What’s an English Tea Party?

Wouldn’t it be dreadful to live in a country where they didn’t have tea?

Noel Coward

People have been drinking tea for over 5,000 years. There are legends around how tea was discovered but that’s not what I want to talk about today. But before I get into the depths of what I want to talk about, maybe I should quickly mention the four main types of tea. Also, please, black tea doesn’t always mean tea without milk and sugar.

The four main types of tea would be:

  1. White Tea: Tea with very little processing and has a light, sweet taste
  2. Green Tea: The fad tea this is unfermented tea, it has a delicate taste and a light green color, whether it makes you lose weight or not, is debatable
  3. Oolong Tea: Semi-fermented tea, it is a cross between the black and green tea in its color and taste
  4. Black Tea: It is a fully fermented tea with a hearty flavor, a dark brew and by far, the most popular tea of the four

Herbal teas are not really teas, they are infusions and tisanes, and usually caffeine-free. Here, I only mean to focus on tea that generally comes from the Camellia sinesis.

A traditional English Tea Party is always organized in the afternoon. The tradition dates back almost two centuries to Victorian England, and continued in the Edwardian England. Even today, its popularity hasn’t diminished. Apparently, we have Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford and Queen Victoria’s Lady-in-Waiting to thank for this. And of course, India, after all, where did all this tea

come from after the Opium Wars!

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.

C. S. Lewis

What is an English Tea Party actually?

Simply put, it is an afternoon-time gathering for a small meal, with tea, of course. They’re usually pretty formal and have freshly brewed tea served with a range of foods that are paired well with the tea and is easy to consume while in a sitting room (meaning no need for elaborate cutlery or arrangements, something like finger food, like petite sandwiches, tea cakes, scones, cookies, etc.)

It is called an English Tea Party because that’s where the tradition started, popularized, and continues to date.

There are three chief variations of the English Tea Party:

Traditional Afternoon Tea

The traditional afternoon tea contains tea, sandwiches, scones with jam and Devonshire cream (a clotted cream produced in Devon, England) or just clotted cream, sweets, and dessert. A traditional afternoon tea is usually served between 3 to 5 PM. It is very formal and has defined protocols and etiquettes.

Cream Tea

The cream tea party is a relatively less formal type of tea party compared to the traditional afternoon tea. It is much easier to prepare for too. It usually contains a pot tea and scones with jam and Devonshire cream. It is also served during the afternoon hours.

High Tea

Here’s a shocker. Usually, when you go to restaurants or outings, etc. they claim about elaborate high teas they serve, all regal and fancy. However, high tea is actually the least elaborate of the three types of English Tea Parties/Ceremonies. It is actually a working-class population’s afternoon or early evening basic meal with tea. When the middle-class working population comes home from work, has a basic early supper with tea – that’s high tea! Nothing regal or fancy about it at all. But alas, the way our restaurants make it sound!

High tea is actually the tea that was served to the staff of Downtown Abbey and Titanic. Traditionally, when the working class population comes home after a long day at work in factories or shops, they would have an evening meal of a mug of tea, some bread, some vegetables, maybe with some meat, and some cheese. It is definitely not a social event or a gap-filler between lunch and dinner like we make it out to be today. It is quick and simple.

How to go about an English Tea Party?

The English have rules and etiquette for everything, and the afternoon tea ceremonies are no different. Here’s some tips to help.

  • Cell phones are a strict no-no at English Tea Parties. Turn them off and keep them away before you join the party.
  • Do not hold out your pinkie finger for balancing the cup. All tea cups these days have handles and holding the pinkie out is considered highly pretentious.
  • Using “Please” and “Thank you” is absolutely essential.
  • Stir quietly. Your tea spoon cannot touch the sides or the bottom of your cup and cannot make any sound while stirring. It is considered obnoxious and will be looked down upon.
  • If you are adding milk and sugar to your tea, and stirring it, once done, keep your spoon behind your cup on the saucer. A used spoon does not go back on the tablecloth for the remaining duration of the tea party.
  • If a tea bag has been served to make tea for your cup, do not put a used tea bag on a saucer, it is considered disrespectful and bad manners. Instead, a separate small dish should be provided to place a used tea bag. If there isn’t any, try asking for one.
  • If a tea pot has been served along with a bowl of tea bags, the tea bags go into the tea pot, not into individual tea cups.
  • Traditionally, scones are topped with the Devonshire cream and then with jam, then consumed. Always take the cream or butter or jam that you need on your plate, break a piece of the cake or scone or bread you are going to have, apply a bit of the jam or butter or cream to it, then eat it. No smearing directly from the serving container, no using personal cutlery on serving pots.
  • Scones are never eaten with a fork.
  • If you are at a dining table and the table is less than 12 inches from you, only lift the tea cup when having tea. If you are in the sitting room and have a coffee table in front of you where the tea cup is placed, lift the cup and the saucer both when drinking.
  • No elbows on the table at any time.
  • No pushing plates away once you are done eating.
  • The hostess begins eating first, only then can the guests eat.
  • If the hosts place their napkins on their lap, follow suit.
  • No burping and rude noises anytime during the tea party.
  • Avoid leaving lipstick marks on napkins at all times.
  • Take the sugar cubes you need with sugar tongs, not with your hand or your spoon. Also, avoid serving loose sugar.
  • Your teacup and saucer would be at a 2 o’clock position to your plate. The handles would make a right angle and at a 4 o’clock position. The spoon would make a right angle with the handle.
  • Lemon wedges in tea should be removed with a fork before consuming tea. If you have added a lemon wedge, no adding milk to the tea.
  • The hostess always pours everyone’s tea, the teapot is never passed around.
  • No holding cups up in the air while pouring tea.
  • Fill only a maximum of 3/4th of the cup, no filling till the brim.

You can get through life with bad manners, but it is easier with good manners.

Lillian Gish

Hope these tips help you organize or participate in the perfect tea party! Tell me what you think in the comments or find me on Instagram – @banjaranfoodie.

One Comment Add yours

  1. bhavipatel says:

    Reblogged this on blackbeautyandme.

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