“Under certain circumstances there are few hours more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
Henry James - The Portrait of a Lady
The ritual of afternoon tea owes its origins to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. Living during a time when it was common to eat only two main meals a day; an early breakfast and a late dinner. Anna decided to schedule time to take tea and snack each afternoon. This private ceremony was firstly done furtively in her bedroom, but over time other social hostesses quickly picked up on the idea and the practice became respectable enough to move it into the drawing room. Before long all of fashionable society was sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.
As modern times come upon us there are many twists to the English tradition however one should always understand and practice the proper etiquette of afternoon tea.
We welcome the Greedy Sisters to talk us through what they learnt from our UK’s leading expert in etiquette and protocol, William Hanson at our Afternoon Tea Etiquette event, that took place last Sunday 4th May.
Greedy Sisters blog:
Afternoon tea has become extremely fashionable recently, with everyone from the Middleton’s to the stars of Made In Chelsea known to enjoy this tasty trend. And we’re no exception, having sampled some delicious afternoon tea’s in the past few years, including the famous Betty’s in York and Fortnum & Mason in London. So when we heard that Manchester’s Great John Street Hotel was hosting an Afternoon Tea Etiquette event we immediately book ourselves in.
The event was hosted by leading etiquette expert William Hanson, who began by guiding us through the history of afternoon tea and why it was first introduced. The boutique hotel’s beautiful rooftop lounge was the perfect setting, as we sank into the cosy chairs with a glass of champagne and learned everything from how to hold your teacup to why tea should always be poured first and milk last. (It’s because the mugs used by servants downstairs were traditionally made from clay that couldn’t withstand the heat of neat tea or coffee, so milk was added first to cool the mugs down. The aristocracy upstairs didn’t have this problem, as their cups were crafted from fine china or porcelain, so they would pour their tea or coffee first to determine the strength, adding the milk at the end.)
William regaled us with plenty more anecdotes throughout the afternoon, including the etiquette of meeting, greeting and saying your goodbyes, while we happily grazed on a sumptuous selection of finger sandwiches, cakes and scones. The food was completely delicious, as was the all-important tea to accompany it. As our indulgent afternoon drew to a close (ending with a quick display of how to walk while balancing a book on your head!) we left feeling informed, entertained and with an even greater appreciation of this delectable British meal.
Our top tips from the day:
- Pour tea first then milk last
- Stir in sugar using a vertical swishing motion, rather than round and round (this helps it to dissolve more quickly and retains the heat)
- Never slice a scone; break it in half and then add cream and jam to each piece
- If you’re dining from a coffee table, lift your cup using a saucer then hold the saucer at chest height
- Large lunch or dinner napkins should be folded in half on your lap
- Take one finger sandwich at a time (we greedy sisters can’t promise we’ll stick to this one)
- Use a pastry fork for tarts and cakes
- Send a brief thank you letter to your host
Thank you again to Great John Street for inviting us to review the event.
Thanks for coming ladies! It was an entertaining and informative afternoon.. Even author Jennifer L. Scott wished she had been there!! Hope she doesn’t miss the next one!