Are you au fait with afternoon tea etiquette?

There are few hours in life more agree able than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea,' said the writer Henry James.

Although James was talking about the afternoon tea of his time during the 19th century, his point still resonates today — afternoon tea is top class.

And who would have guessed that a cuppa and a sarnie would still ooze such elegance? Afternoon tea has long been a favourite with high society, so unsurprisingly it has some very royal connections.

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Back in the 19th century, it was deemed rather fashionable to eat around 8pm. However, for Anna Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, this was simply too long to wait. So the Duchess — a lifelong friend of Queen Victoria — requested a light afternoon snack to nibble on which included bread, cake and tea.

Anna’s teatime treat soon cottoned on with the crème de la crème of English society, and afternoon tea became a popular activity with the middle and upper classes who would don suits, gowns and hats for their new late afternoon ritual. It has since become a quintessentially

English tradition.

Afternoon tea may have changed over the years, with champagne now frequently included, and more informal settings, but if you want to do it Downton-style there is an exceedingly long list of dos and don’ts.

Here’s how to do afternoon tea like a real royal and avoid any teatime faux pas.


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Long gone may be the days of hats and gowns at afternoon tea, but you’ll still need to look sharp.

“These days, most places wouldn’t expect a gentleman to turn up in a suit and tie,” says Keith Newton, afternoon tea expert and managing director of

“Most people prefer to get dressed up for afternoon tea because it’s normally for an occasion like a birthday. The only place nowadays which insists on a shirt and tie is The Ritz.”

And The Ritz still maintains a dress code — jeans and sportswear are not considered suitable attire for ladies or gentlemen enjoying afternoon tea.

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It’s the perfect excuse to dress up and enjoy a cuppa – or a glass of bubbly – but are you au fait with the correct afternoon tea etiquette?

Aimee Stanton explains how to do it in style


“There are three traditional aspects to an afternoon tea,” says Keith. “Cakes, sandwiches and scones.”

Classic afternoon tea should include either cucumber, egg mayonnaise with cress, smoked salmon with cream cheese, coronation chicken or ham and mustard. Sandwiches should be delicately small in size with no crusts – and are of course acceptable to eat with your hands.


The selection of pastries is up to the chef, however, cupcakes are a big no-no. “Smaller is better when it comes to cakes, and they should be small enough to pick up,” says Keith.

“It has to be finger food.”

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Don’t go dunking any biscuits either or prepare for a few side glances...


Scones should be plain or with fruit and served with clotted cream and at least one type of jam. “There’s the argument between Devon and Cornwall as to which was firstto serve scones,” says Keith. “The Devon tradition is cream first and then jam on top, and the Cornish tradition is jam on first then clotted cream.”

Whilst we’re at it, know your pronunciation: scone is pronounced like gone and not like bone.


Darjeeling, English Breakfast and Earl Grey are all classic afternoon tea drinks and some venues have “20 different teas or more” Keith says.

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Whatever your tipple, the choice is down to personal taste. Loose tea is a must though, so you can forget about using any clumsy tea bags. Don’t forget a strainer though, or your pearly whites won’t thank you.


“People say that it balances the cup, but it’s actually seen as a pretension,” explains Keith. Pinky pointing comes from the rich eating their tea with three fingers and the commoners eating with all five fingers.

Leave behind any snobbery and drink away as you wish.

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