Tea Time Etiquette
Tea Time Etiquette
Whenever I speak with individuals about the topic of manners and
etiquette, I am invariably asked about some of the particular rules of
taking tea. The truth is that the main reason I personally love tea
parties so much is because the focus is on the companionship and relaxed
conversation. They can be quite relaxed affairs and are generally
easier to host than a dinner party...once we get over the fear of
falling short on some intimidating point of protocol!
So here is a 'starter kit' of the finer points of etiquette that you'll want to keep in mind whether you are the hostess or a guest of a tea party:
-A proper invitation will educate guests as to what to expect and prepare for, not just to tell them the time and place. Perhaps you want your guests bring their favorite tea cup or wear a hat. This information needs to be communicated clearly in the invitation so as to avoid any embarrassing moments for you or your guests.
-While linen napkins are preferable for a formal tea, good quality small paper napkins are perfectly acceptable. (Trivia, at a good tea house, the server will place your cloth napkin in your lap for you!)
-Blot lipstick before drinking, avoiding leaving lip prints on the teacup or linens.
-If you must leave the table and are going to return, you place the napkin on the seat of your chair. When everyone has finished tea, the hostess signals the end of tea time by placing her napkin loosely to the left of the plate.
-The hostess guest of honor, if there is one, should not be stuck in the kitchen, but should be mingling and entertaining her guests while some special friends share the duties of "pourer".
-No pourer should be at her station for more than thirty minutes. She should fill the cup 3/4 full and then ask "Would you like sugar? One lump or two?" (always use cubed sugar) since sugar naturally dissolves easier in warmer tea. Then ask if they would also like milk or lemon-but NEVER milk and lemon together, as the lemon will curdle the milk. Serve milk with tea, not cream. Real cream has a tendency to react with the acidity level in the tea and it also tends to mask the flavor.
-Ideally, the lemon is served in thin slices which can be floated in the cup. If using wedges, provide a small lemon fork to squeeze lemon, then an extra saucer or bowl for discarded rind. Avoid floating large pieces of lemon in the cup.
-Once the tea has been poured, if it is a buffet, the guest then helps himself or herself to the refreshments. If the guests are seated and must wait to be served, the refreshments should be on their table in 3-tiered platters (savories on bottom, scones in the middle, and sweets on top) or presented in courses (savories, scones, sweets in that order) on silver trays.
-Curtains should be drawn if candles are lit during the day.
-Hold your tea cup by it's handle, using a bent index finger and thumb to 'pinch' the handle. Unlike the grasp used with a coffee mug, you never want to 'ring' your finger through the handle.
-Often, we hear 'pinkies up!', but the truth is that the last finger, like all of the other fingers, are simply curved inward. If, in the course of lifting your teacup to drink, your pinkie naturally extends, then it is perfectly correct to do so. If you purposely extend (or purposely inhibit) your pinkie, you're really over-thinking it!
-Gently swish the tea back and forth when stirring. Never leave your spoon upright in the cup and likewise, be sure not to sip your tea from the spoon as well. After stirring, return the spoon to the saucer, placing it quietly behind the cup, not in front. It should be on the right hand side of the saucer, behind the handle of the cup.
-If you are served hot water and a tea bag, allow the tea bag to rest in the water for approximately five minutes, avoiding dunking the bag (it doesn't really help the steeping process anyway) and REMOVE the teabag before drinking your tea.
-If you are standing or are seated away from a table, never lift the tea cup off the saucer when drinking, pick both up and lift the tea cup only when the saucer will remain a fairly short distance from the cup. If you are seated at a dining table, you may leave the saucer on the table.
-Remember that tea is to be sipped, not slurped and not used to wash down a large bite of food. Swallow your food before you sip your tea. One should always try a little of each course and while doing so avoid talking with his/her mouth full. That is why it is important to take dainty bites.
-When eating scones, you should follow the rules of eating any bread, eating only small bite-sized pieces at a time, with a dollop of jam first topped with cream. Once you have used your utensils, it is impolite to put them back on the table or re-use them to serve yourself more of the jam or cream, so be sure to rest them on the side of your plate.
-If tea is served buffet style, never put dirty plates, cups or accouterment back on the tea table. That goes for your napkin as well. Never put your napkin back on the table until you are ready to leave.
For more information on the history and tradition of tea, Cyndee recommends the book TEA TRAVELS by Ellen Easton with 48 pages of teatips, how to's, napkin folding-11 theme menus,including a heart healthy tea and 115 recipes. It is available from The Tea Party Company
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