The Custom of Having Tea
|Catherine of Braganza|
Queen of England 1662-1685
|Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford|
Afternoon Tea vs. High Tea
Although afternoon tea is often mistakenly called high tea, the two are quite different indeed. Afternoon tea was most frequently observed by upper class ladies around 4pm. They would gather outdoors or in a parlor setting to eat some small sandwiches and drink tea in order to avoid getting faint before dinner. Afternoon tea provided a reason to visit one's friends and enjoy the company and conversation.
While afternoon tea was something that began with the upper classes, high tea had working class origins. High tea was considered a full meal served once the men arrived home from the factories between 5pm and 7pm. High tea was an actual hot meal eaten around the table. Tea is served (of course!) and the meal begins with a hot dish followed by some bread and cakes with butter and jam, vegetables, and pies. The upper classes also developed a high tea, which was a meal that was easy to prepare, and could be fixed for times that the servants were away or given the day off on leave.
In order to behave properly at a tea, there are several essential etiquette rules that one should follow.
- Stir your tea quietly and do not let the spoon clang against the sides of the cup. When finished, place the spoon on the saucer behind the cup with the handle pointing in the same direction as the handle of the cup.
- Milk and lemon should not be used together in tea.
- Add sugar before the lemon because the lemon prevents it from dissolving.
- Do not swirl around tea like you would wine.
- If you are lifting the cup more than 12 inches away from the table, you must also lift the saucer.
- Pinkies up is considered a faux pas. There was once the thought that extending the pinky aided the balance of the cup, but this is not necessary.
- Do not eat or drink with gloved hands.
- Do not dunk anything into the tea!
And finally, there is the matter of whether it is appropriate to put the milk in before or after pouring the tea. It was thought at one time that this indicated class differences because pouring boiling water into the cup could potentially crack it. Wealthy folks could afford to break a few tea cups, but others of lesser means may not want to risk ruining any of their good china. Many consider pouring the milk in first to be gauche and a faux pas because you cannot judge how the milk is going to affect the strength of the tea merely by the color. If you add milk after the tea, then it is easier to determine how you would like the tea to taste and add more milk accordingly. On a recent episode of Downton Abbey, Carson, the butler, very clearly makes a disapproving face when a guest asks for tea with milk added first. There is no fudging proper tea etiquette!
If you attend an afternoon tea, at Staatsburgh or anywhere else, just follow these rules and you will fit in splendidly!