What is Afternoon Tea?

A picture showing a classic British afternoon tea with cakes and a cup of tea.
Photo credit to www.afternoonteaweek.com

Brits love talking about tea but what is Afternoon Tea? Which goes in first, milk or tea? Is it better to use loose leaves or bags? And should you warm the pot beforehand? While we may not be as obsessed with tea as our neighbouring nations might believe, tea is still a pretty big deal here with a whopping 165 million cups of tea consumed daily!

Forge friendships over a good cuppa and solve problems with a simple question: “Shall I pop the kettle on?” Ask any Brit, there’s nothing that a good cup of tea cannot fix.

Afternoon Tea is a traditional ritual, harking back to a bygone era. But even students from Eton commit tea etiquette faux-paus! Read on for our definitive guide to having a quintessentially British teatime:

The picture shows what afternoon tea is. It is a traditional British afternoon tea set with cakes, scones, sandwiches and tea.
Classic British afternoon tea. Photo resized, credit to Sophia Baik on Flickr, distributed under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

What is it?

Introduced in Britain in the early 1840s, it began as a small meal to prolong hunger for the evening meal, usually served at 8pm.

What should I wear?

If you’re venturing out to a teahouse, the dress code is smart-casual. So you can use it as an excuse to get as dolled up as you desire, although gowns and suits are not compulsory!

What is included?

In terms of food, Afternoon Tea usually consists of small sandwiches (preferably cut into triangles), scones and a selection of cakes served on a tiered cake stand. Jams, creams and preserves are also a must. Don’t fret if you do not have a cake stand – you can usually find them, along with other vintage china, in local charity shops.

Have a range of teas on offer for your guests. If you’re hosting, try to include Earl Grey, peppermint, camomile, fruit, herbal and the essential English Breakfast varieties.

Dos and don’ts

As with everything British, it is infused with a code of polite conduct. Here are a few golden rules to help you:

  1. Select your tea and allow it to brew for three to six minutes, depending on how strong you like it. Avoid over brewing as it may damage the quality of the tea.
  2. Then – to solve the age-old conundrum – the milk most definitely goes in after the tea.
  3. Add any sugar or sweeteners.
  4. Now for the ‘posh stir’: instead of circular motions softly sweep the spoon from six o’clock to 12 o’clock two or three times. Avoid tapping the spoon on the cup.
  5. Place the spoon on the saucer when you’re finished, never leave it in the teacup.
  6. Absolutely do not dunk your biscuit! While this practice may be welcomed in the home, there are no soggy biscuits at Afternoon Tea.

Now all that’s left to do is lay the table! Enjoy!