Tea Party Etiquette

Spring officially starts March 20th and many will welcome the season with a tea party.  As the flowers begin to bloom and the leaves return to the trees, it is the perfect time to host or attend a tea party.

As with dining etiquette, it is important to exhibit proper manners at a tea party.  Your decorum will be on display and here are some guidelines to assist you.

Tea Time – High Tea vs. Afternoon Tea

There is a misunderstanding in America between high tea and afternoon tea.  An afternoon tea, also referred to as “low tea,” takes place between the hours of 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.  At this tea, one is often served scones, tea sandwiches and sweets.  High tea happens between 5:00-7:00 p.m.  It is known as “meat tea” because it is observed around dinner time and heartier foods are likely served.  High and low (afternoon) teas relate to the height of the table the tea is served on.  High tea is served at the dinner table, whereas low tea is consumed at a low coffee table near sofas and lounging chairs.

Tea Attire

The customary attire for men and women attending a tea is semi-formal.  Often ladies sport hats, gloves and brightly colored suits and dresses.  Black is never appropriate for a tea party.  It is OK for a lady to wear her hat at the table; however gloves should be removed before the tea service begins.

Tea Service

The pouring of tea is done by the host or assigned to a close friend.  The server of tea serves from the right.  Tea is to be stirred gently in a half-moon motion without hitting the rim of the cup. To stir in a half-moon motion, place your spoon at the six o’clock position and move upward toward the twelve o’clock position. The tea spoon is never left in the cup.  If you use a tea bag, discard it on a designated dish or your saucer.  Tea is not to be blown or slurped.  Sip it delicately and savor the flavors.

The Pinkie Myth

The correct way to hold a tea cup that has handles is to position your first one or two fingers through the handle and place the thumb above the handle.  The other fingers follow the curve of the hand.  There is no need to stickout one’s pinkie finger.  This was done when tea cups did not have handles.  The cups were held using the thumb and middle finger, then balanced with the pinkie lifted upward.

Tea Party Foods

Scones, crustless sandwiches and desserts are the traditional foods served at a tea party.  These foods are nicely displayed on a three-tiered curate stand.  The scones are placed on the top tier; the sandwiches are in the middle, followed by the sweets on the bottom.  Tea foods are also eaten in this order.  There is no need to use forks when eating scones and tea sandwiches; however use a knife to place jams and creams on your plate first, then to spread on the scones.  Even though tea sandwiches are petite, they are not to be eaten whole.  Take small bites.

I would love to hear about the tea parties you have attended or plan to attend or host soon.  Post a comment and share your experience regarding the theme of the party, unique foods, your favorite tea, etc.

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Tina Hayes is the founder and owner of The School of Etiquette and Decorum in Antioch, CA. As a passionate instructor dedicated to providing quality and professional etiquette training to her clients, Mrs. Tina Hayes promotes the awareness that social presentation and behaviors are important to be successful in today's society for all ages.