Afternoon Tea Etiquette

Faux pas and etiquette!


By David Morgan-Hewitt, Managing Director of The Goring


“We serve a wonderful little dish called “Not Quite A Trifle” with our tea. It comes in a little glass, and is eaten with a small spoon. One day one of the waiters noticed that one of our guests was using her knife to spread the “Not Quite A Trifle” onto her scone. She had clearly got a bit confused!”

“Another time clients turned up for tea, and they were in full evening dress: she in a ball gown and he in black tie and tails. The manager on duty welcomed them in and commented on how smart they looked and asked were they going on somewhere else? As it turned out, they were so excited about coming to tea, and they genuinely thought that full evening dress was required for afternoon tea at The Goring!”



What is the dress code for Afternoon Tea?

At The Goring we do encourage people to dress up for the occasion but nowadays, like most places, the dress code for afternoon tea is ‘smart casual’ – please don’t wear sports gear, trainers or baseball caps! For the ladies it’s the perfect excuse to get dressed up.


High Tea or Afternoon Tea?

Sometimes people get confused between High Tea and Afternoon Tea – but High Tea really doesn’t exist anymore. It was a more savoury version of tea, usually eaten after work or by children.

Afternoon Tea becomes a Cream Tea, when scones and clotted cream, with jam, is included.

‘Royal Tea’ is a less widely used term signifying the addition of a glass of champagne to a traditional Afternoon Tea, for those extra special occasions!




Don’t…dunk your biscuits in the tea – this is strictly something that should only take place at home.

Don’t…raise your little finger (pinkie) when holding the teacup. This is seen as being over-precious and definitely a faux pas.

Don’t…hold the cut in both hands like a mug. Just hold it by the handle, and put it back down on the saucer when you have finished drinking.

Don’t…blow onto your tea to cool it down, or slurp your tea whilst drinking. If the tea is too hot, wait for it to cool down a bit, give it a little stir, or add a little milk.


Frequently asked questions…


Cream or jam first?

Both Cornish and Devonshire people lay claim to the invention of the Cream Tea, and each have a view on the order of the toppings. The Devon tradition is cream first with jam spread on top whilst the Cornish tradition is to slather the jam on and top it off with clotted cream. At the end of the day it remains a matter of preference.


Milk in first or last?

Putting the milk in last was considered to be the ‘correct’ thing  to do in refined social circles, but the reason for this is often forgotten. In the early days of tea-drinking, poor-quality cups were inclined to crack when hot tea was poured into them, and putting the milk in first helped prevent this. When finer and stronger materials came into use, this was no longer necessary – so putting the milk in last became a way of showing that one had the finest china on one’s table.

That said, putting the milk in last means you can easily judge how much milk you need – but on the other hand, many people swear that putting the milk in first changes the flavor of the tea.

Luckily nowadays, you may choose to pour your tea however you like!



How to make the perfect cup of tea

Choose a fine loose leaf tea, from a reputable supplier like Fortnum & Mason of Twining’s Tea. Boil your kettle. Meanwhile, warm the tea pot, with hot water. Empty out the pot and place one rounded teaspoon of tea per cup, into the pot. Take the pot to the kettle as it is boiling, pour on the the leaves and stir. Leave to brew for three minutes or so – the longer you brew the tea the stronger the taste. We would recommend between three to six minutes of brewing time, no longer, so as to avoid damaging the flavor of the tea.

Pour the milk, or tea first (see above) into the cup, and add sugar to taste. Delicate China teas are never drunk with milk, only a slice of lemon.

There are hundreds of different varieties of tea and each particular tea suits certain tastes, accompaniments and brewing times, however we would always stress the use of loose or leaf tea when crafting your perfect Afternoon Tea. At The Goring, our range of teas has been sourced from all over the world, each having to meet the high expectations of our Head Chef as well as Jeremy Goring himself – although the favourite is still our own signature blend, the product of many years of tweaking and tasting.



The ritual of afternoon tea owes its origins to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. As a young women in the early 1800s she lived during a time when it was common to eat only two main meals a day, with breakfast scheduled early in the morning and dinner occurring late in the evening. Weakened and irritated by hunger pangs each day, she decided to schedule time to take tea and snack each afternoon. This private ceremony was firstly done furtively in her bedroom, but over time well-heeled acquaintances joined her and the practice was perpetuated. Nowadays tea rooms and hotels in London and through the country offer permutations of this centuries-old tradition.






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