The Etiquette of Tea

Your guide through the labyrinth of ‘rules’ around tea

Nothing quite beats a cup of tea and a fresh scone at the right time – but when exactly is the right time? Clearly these days the answer is ‘whenever the fancy takes you’, but that doesn’t stop some insisting on the existence of a set of rules. So, let us take you by the hand.

Tea has been constrained by all kinds of rules and practices over the centuries, in Britain as much as Japan. At Fortnum's we encourage you to cast off the shackles of tradition, but then again tradition is why many come to us - so for your interest, we have listed a few 'rules' of etiquette that have grown up around the taking of tea in Britain. Feel free to keep or break them all: we’d never dream of disapproving.

How to hold the cup

tea and scone

Hold the handle between your thumb and fingers, rather than curling your fingers through the handle. Don’t extend the little finger unless auditioning for the part of Mrs Bennett in Pride & Prejudice. Or Hyacinth Bouquet. We could go on.

Stirring a cup of tea

It is best to move the spoon gently back and forth from front to back, rather than round and round, and to avoid clinking the side of the cup. Okay, that one is just basic good manners.

How to eat a scone

Instead of cutting the scone in half, break it off piece by piece. Spread it with clotted cream and then jam. Or jam and then clotted cream. Why not try both in turn? It’s time that Great Aunt learned just what a rugged individualist you are.

Crust or no crust?

Guess what? It’s entirely up to you. The Duchess of Bedford, one of the first people to popularise afternoon tea as a social occasion, had the crusts cut off hers; so if emulating Victorian aristocracy is your aim, go right ahead and excise. If cutting sandwiches into fingers, crusts don’t help. If triangles, either works.

When to take your tea

Whenever you see the famous Fortnum’s clock in an illustration, the hands are set to four o’clock. That's the traditional time for afternoon tea – a respectable distance from lunch, and not too close to dinner. So goes the theory, at any rate, and for a ‘traditional’ occasion, it still suits many: it’s certainly the busiest time at our Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.

Your table awaits.

Book Afternoon Tea