What is proper tea etiquette?

A perfectly set, formal afternoon tea place setting, at Kensington Palace. Image: Bit Boy, Wikimedia Commons.

Proper tea etiquette – or table manners in general – not only makes you a more pleasant person to be around, but considers other people by avoiding spreading germs and making a mess. Hopefully these “dos and don’ts” are common sense and easy to understand! Here are some of the details of good tea table etiquette, when you’re taking tea at a tea shop, or at home:

  1. Do offer to pour the cups of tea for your friend or friends.
  2. Add milk to your tea, if you like, but not cream. Cream is too rich and covers up the flavor of the tea. It doesn’t matter whether the milk or the tea goes into your cup first.
  3. Do use the utensils like sugar tongs, lemon forks or serving spoons, to serve yourself or others from shared containers, instead of your fingers or your personal teaspoon or fork. Remember to include these items when stocking your tea party pantry!
  4. When serving yourself some jam or other scone toppings, use the serving spoon or knife to place a small amount on the side of your plate, and then use your personal spoon or knife to spread your jam, cream, etc. on your scone.
  5. When eating your scone, break the scone in half, and only spread one bite-sized section at a time, with the toppings, instead of the entire half-scone.  It helps keep jam, cream, etc. off your face as you’re eating!
  6. Do try to make as little noise as possible when stirring your tea, drinking your tea, or eating your food.
  7. Do place your spoon on your saucer after stirring your tea, instead of on your plate or on the tablecloth.
  8. Do hold your teacup by the handle, either pinching it in between your thumb and first finger, or putting your finger through the handle and supporting the cup with your thumb on top of the handle and your third finger under the handle.
  9. Don’t stick your pinky up or out when holding your cup of tea. It is an affectation which is more prissy than polite, plus it compromises your grasp on the teacup’s handle, which is unsafe.
  10. Don’t turn your teacup upside down on your saucer to indicate when you’ve had enough tea; you will drip tea on the tablecloth!

Teatime is about relaxation, being considerate, and comforting others as you enjoy the comfort of the tea and treats.  That’s not so hard to do!  There are many tea books on the market, including etiquette guidebooks, that can give you more detailed pointers if you want them.  Why not practice good manners over a cup of tea?

Copyright 2012, Elizabeth Urbach.

Like what you read? Leave a comment below, click on “Subscribe” above, visit the San Jose Tea Examiner page on Facebook, read The Cup That Cheers, or follow me on Twitter @SanJoseTea!

For more information:
“The top 10 tea myths: don’t be fooled by any of them!”
“What you need to make a good pot of hot tea”
“Tea 101: How to brew a pot of hot tea using loose tea”
“Where to buy books about tea in San Jose”
“5 books that should be on the tea-lover’s bookshelf”
“Etiquette and manners for the 21st century”

“Afternoon tea vs. high tea”
“The great napkin debate of 2009 continues”
“How to set a table”
“Tea and etiquette”
“Etiquette Faux Pas and Other Misconceptions About Afternoon Tea” by Ellen Easton
“The Gift of Good Manners” by Ellen Easton
“Tea Times – Milk or Lemon for your Tea?” from the Stash Tea blog
“Let’s give a tea party” video from 1940s
“Arranging the tea table” video from 1946
Tea exhibit at Fowler Museum at UCLA


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