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The etiquette of afternoon tea

There’s just something so enticing about a classic afternoon tea – you’ll find plenty of inspiration and recipes here to create a splendid spread!

Afternoon tea

Celebrate this quintessentially British tradition in style with tempting sweet and savoury treats – put the kettle on!

When serving afternoon tea, the hostess should bring all the essential items to the tea table on a large tray. The tray should be set down on the table and the individual items arranged appropriately. Platters of sandwiches and cake stands should be placed in the middle of the table and the teapot should be positioned with the spout facing the hostess, or pourer. In front of each guest a teacup should be placed on a saucer with a teaspoon resting on the right side, a small plate with a fork for eating cake (or knife if you are serving anything that requires spreading) and a napkin. The milk jug and sugar bowl should be arranged near the centre.


A warm teapot should be filled immediately when the water boils, then brought to the table on a tray where it can stand while the tea brews. When the tea is ready to pour, the pourer should take the teapot to each guest and pour carefully into each cup. Tea is traditionally served in a cup holding 120ml (4floz) of liquid and should be three-quarters filled with tea. The size is not imperative, but a teacup should be shallower and wider than a coffee cup to allow the tea to cool slightly before drinking.


Once the tea has been poured, guests may add milk or lemon (offered in delicate slices) and sugar. It is preferable to use gentle to-and-fro movements with the spoon rather than wide, noisy circular motions. The teaspoon should be placed on the saucer to rest. If seated at the table, the correct etiquette is to lift the teacup only to drink the tea and replace it on the saucer between sips. If there is no table, the saucer should be held in the left hand on your lap and the teacup in your right hand. It should be returned to the saucer when not in use. The cup should be held daintily by the handle between the thumb and fingers, with the little finger extended for balance. Never hold the teacup in the palm of your hand or loop your fingers through the handle, and by no means should you wave the cup around. Tea should be drunk in small, silent sips from the cup with as much grace and elegance, and as little slurping, as possible.


The correct size of plate to use for serving sandwiches, cakes, pastries and other delicacies at afternoon tea is between 15 and 20cm (6 and 8in). The hostess must ensure that guests are provided with the necessary cutlery for the food that is served. It is customary to serve wafer-thin sandwiches cut into dainty triangles and with crusts removed from purposely designed bread and butter plates. Finger food can also be served. A slice of cake, scones with jam and cream, or a selection of biscuits are appropriate, in dainty sizes.

When enjoying afternoon tea at a table, place the napkin on your lap and, if you leave the table temporarily for any reason, set the napkin on the seat. All food should be eaten in delicate bites, with the utmost attention to detail. Think about how you will appear to your fellow guests at the tea table. When not in use, forks should be rested on the side of the plate with the tines down. Never place them back on the table once they have been used. Similarly, place used knives on the side of the plate.

Tea should be drunk in small, silent sips with grace & elegance


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About Baking Heaven

Cream or jam first? It's a hotly debated topic in the baking world and one that often divides afternoon tea lovers! Whatever your preference, we've got a selection of delicious scones and quintessentially British cakes and bakes for you to mix and match. You'll also find brilliant breakfast inspiration with flavours from around the globe, posh tarts for entertaining, homemade pizza dough step-by-step and plenty of seasonal cakes, biscuits, puddings and teatime treats to keep you busy – get your copy now!