For many years, tea has been a symbol of British culture. It has been one of the obsessions since people received it from China in the 1600s. It has a long history covering everything from trade and travel to etiquette and classes. When it comes to culture, the British tea culture is in two groups – for those who start by pouring the tea and those who start with milk. Statistics show that the British consume around 165 million cups of tea each day. That is around 60.2 billion cups of tea each year.
People in the United States are known to drink more iced tea than any other type of tea. English Breakfast tea does not exist in most kitchen cupboards but in the UK, it is more like a kitchen staple. Most Brits regard tea as their staple drink. They brew it strongly and add milk and sugar in a print mug or a Chinese cup and saucer for the afternoon hours.
Away from homes, tea is the centre of attention on most social occasions. To be seen as proper British tea, it has to be prepared and served in the right way. Whether it is for the regular afternoon tea or the formal tea parties, you will have to learn and practice some rules before participating. This guide will help you learn the proper British tea etiquette.
Understand the tea event
To know the etiquette to observe, you have to understand the four key types of British tea events. All the tea events might be casual or formal but attending wearing jeans, sneakers and sweatpants is unacceptable. Every party, including the most casual, will require either a dress or slacks in addition to the top you wear to your office. Here are the key events.
1. Afternoon tea
The other common name for afternoon tea is “low tea”. That is because people enjoy it at low tables such as tea or coffee tables in your living room. The event demand more relaxed settings, which is unexpected with the high tea. That does not mean that the tea has to be casual.
2. High tea
This is the type of tea served at higher tables than those associated with low tea – they can be served on dining tables. High tea is served with some small snacks or substantial things.
3. Cream tea
The occasions involve tea enjoyed in the afternoon, with scones or clotted cream – known as a cream tea. It is among the commonest events.
4. Royale tea
To get Royale tea, you just need to add sherry or champagne to your cup of tea.
The basic etiquette
Traditional British tea events comprise of leaf teapots and not teabags. You might also find cups, saucers, sugar, milk, hot water, teaspoons, tea strainer, cakes, sandwiches, scones and large starched napkin. In private houses, the host will serve the tea in the sitting room on a coffee-style table. In hotels, you will find higher dining-style tables. Here are the basic etiquettes to remember.
1. Serving the tea
Someone will be nominated as the pourer – if there is none, you will have to nominate one. Pass a cup to every recipient before pouring. Never pour many cups and then pass them out. Pour the tea through the strainer over the cup to catch the loose leaves. Place it in the rest place after you have poured the tea.
2. Manage the additions
The host will pass the sugar and milk around so that everyone can add to their tea. Never start by adding milk. That should be the case when the host starts by pouring tea for his/her guests. Add the milk after the host has poured tea but you should start by pouring the lemon or sugar into the cup before they pour the tea. Add sugar as the last thing and avoid stirring in large circular motions. Stir in a gentle motion and avoid clinking the spoon against the cup. Do not add milk to green or white tea. Save the cream and milk for your black tea. Do not stir your tea as if you are beating a cake mix. Never leave the spoon in your teacup after stirring it. Place it on your saucer behind the teacup.
3. How to drink the tea
When drinking the tea, sit up straight, take the napkin and spread it on your lap. Hold your teacup by its handle and take it to the mouth – do not lean forward when drinking. Never cradle your cup on the hands and do not raise the little finger. Take smaller sips and do not slurp or blow on the hot tea to cool it. Place the cup on your saucer in between sips.
Related Article: Why Do People Slurp Tea? Is It Rude? How to Slurp a Tea?
4. Eating the accompaniments
The host will serve some cucumber sandwiches, which they cut into small rectangles or squares with the crusts removed. Take just one sandwich and do not mind about the size. Remember to eat take several bites. Cupcakes are modern and you are unlikely to find them in traditional tea fare. When served, they should be mesh-free and small. Use your hands to break the scones halfway and spread the cream and jam onto them – do not use a knife. Do not use the halves to make a sandwich. Eat them individually.
One cup will not be enough, so you have to enjoy at least two cups. Remember that others will see three cups as too much. When it is time to leave, unfold the napkin and place it to the left of the table setting. Do not leave it on the chair or folded.
The things to observe
To avoid appearing uncouth, you will have to follow several rules when taking tea. In some places, they will look very basic but they are foreign concepts to most westerners. Here are the tips.
- Use clotted cream: take the clotted cream and spread it on the scones. That will take a little effort but it will make your tea more elegant. You can buy it from a local store or make it.
- Use loose tea: tea bags are acceptable in British tea events but loose tea is preferable. Loose tea will offer more pronounced flavours and the experience that comes with using loose tea is elegant. Buy tea balls from the kitchen section of department stores, tea shops or kitchen stores.
- Steep the tea for the right length of time: for even better flavour, you will have to steep your tea for the appropriate time. Allow the tea to settle for the antioxidants and flavours to flow into the hot water. Do not leave it for a long time because that may result in a harsh and bitter taste. The appropriate length of the tie is around 5-6 minutes.
- Request specific milk when necessary: in addition to the cow’s milk, you will have other options such as coconut, almond and soy milk. When enjoying tea in your home, use what is available.
- Replenish your cup: do not allow the teapot to go empty. Because it is always good you start with a clean teapot, having more than one is not a bad idea.
- Eat properly: eat the finger sandwiches with your hands and use the fork to consume the cakes. Never take huge bites. Nibbling or taking tiny bites is better than looking as if you have not eaten for a week.
- Take your time: when enjoying your English tea, enjoy it leisurely and never gorge. The afternoon tea will help you relax. So, enjoy it slowly.
- Use the napkin: it doesn’t matter if it’s linen or paper. Instead of wiping your mouth vigorously, blot your lips gently.
- Never lift the pinky. Some people started a myth that raising the pinky would help keep the cup balanced. That is untrue and there is no need for raising it.
- Use the strainer when steeping loose tea because some of the tea leaves might get loose in the water. You would not want to use your teeth to pick the tea leaves out after finishing.
- Do not dip your scones or biscuits into the tea: that would appear rude. Instead of drinking them, break off a few pieces and use the clotted cream to spread every bite.
- Do not show up in sweats, sportswear or sneakers: casual tea events will command more respect than other events command. So, knit dress, skit and bows or a pair of trousers will be appropriate. For men, collared shirts and clean trousers are a good choice.
Even though there will be nothing wrong if you bring up a controversial topic when enjoying tea in a party, never allow the topics to escalate to a point where they become a brawl. Immediately you realize that your blood pressure has increased, change the topic to something different. If the others are not willing to do that, tell them that you prefer discussing something that is not bothersome.
If you are the host, having a list of discussion topics is always a good idea. That way, you will avoid lulls in conversations. Some of the things to discuss include tea varieties, history of tea, the weather and British royalty. And if you are a guest, listen to what the host has to say.
Each time he/she changes the topic, move with the flow. Be friendly and gracious until the party ends. If you are happy with the served tea, pour some more into your cup. If you do not, take smaller sips or pretend to – keep the opinions to yourself.