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Etiquette for Taking Tea


Turn back the years to a time when life was less hurried.  The art of making a perfect afternoon tea and taking tea is a lovely skill to master and one that will stand you a great stead the next time you're invited to high tea with the Queen!

High tea etiquette expert, Ellen Easton says that the rituals of ceremony and etiquette are not meant to be intimidating, overwhelming, nor pretentious. Quite the opposite. "When one understands the rules, there are no misunderstandings, no insults, no one is left out, nor made to feel uncomfortable," she says.

To start setting for your tea party, embrace old-world vintage fashion. Whether your party is an indoor formal affair or outdoor garden celebration, it is a great excuse to put on your favourite dress, pearls and gloves with the added indulgence of a fabulous new hat.

Serve beautifully cut sandwiches and savouries in bite sizes, as well as delicate miniature desserts and truffles for your guests.

For a feminine tea party, Ellen Easton recommends

  • Shanghai Rose - Rose petals and white tea
  • Lady Grey - Bergamot, Lavender flowers and black tea
  • City Harvest Green - Jasmine, apple and green tea

Next, you need to brew the perfect pot of tea.  You must start with good water (filtered or spring water). Boil your water and when bubbling, take the lid off the pot, turn fire down to low and continue to heat for 5 minutes (this removes any unpleasant smells from the water).

Wait until the water is near boiling, then pour a little into the teapot and swirl it around. This warms the pot so that it is at an optimum temperature for holding the tea. Empty the pot.

To the warmed teapot add one slightly rounded teaspoon of a tea per cup plus one teaspoon for the pot. Or use one tea bag in the pot for each cup.

When the water in the kettle has reached a rolling boil, pour it in the pot and allow the tea to steep for three to five minutes.  Then serve!

But wait!  There's more to learn about the etiquette of taking tea:

  • Pinkies up! Originally, all porcelain teacups were made in China, starting around 620 AD. These small cups had no handles, so to avoid spilling tea, the proper way to hold the vessel was to place a thumb at the six o'clock position and index and middle fingers at the twelve o'clock position, while gently raising a pinkie up for balance. Never loop your fingers through the handle, nor grasp the vessel bowl with the palm of your hand.
  • Set the perfect table.  A truly formal table has only one correct placement for a napkin: to the left side of the place setting. The napkin 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. Although, less formal affairs may allow a fancy folded napkin to be placed in the centre of the place setting.
  • Table manners are a must.  Once you've finished dining, fold your napkin with a crease and place on the left hand side of your place setting to indicate to your host or hostess that you wish to be invited back.
  • Learn elegant eating.  The correct manner to eat a scone is the same manner in which one eats a dinner roll. Simply break off a bite size only 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. And please, no dipping!
  • Make their mouths water!  Afternoon tea food placement for a three-tier cake stand should be as follows:  top tier for scones, middle tier for savouries and tea sandwiches and bottom tier for sweets.
  • Do not stir your tea in sweeping circular motions. Place your teaspoon at the six o'clock position and softly fold the liquid towards the twelve o'clock position two or three times. Never leave your teaspoon in your teacup. When not in use, place your teaspoon on the right side of the tea saucer. Never wave or hold your teacup in the air. When not in use, place the teacup 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 teacup in your right hand. When not in use, place the teacup 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.
  • Afternoon tea is not the same as high tea.  A high tea is served in the late afternoon or early evening (5-7pm) taking the place of dinner and 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.
  • 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!

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