of the
"impoverished upper class".
Perhaps in today's modern times of the twenty-first
century, the term upper class has transformed to
become an identifying marker associated with one's
economic/financial status. For the purpose of relating
the protocols and etiquette of afternoon tea, all
references apply to the Victorian era from whence
afternoon tea was born.
Please note, the etiquette and protocols explained are
not the rules of Ellen Easton, but the rules of
foundation as created and passed down from the Victorian era.
As an example, the term "pinkies up" is just
that, terminology. It does not mean that one should hold
one's pinkie up in the air. If one reads the
explanation carefully, one will learn the correct manner
in which one holds one's teacup.
If one were to ask me my definition of the term class, I
would have every hope that true class transcends one's
economic status, race, creed and color. My definition
of class is to be well mannered, considerate and to
treat all others with dignity.
Afternoon tea was created to foster friendship. May all
of your afternoon's always be filled with good tea and
Four Course Tea: Photo by Ellen Easton ©1997 - All Rights Reserved; A Rose Tea- Photo By Ellen Easton ©2007 - All Rights Reserved;
Hand Decorated Rose Sugar By Reva Paul © - All Rights Reserved
Due to the new popularity of Afternoon Tea, many people have jumped on the
bandwagon, including hotels, caterers, party planners, and protocol
and etiquette “experts”. While their enthusiasm is well
intended, unfortunately a great deal of misinformation is being
perpetuated by these experts. While etiquette and customs do evolve over time, some issues are
not negotiable. Just because some customs are practiced does not
validate the behavior.
Of course the tea police will not be lurking behind your kettles,
but if one is going to embrace such a lovely and genteel genre I
would like to set the record straight. I feel privileged to be able
to share with you the protocols that have been passed down from
century to century.
Originally, all porcelain teacups were made in China, starting around 620 A.D.
These small cups had no handles. In order for one not to spill the
hot liquid onto oneself, the proper way to hold the vessel was to
place one's thumb at the six o'clock position and one's index and
middle fingers at the twelve o'clock position, while gently raising
one's pinkie up for balance.
In Europe, when the Meissen Porcelain Company, in 1710, introduced
the handle to the teacup, the tradition continued. By placing one's
fingers to the front and back of the handle, called pinching the
handle with one's pinkie extended downward or to the side,
pinkie up, again allows balance. It is not an affectation, but a
graceful way to avoid spills.
Never loop your fingers through the handle, nor grasp the vessel
bowl with the palm of your hand.
Kay Francis - Warner Bros. ©1930s
Napkins - Placement and Protocol:
Originally, a truly formal table
had only one correct placement for a napkin, to the left side of the place setting. The napkin, when placed to the left of the
place setting, should be folded with the closed edge to the left and the open edge to the right. There are no exceptions! This
rule applies for rectangular, triangular, and square shape folds. Note: Originally, less formal
affairs allowed a fancy folded napkin to be placed in the center of the place setting. Today, due to table settings being closer
together formal affairs do allow for a napkin to be placed in the center of a place setting. A truly formal affair will not
place a napkin in a glass.
Contrary to recent “experts” advice, there is never a proper moment
for one to place one’s napkin on a chair. The proper protocol when
excusing oneself from the table, whether during or after a dining
experience, is to gently place one’s napkin to the left side of your
place setting. This rule is not negotiable for the simple reason if
one’s napkin were soiled it could damage the seat covering, damage
that may be either costly to repair or irreplaceable. While the risk
for soiling a cloth also exists, the cloth can be laundered with relative ease.
Upon completion of a dining experience, a napkin folded with a
crease and placed to the left side of your place setting indicates
to your host or hostess that you wish to be invited back.
The expression, “to make ends meet”, derives from the 1729 French
Court. The dress code for men included decorative stiff ruffled
collars. When dining, a napkin was tied around the neck to protect
their collars, hence the expression.
Twelve-inch napkins are used for Afternoon Tea service.
How To Eat A Scone:
Again, contrary to recent “experts” advice (now I understand how rumors
get started!), it is not only improper to slice a scone, in its
ENTIRETY (horizontally to be slathered in jam and cream), it is
considered very common behavior! Although some establishments will
serve a sliced scone pre-prepared with jam and cream, this is merely
a gimmick introduced to save time (It may now be ”acceptable” but it
will never be correct). A hostess should instruct and insist that
the scones, for large functions or buffets, be made smaller into
bite size ”standing room” size.
The correct manner in which one eats a scone is the same manner in
which one eats a dinner roll. Simply break off a bite-size piece,
place it on your plate, and then apply, with your bread and butter
knife, the jam and cream. A fork is not used to eat a scone. Please,
Afternoon Tea food
Placement For A Three-Tier Curate Stand:
Top Tier = Scones
The protocol of placing the scones on the top tier is due to the
fact that during the 1800s when the genre of Afternoon Tea first
became popular, and modern kitchen conveniences did not exist, a
warming dome was placed over the scones. The dome would only fit on
the top tier.
Middle tier = Savories and Tea
Bottom tier = Sweets
The savories and tea sandwiches, followed by the sweets, were placed on
the middle and bottom tiers respectively. At the progression of each
course, service would be provided to remove each tier.
the health issues, the smoke will be absorbed into the tea and ruin the flavor.
Stirring Tea and Spoon Placement:
Do not stir your tea, with your tea spoon, in sweeping circular motions. Place
your tea spoon at the six o'clock position and softly fold the liquid towards the twelve o'clock position two or three times.
leave your tea spoon in your tea cup. When not in use, place your
tea spoon on the right side of the tea saucer.
Never wave or hold
your tea cup in the air. When not in use, place the tea cup back in
the tea saucer.
If you are at a buffet tea hold the tea saucer in
your lap with your left hand and hold the tea cup in your right
hand. When not in use, place the tea cup back in the tea saucer and
hold in your lap.
Do not use
your tea to wash down food. Sip, don’t slurp, your tea and swallow before eating.
Milk - before or after? Originally all tea cups in Europe were made from soft paste porcelain. The milk was
added first to temper the cups from cracking. Once hard paste porcelain was discovered in Europe (by Bottger, in 1710 , for the
Meissen Porcelain factory), it was no longer necessary to temper the cups. Hence, it makes more sense to add milk after the tea has
brewed. As we are all aware, the correct brewing of tea cannot be judged by its color, therefore milk after is a wiser choice, but
either choice is correct.
Note: China did have hard
paste porcelain before Europe. However, they did not use milk in their tea, as the blends were white, oolong, and green. The reason
the West calls porcelain "china" is because China was the country of origin for hard paste porcelain.
When in doubt, use the
utensils from the outside towards the inside of the place setting.
A petit knife and fork may be used together for use on an open face
sandwich, preferably not on a closed sandwich. If savories are
properly made, nothing will be dripping or gooey. However, with the
fun of non-traditional foods now served on Afternoon Tea menus, this
is not always the case. A petit knife and fork is proper for use with one’s pastries.
Never place used utensils on a cloth or table. When not in use rest the utensil on the right side of the corresponding plate.
Sugar Tongs (3 1/4 inch to 6 1/2 inch):
The longer versions are
called sugar cutters or sugar nips. The word tong derives from
the European-Indonesian word "denk" which means "to
bite." Sugar tongs were first introduced, in Europe in
1780, to be used with compressed sugar. The compressed sugar was
sold in cone shapes resembling the hat of a witch. They were
called a hat. This is where the expression, "I'll eat my hat" comes from.
Sugar tongs = always. It is not about "old" - to use tongs
versus "young-to use one’s fingers." It is about sanitary
conditions and respect for those you are serving. It is unhygienic to touch another's food - full stop, plain and
simple. What if one had rubbed their nose, run their fingers
through their hair, used the facilities and not washed their
hands, or has a skin condition - need I say more? I wouldn't want
this person to be touching my food. Certainly in a public food
establishment it would, in fact, be against the law.
When not in use, sugar tongs are placed either beside the sugar
bowl or draped over the handle of the sugar bowl.
Afternoon Tea or Low Tea vs. High Tea:
Please do not refer to your afternoon tea as a high tea. Remember, a high tea is served in the
late afternoon or early evening (5 PM to 7 PM), taking the place of
dinner. Served at a “high” table with seated place settings. The
foods are heartier and consist of salads, one or two hot dishes, pot
pies, cold chicken, sliced meats, cakes, fruit tarts, custards, and
fresh fruits. The tea may be served hot or iced. The addition of any supper dish would be appropriate.
Proper Service of Lemon Slice vs. Lemon Wedge:
A lemon slice can float in
the tea cup. Traditionally, the lemon slice would also contain a
clove in the center of the lemon slice. The floating lemon slice
continues to enhance the flavor of the tea.
If one is serving a
wedge of lemon, traditionally the wedge is covered in gauze or tied
in a cheesecloth. This is to avoid the seeds and juice from squirting when squeezed.
If one does not have a lemon press or
squeezer, it is proper to use your fingers to gently squeeze the
juice of the wedge into your tea cup and then place the used wedge
on either the side of your tea saucer or any service plate provided
on the table.
Health Benefits - Green vs. Oolong vs. Black Tea
blends are created from the Camellia sinensis plant. The only
difference is in the fermenting-oxidation process, which cause the
enzyme changes. While fermented is the customary term used, it is
actually oxidation, not fermentation that is occurring.
Green = unoxidized -
Oolong = partially oxidized - partially fermented
Black = fully oxidized - fully fermented
You will benefit from the health properties regardless of the fermentation process. It is the interaction of the natural flavonoids, fluorides, and
polyphenols, rich in antioxidants, that determine the free radicals defusing in one's cells. This process stimulates the immune system and is said to inhibit
the spread of disease.
It has been reported, drinking only two cups of tea per day reduces the rate of heart disease & blood pressure, inhibits the production of platelets leading
to blood clots and the growth of tumors. The natural fluorides help to prevent tooth decay. Best of all, while not proven, it has been reported that tea
drinking helps to stimulate the decrease in excess body fat!
Note: tea does not cure disease.
Always check with your doctor before beginning any health program.
FAQ about AFTERNOON TEA
1. Does one drink tea or take tea?
One drinks tea. - During the Victorian era, the term to take tea was used by the lower classes and considered a vulgar expression by the upper classes.
2. Why is the shape of a teapot different from a coffee or chocolate pot?
The teapot is designed with a lower rounded body to insure the tealeaves have the proper room for expansion
during the infusion process. The lower placement of the spout on the vessel
allows for the tea to be poured without interfering with the leaves.
3. What is the correct placement of the teapot on the table?
The spout of the teapot and the teakettle faces the hostess or pourer.
4. Are tea urns used for brewing or infusing tea?
No - Tea urns were designed to heat and hold hot water for larger quantities of water. Their function was
the same as a teakettle. Ideally, one would dispense the hot water from the urn
into the teapot. Bring the pot to the kettle, not the kettle to the pot.
5. How does a teacup differ from a coffee or chocolate cup?
Traditionally a cup equals four ounces. However, the time of day and the beverage served will dictate the
proper size of the service piece. Except for demitasse cups, which are served
half full, all other cups are served three (3) quarters full.
A teacup is 3-1/4" to
3-3/4" in diameter and 2" to 2-1/2" in height. The companion saucer ranges from
5-1/4" to 5-5/8" across. A teacup is shallow and wider than a coffee or
chocolate cup, giving the beverage a chance to temper before drinking.
6. What is a moustache cup?
A moustache cup is a nineteenth century variation of the teacup created in England by Harvey Adams.
It is designed with a slit ledge projecting from the front side of the rim, allowing the tea to flow through while a gentleman's moustache remains dry
resting on the top lip.
7. Why in older pictures of tea settings are spoons placed across the top of a teacup?
Tea was very expensive during the early years of its popularity. As such, the actual tea wares were small in
size. There was no room for a teaspoon to rest on the saucer. A guest rested
their teaspoon on top of their teacup as an indication they had had sufficient
tea. This was a signal to the hostess to stop pouring tea. Today, to indicate
the same signal, due to the larger size of the teacup and saucer, the proper
placement of the spoon would be across the top of your saucer, not the cup.
8. When drinking tea does one lift the teacup and saucer or just the teacup?
If one is seated at a table, the proper manner to drink tea is to raise the teacup only, placing it back into
the saucer in between sips.
If you are at a buffet tea, hold the tea saucer in your lap with your left hand
and hold the teacup in your right hand. When not in use, place the teacup back in the tea saucer and hold in your lap. In either event, never wave or hold your teacup in the air.
9. What is a tea plate?
Native to England and Europe, tea plates were customized to hold a teacup without a saucer. The plate was
embedded with a shallow well to secure the teacup. The foods and tea were served
together on one plate. When one is using separate tea service pieces the
customary size today is either a salad/dessert plate of seven to eight inches
or a bread and butter plate of six to seven inches.
10. Where does the expression ”not my cup of tea” come from?
To refer to one as “not my cup of tea” derives from the fifteenth century Japanese Teaism. “No tea to him.”
As one “insusceptible to the seriocomic interests of the personal drama.” It is
used to describe those one does not care for.
11. How is a traditional English trifle made?
Ruth Darley's advice - Whether made from scratch or not, for an easy and quick English trifle recipe.
Preferably set in a large footed bowl, alternate layers of the following
ingredients: sponge or pound cake moistened with Sherry, egg custard or pudding,
sliced strawberries, whipped cream and slivered almonds, repeat layers until
bowl is filled. Fruit juice may be substituted for Sherry. Custard and pudding
flavors may be changed to taste as well as seasonal berries.
12. What are the proper protocols for wearing gloves at an afternoon tea?
The protocols for wearing gloves are the same, whether one is attending an afternoon tea or any other
event where foods and beverages are served. While gloves are often highly designed with decorations and adornments, their
sole purpose is to cover and protect ones hands from the elements.
When greeting another, remove the glove from the right hand, place the removed
glove in your left hand and shake hands skin to skin.
It is improper to dine with ones gloves on. Remove your gloves before sitting
down to dine.
The exception is for long, formal gloves with buttons at the wrist. It is
acceptable to unbutton, remove ones fingers and hands and fold back, to the
wrist, the lower portion of the glove without removing the upper portion from
If the gloves have no wrist buttons, the gloves should be removed in their
entirety before dining.
13. Is it improper to turn over the China or tea wears to see where they were manufactured?
While ones desire to learn about the origins of the china wares set on the tea table can be of great
curiosity, it is improper to turn these objects over for inspection, especially
in view of ones host or hostess.
14. Is it OK to set a table with the teacup turned upside down inside the saucer?
Contrary to the recent advise of some of the etiquette and protocol classes, never does one set a tea table,
or any table, with the tea cup upside down in the saucer. To set a table in this
manner is not only incorrect, it is gauche behavior.
15. Who pours the first cup of tea?
It is customary for the hostess to pour the first cup of tea. If in a public setting, it is customary
for the wait staff to pour the first cup of tea. Prior to pouring the tea, one
is asked if they prefer their tea weak or strong, with or without milk, sugar, honey or lemon.
16. What do I do with my tea bag once the tea is brewed?
Remove the tea bag from the cup and place it on a side saucer or in a slop bowl. Do not use the string to wrap around or squeeze the tea bag.
17. What is the difference between Clotted Cream and Devon Cream?
Clotted Cream contains a minimum of 55% milk fat, while Devon Cream's fat content is lower at 48% milk fat. Devon Cream comes from the cows of Devon,
18. What do I do with my iced teaspoon if no saucer has been placed under the glass?
Either place the iced teaspoon on the side of another plate or ask the server or hostess to remove the spoon from the table. Never leave the spoon in the glass
especially when actually drinking your tea.
Rules, rules and more rules - the best
etiquette of all is to relax and have a good time without noticing the Faux Pas of others!
Ellen Easton is a lifestyle industry leader, tea and etiquette authority, author of Afternoon Tea~ Tips, Terms and Traditions,
A Tea Party Planner and Tea Travels™ For The Holidays (RED WAGON PRESS), as well as a hospitality, design and retail consultant, whose clients have included The Waldorf=Astoria,
The Plaza, and Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon.
Easton’s family traces their tea roots to the early 1800s, when ancestors first introduced tea plants from India and China to the Colony of Ceylon,
thus building one of the largest and best cultivated teas estates on the island.
REVA PAUL, an internationally acclaimed confectionery artist, hand decorated floral sugars and mints are available by special
order for teas, weddings, and special events. Wholesale/Retail - Bulk & Gift boxed. All prices on request via RED WAGON PRESS (212) 722-7981.
AFTERNOON TEA...TIPS,TERMS and TRADITIONS
By Ellen Easton
72 pages of how to’s, 27 photos, history, etiquette and FAQ about afternoon tea, serving styles and more. “Tea is the luxury everyone can
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