A Fool-Proof Guide to Proper Tea Etiquette

A Fool-Proof Guide to Proper Tea Etiquette

A Fool-Proof Guide to Proper Tea Etiquette

A beautiful bone china tea set sits before you. Decadent pastries and savory sandwiches on small, delicate saucers cause your belly to rumble. You smooth a napkin on your lap before reaching across the table for the teapot to pour freshly steeped tea into your teacup. Tea splashes onto the tablecloth as you fill your teacup to the rim. Though a little full, you still add a drop of milk and a pinch of sugar. You stir, clanking your teaspoon against your teacup until you achieve your desired tea colour. You place your dripping teaspoon on the tablecloth and take a gulp from the teacup, pinky finger raised for a touch of elegance.

You have just committed a felony in the Afternoon Tea society. Do not worry, I am here to help you avoid making these tragic mistakes in the future.

Here is iLOLA's Guide to Tea Etiquette


Invitations are the beginning of the ritual. These may be extended and accepted by telephone, face-to-face, or by mailing them with sufficient time to respond. Depending on the geographic location, two weeks or longer in advance is reasonable. Invitations may be informal or engraved, handwritten in calligraphy, or printed through a calligraphy computer program.

Assign a Designated "Tea Pourer"

Invite a friend or two to be your designated “tea pourers.” It is considered an honour to pour tea. The tea pourer is regarded as the guardian of the teapot, which implies sterling social graces and profound trust.

Tea pourers should not be pouring for more than twenty minutes at a time. So, if your party looks to be larger than four or five, consider nominating two pourers for your hosted event.

Choose the Right Tea-time

Traditionally, tea-time began at four o'clock. In the 1800s, “lunch” was not yet normalized. In these times, they would solely eat breakfast and dinner. The essence of the Afternoon Tea being curated with little sandwiches and mini desserts was to cater to an appetite without spoiling a hearty dinner that was to soon follow.

Flash forward to 2021, anytime between two and five o'clock is appropriate for hosting your Afternoon Tea.

On a side note, if you ever wondered why British people invite you over for tea, then bring out a full course meal, it relates directly to a misuse of the above, merging Afternoon Tea with dinner. To decipher this, “would you like to join us for tea” actually means dinner, while “would you like to pop over for a tea” means tea and a biscuit. Confused? Please understand you are not the only one.

How to Stir a Cup of Tea

Move your teaspoon in a small arch, back and forth, in the center of the cup. This should be done gently and noiselessly. Do not allow the teaspoon to touch the sides or rim of the cup. Remove the spoon and place it on the saucer behind the cup. Ensure the handle of the spoon and the handle of the cup are facing the same direction. Visualize the face of a clock on the saucer and have both handles facing four on the clock.

Afternoon Tea Faux-Pas

1. Never leave your spoon upright in your teacup.

2. Never place your teaspoon on the saucer in front of your teacup.

3. Never make unnecessary noise by clanking the sides of your teacup while stirring.

4. Never let your spoon drop, after stirring the tea, with a clank onto the saucer.

5. Never fill a teacup to the rim.

These faux-pas were born out of consideration for your host and the other guests. It is a statement of respect to others, which in turn will create respect for you.

How to Handle Tea Spills in Your Saucer
In upscale establishments or someone's home, tea spills may be remedied by requesting a clean saucer. In a casual setting, it is acceptable to fold a paper napkin and slip it under the cup to soak up the liquid. Remove the unsightly soggy napkin from the saucer and place it on another dish if one is available. You can prevent saucer spills by filling the teacup only three-quarters full.

How to Pour Tea Properly
Tea should be served by the designated tea pourers. Every pour must be done with grace and intention. Guests are not to handle another guest’s teacup and should always take their tea directly from the tea pourer.

The tea pourer holds the teacup and saucer in their left hand before serving. They should always ask each guest whether they prefer their tea strong or weak.

Strong Tea Requests

Always pour a teacup three-fourths full to prevent the tea from spilling into the saucer. Politely ask, "with milk, sugar, or lemon?" Add the requested ingredients and place a teaspoon on the saucer.

Weak Tea Requests 

Always pour a teacup about one-half full, leaving space for the addition of hot water. Add the hot water and politely ask, "with milk, sugar, or lemon?" Add the requested ingredients and place a teaspoon on the saucer. Milk: Pour First or Last? There are several different opinions on this subject. The answer lies in chinaware. Due to the delicate nature of bone china, pouring hot water inside a teacup could result in cracking the china. To prevent this from happening, it was most popular to pour milk first and hot water second. This was later reversed to gain more control over the quantity of milk desired. Our advice is to consider your guests first when making this decision. Rest assured that pouring your milk first or last will not affect your tea etiquette.

After Tea Course

Accompanying your choice of teas, there are three distinct courses: first, savones (tiny sandwiches) to blunt the appetite, scones with jam (jelly), and finally, pastries.

Scones with Cream and Jam 

A common argument regarding scones is whether to apply cream then jam, or jam and then cream. To clarify, jam is the English term for jelly. Often based on the fruits of the season, strawberry or blackberry flavoured jam was preferred.

Our view at iLOLA when responding to this is to consider your guests. The butter knife used when applying jam can be shared. We recommend applying jam and then cream as it prevents tarnishing the jam with cream left on the butter knife. Guests who reach for the jam after you will be thankful for this etiquette.

Cream is usually applied with a spoon which reduces the risk of cross over. If your guest has taken the extra efforts of providing you with your own containers of jam and cream, they are providing you with the opportunity to make your own choice without causing offense.

The Essence of Tea Etiquette Afternoon Tea takes on a responsibility of ‘selfless’ acts. Any ‘selfish’ acts would be considered brash and offensive. Do not eat all the pastries without offering your guests another round. Do not drink all the tea without offering your guests another cup. Do not swipe scone crumbs onto your guest's lap. Do not place your dirty napkin on your guest’s saucer.

The essence of tea etiquette is to consider your guests or hosts during your Afternoon Tea. Consider the following:

1. How can I best serve my fellow guests or hosts?

2. How can I prevent embarrassment to my fellow guests or host? 

3. How can I be respectful to my surroundings?

Respect is an exchange between parties with consideration for each other. If given without reciprocation, it is often swiftly removed.

Incorporating the luxury and decadent patented iLOLA Tea Discs is an opportunity to showcase that you not only strive to bring luxury into your life, but also your awareness to be on trend. Whether a guest or a host, this is your opportunity to shine and demonstrate your tea etiquette skills. Above all, remember to enjoy these moments with your loved ones. Cherish the memories you are destined to create; they will enrich your life in beautiful ways.

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