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Tea-Time Manners

by Joy Weaver

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Tea-Time Manners The holidays are here thus rendering it the busiest socializing season of the year. You will be invited to many different parties and events - company parties, church functions, club events and the list goes on, but what if you are invited to a Christmas Holiday Tea? Would you be confident enough to navigate tea-time? Let’s take a moment to polish-up on our tea-time manners.
First we must know the terminology – there are various types of teas parties
Afternoon Tea is served in the U.S. typically between the afternoon hours of three o’clock and five o’clock. A variety of teas are served along with three distinct courses – first, finger sandwiches are eaten, scones are next, and finally the sweet treat of pastries. In addition, afternoon tea is sometimes called “low tea” because it is served at low tables placed beside armchairs.
Afternoon tea has been around for many centuries, but became popular in the 1840’s by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, who suffered hunger pains during the long afternoons between lunch and the late evening meal. It became the “It “ thing to do and eventually turned into a social affair among the English aristocracy.
High Tea- please remember the biggest faux pas is to refer to afternoon tea as “high tea.” (You will be looked down upon as a novice tea drinker) Often times the term “high tea” is misused by people who want tea-time to sound more refined. Note: “high tea” is a hearty, simple, sit-down meal that the Industrial Revolution workers of the 19th century originated. The workers came home in the late afternoon from the fields, factories, and mines starved after a long and hard day of work. Traditionally the high tea meal was served in the late afternoon. It was set-up family style with tea to drink and meat to eat, now known as a supper buffet.
Royal Tea is a choice of tea and a four-course menu of finger sandwiches, scones, sweets, desserts and a glass of champagne or sherry. The addition of the glass of champagne or sherry is the distinction of “royal tea.”
Light Tea is a lighter version of afternoon tea. The menu excludes the fingers sandwiches but includes scones, sweets, and of course a variety of teas.
There are various ways to serve the food at a tea. A savvy host knows an easy and elegant way to present each course is on a tiered stand. The first course eaten is from the bottom tier and we work our way up.
  • The first tier (bottom) is reserved for the finger sandwiches.
  • The second tier (middle) holds the scones.
  • The third tier (top) is for the small pasties, tarts and other bite-size sweet desserts.
There are several “nevers” to remember:
  • Never fill your cup to the rim – it will only spill onto the saucer creating a dilemma. Never stir so others can hear it.  Do not allow the teaspoon to touch the sides of the cup. Quietly stir in a little figure-eight motion and place the spoon on the front-side of your cup.
  • Never cradle the cup with your fingers.
  • Never swirl the tea around in the cup as if it were a wine glass.
  • Never-ever bounce the tea bag up and down in your cup to help the steeping process.
  • Never drain a tea bag by winding the string around a spoon.
  • Never place your empty cup, saucer and plate back on the tea table when you leave. The tea table is the display for the tea and food and should remain beautiful through the tea time.
There are also several “always” we should adhere to at tea-time:
  • Always keep your tea cup and saucer close together, do not separate more than 12 inches apart. For example: if you are sitting on a sofa and lean back – pick up your saucer too, or if your stand up, do not leave the saucer sitting on the table. Always hold your saucer (with the teacup) in the palm of your hand at waist level and sip (a silent sip!).
  • Always request the tea bag be placed in the teapot first and the hot water added.
  • Always pour tea in your cup first in order to judge the strength before adding lemon, sugar or milk.
  • Always use lemon slices in your cup, instead of wedges. The handle of the spoon and the handle of the cup point to 4 o’clock.
  • Always take your spoon out of your cup after stirring, then place your spoon in front of your cup
  • Always request a saucer to hold the used tea bag, sugar wrappers or any disposables used.
  • Always write your host a thank-you note after the tea party.
Hosting a tea in your home is a special way to entertain friends or even hold a business meeting. There is much to know about “tea-time” and this information will prepare you in advance and provide you the confidence needed to navigate the tea table.
Oh yes, and remember one more thing: Do not raise your pinky finger up when holding a tea cup. It will guarantee you a place in the tea drinkers “hall of shame!”
Joy Weaver is renowned etiquette expert and author of “Just Ask Joy… How to Be Socially Savvy in All Situations”—a book highly endorsed by Jean and Zig Ziglar. Joy is a regular guest on ABC’s Good Morning Texas and the CBS/11 Early Show. She is nationally published and her business has been featured on ABC’s The View, in the Associated Press, New York Times, USA Today, Southern Living Magazine, Dallas Morning News, and The Dallas Business Journal. Protocol Enterprises/Just Ask Joy is based in Dallas and has served clients from youth groups, women and church organizations, and predominately Corporate-America across the country since 2000. You can learn more at   

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