Afternoon Tea can mean many different things to many different people. To some it's an extravagant day out to one of the finest hotels in Britain, to others it means a lavish party for all your friends, for some it's the perfect idea for a hen party and to the rest it's a great time to catch up with a special friend. Whatever Afternoon Tea means to you we will show you the key tips and traditions to make sure it is just divine.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Whether you're serving an intimate Afternoon Tea for two or throwing a big party for all your friends, the first task is choosing the perfect venue. Afternoon Tea doesn't always have to be inside, why not move your tea outside into a pretty garden or terrace and if the weather isn't playing ball, then you can easily transfer to the refuge of home once again.
It's important to have plenty of table space for displaying and serving treats, a low centrepiece so your guests can see each other and leave room so people have space to rest their beautiful teacups and plates.
AFTERNOON TEA - PICNIC STYLE
If you're not throwing a large party a great twist on Afternoon Tea is taking it outside and down a level to create an Afternoon Tea, Picnic Style.
Picnics are becoming more and more luxurious and to us it is the perfect way to incorporate fine china and tea with the relaxed picnic atmosphere.
TEAWARE AT ITS BEST - GREAT CHINA IS EVERYTHING
In a world where fashion chic does not need to match or coordinate the need to have matching china is a thing of the past. Actually, having a mix of crockery is a cute and colourful way to spice up your party… It could even be a fantastic icebreaker to ask each guest to bring their own favourite cup and saucer to the party. This way you can see who your guests really are!
Even if your taking your Afternoon Tea outside china is still the best option, just invest in a divine picnic basket to transport your beautiful teaware safely.
In general though, if you're hosting a more formal English Afternoon Tea, you'll need 1.) a teapot, 2.) tea strainer, 3.) jug for the milk, 4.) sugar bowl, 5.) an extra teapot of hot water - for those who prefer weak tea - and finally 6.) a plate for lemon slices.
TEABAGS OR LOOSE TEA
Tea bags, pyramid tea bags or loose leaf tea - it's really up to you. The finest grades of tea tend to have larger dried leaves which totally plump up when infused with water - it's quite spectacular! If you don't have a teapot to hand to infuse your wonderful loose tea its not to worry, it can be enjoyed with an on the go travel press.
AFTERNOON TEA MENU
The great fun of afternoon is decided on what treats or sandwiches to pair with your teas - for example a Darjeeling with its champagne like tastes works really well with cakes. An Assam or Earl Grey tea is fabulous with sandwiches and more savoury cakes - prepare this in advance if you like and have a tasting of the food you would like to serve and the teas you are thinking about - we would suggest an Earl Grey Tea, an Assam and a Darjeeling.
An afternoon tea menu should include light cakes, scones and sandwiches. Traditional sandwich fillings are often cucumber, smoked salmon, coronation chicken or egg mayonnaise. But they should always be served with the crusts cut off - Anne, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, was quite insistent on this point!
Quite a lot of the food on an Afternoon tea menu is rich, so you don't need to serve large portions. That way guests can enjoy trying a little of everything.
TRADITIONAL AFTERNOON TEA ETIQUETTE
Whilst this may be how the crème de la crème do things – but for us at Twinings it’s all about making the experience perfect for you and your guests – so in our mind replacing the firm handshake with a hug is no taboo broken.
- Always greet your guests or host with a firm handshake.
- Once sat, place your handbag or clutch on your lap or for more convenience place it behind you resting against the chair – this will also stop you from slouching.
- When the host announces it’s time to begin your afternoon tea, take your napkin, unfold it and place it on your lap. However, if you must leave the table for any reason fold it neatly and place it on your chair. Never leave it on the table; you will ruin the beauty of the place settings and features that you or the host has spent hours preparing.
- If you take sugar in your tea then this must be placed into the cup first.
- For those of you drinking Earl Grey the traditional way, place a thin slice of lemon into the cup first. You can place sugar and lemon together in the cup but not the milk.
- Milk is added to the tea after you have added your tea, sugar and/or lemon (this is a preference though). “To put milk in your tea before sugar is to cross the path of love, perhaps never to marry.”1 This is a tea superstition from the French – they also recommend you put the milk in last.
- When your stirring your tea make sure you spoon doesn’t touch the sides of the cup and when you’ve finished place it behind the cup on the saucer – never leave the spoon in the cup.
- Now you must hold your cup in the correct way, never grasp your cup with both hands, you must always use the delicate handle provided. There are many debates about the ‘pinky finger’ and how it should sit when drinking tea. Some may say you must stick your little finger out however; many etiquette experts frown upon extending the pinky finger while drinking and deem it a sign of pretentiousness. We say, it’s your choice if you want to stick your pinky out then go for it!
- The correct order to eat the traditional afternoon tea is to eat the sandwiches and savouries first, then move onto the scones and ending on the sweets.
- There are many traditions and superstitions about the way you should eat your scones, the Cornish believe you should cut the scone in half and then cover it in jam then add clotted cream. The Devonshire folk believe you should cut the scone in half, cover it in clotted cream first then add a teaspoon of jam. These are the traditions they have set in place, there is no right or wrong. Try both and see what you prefer.
We hope you enjoyed our top tips and the traditions that follow afternoon tea and that they help you in your creativity. Now it’s time to make your own rules.