Although traditionally served at 4:00 pm, an afternoon tea party can run any time
between 3pm and 6pm and should last no more than 2 hours.
Afternoon tea is generally a casual social occasion so formal dress is not required.
Smart-casual clothing is most acceptable.
Using both hands, always lift the teacup and the saucer at the same time. In order
for one not to spill the hot liquid onto oneself, the proper way to hold the vessel
of a cup with no handle is to place one's thumb at the six o'clock position and one's
index and middle fingers at the twelve o'clock position, and if desired, gently raising
one's pinkie up for balance. Pinkie up does mean straight up in the air, but slightly
tilted. It is a graceful way to avoid spills, but contrary to popular belief, it really
is not necessary to position your little finger out at an angle!
Tea cups with a handle are held by placing one's fingers to the front and back of
the handle. Never loop your fingers through the handle, nor grasp the vessel bowl with
the palm of your hand.
Milk is served with tea, not cream. Cream is too heavy and masks the taste of
the tea. Although some pour their milk in the cup first, it is probably better
to pour the milk in the tea after it is in the cup in order to get the correct
When serving lemon with tea, lemon slices are preferable, not wedges. Either
provide a small fork or lemon fork for your guests, or the tea server can
neatly place a slice in the tea cup after the tea has been poured. Be sure never
to add lemon with milk since the lemon's citric acid will cause the proteins in
the milk to curdle.
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. Never 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.
The only time a saucer is raised together with the teacup is when one is at a
Take small sips of tea and do not blow the top to cool it or slurp loudly! Unthinkable!
Use the tea plates (approximately 7 inches diameter) provided for the placement
of sandwiches and/or pastries. Do not overfill the plate.
Very small, bite-size pastries can be eaten without cutlery. Larger pastries should
be eaten with a pastry or dessert fork. Sliced "dry" cakes (such as fruit cake or
Madeira cake) can be eaten by breaking off a small piece one at a time with your
When leaving the party, always thank the hostess and remember to send a thank you
note shortly afterwards.
But above all, do not become unnecessarily stressed about etiquette. Instead,
relax and enjoy the special occasion.
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