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321: Afternoon tea and scones: Etiquette

If you’re a UK resident then you no doubt are already quite familiar with afternoon tea as it is has become a British mainstay.  However, due to the incredibly popularity of this English ritual, a great many individuals based in countries across the world have also adopted this classy practice (or was that more a result of British colonialism?).  At any rate, there are some specifics relating to etiquette which you might want to consider if you’re going to be regularly having afternoon tea (and scones) with neighbors, friends and family.

Devonshire Tea

But before we get into protocol and manners, let’s examine some of the various items and foodstuffs that you’re likely to find when taking afternoon tea.  First off, a Three-Tier Curate Stand is often employed when setting up for afternoon tea.  The top level is generally reserved for, you guessed it, scones.  For those who might not know what a scone is, they are single-serving-sized breads which are generally sweet and made from barley, oatmeal or wheat (many other ingredients are also added at the cook’s discretion, of course).    Continuing on with the curate stand, the second level tends to be a home for tea sandwiches, which tend to quite small and somewhat decorative.  While tea sandwiches can also be sweet, things like vegetables, deli meats, salad spreads as well as cheese spreads and jams are often used as the filler.  Lastly, the bottom level usually contains the sweets.

For starters, if you want to have true “afternoon tea”, it must be between 4 pm and 6 pm, any time after that is generally considered to be “high tea” (we are talking about etiquette here, after all).  Next, you’ll want to place your napkins.  They should be on the left side of the place setting and have one edge closed, facing the left, and the open edge, facing the right side.

Now for some basic rules…

When using your utensils, remember to start from the outside (of the place setting) and work your way toward the inside, toward it.  Don’t place used utensils on the table or cloth; instead, set them down on the right side of the dish you were using.  After stirring your tea, place the tea spoon on the right side of the tea saucer.  In general, tea is not used for washing down food, you are supposed to chew and swallow before imbibing tea.  Furthermore, always sip your tea, slurping is very ill-advised.  When actually drinking your tea, the convention is to hold extend your pinkie outward and up.  You are not supposed to grasp the tea cup with the palm of your hand, but rather, by the handle (but don’t stick your fingers through the loop).  A delicate, balanced grip on the handle with your thumb, index and middle fingers is sufficient enough.

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