English Tradition of Afternoon Tea

The English Tradition of Afternoon Tea

The English tradition of afternoon tea has some particular rules that have been followed for hundreds of years. For example, afternoon tea is served at 4:00 pm every afternoon. Also, particular types of food are served with afternoon tea. Tea time is flexible as well: it is fine to read aloud to the others or to work on sewing or other quiet crafts. It is, however, a social time so it is important to be able to focus on conversation. Cell phones, watching TV and listening to headphones are not allowed.

Once the rules are understood it is quite easy to have afternoon tea the same way that it is held in England.

English tradition of afternoon tea

The traditionn of afternoon tea

Afternoon tea is a time honored tradition in England.

Essential Supplies for Afternoon English Tea

To have a traditional English tea you will need the following items for the table:

  • teapot
  • tea strainer
  • creamer
  • sugar bowl
  • china serving plates
  • tablecloth

Plus, for each person having tea you should have:

  • cup & saucer
  • china plate
  • knife
  • teaspoon

You will lay the tablecloth and arrange everything as attractively as possible. It is not necessary for participants to actually sit down at the table. They can be seated in various places in the room, but everyone should have a place, such as a small table, on which to rest their cup & saucer as well as their plate.

English tradition of afternoon tea

A beautiful teapot, cup & saucer

A beautiful teapot with matching cup and saucer

Tea & How to Prepare it

The type of tea you serve is the most important part of the English tradition of afternoon tea. You can’t go wrong with Lapsang Souchong, Earl Grey, Assam, or Darjeeling. It should be loose leaf and not tea bags and you should make it correctly. Remember, this is a ritual that has lasted centuries!

To properly make a pot of tea you need a teapot. Never make tea in individual cups. This is how it is done:

  1. Start with cold water and bring it almost to a boil.
  2. Fill the teapot with this hot water and then pour the water out to warm the teapot.
  3. Place the loose tea into the teapot using a ratio of 1 tsp.of tea per cup of hot water and then add one more teaspoon of loose tea. This extra teasoon of tea is “for the pot”.
  4. Pour hot water (very, very close to boiling) into the teapot, over the tea.
  5. Allow the tea to steep until it has reached the strength you prefer. Generally, this takes between three and five or six minutes.
  6.  Pour the tea into the cups using a tea strainer. Each cup should be filled approximately two-thirds full.

That’s all there is to it. The participants should then be able to add either lemon and sugar, just cream, just sugar, just lemon, or cream and sugar, according to their preferences. However, don’t try cream and lemon or the cream will definitely curdle!

Food for Afternoon Tea

Dainty sandwiches are almost always served, along with cookies and/or scones.

Typical sandwiches are usually cut into three fingers, with the crusts cut off. a very small amount of butter is used, then they are filled.  Fillings are often made with:

  • cream cheese & chives
  • egg salad
  • smoked salmon with cream cheese
  • cucumber

The sandwiches should be arranged on a nice china plate so everyone can help themselves. You can have an assortment of different sandwich types and it is good to use more than one kind of bread. In terms of quantity, it is good if every person can have at least four of the fingers.

Scones are served at most traditional English teas. To serve scones, first arrange them on a pretty china plate and provide a fruit jam along with Devonshire or clotted cream.

The guests will place a scone along with small amounts of the jam and Devonshire cream on their plates. The scone is broken apart with the fingers, then first the jam, then the clotted cream are applied to the scone with a small knife. This is the order that is always followed. The two halves of the scone are then eaten separately.

As you can see, the English tradition of afternoon tea is a ritual. However, they are simple to follow and once you master them you can have a great social event. There is something quite satisfying about enjoying afternoon tea with friends.

You can go here for information about the history of afternoon tea.

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
– Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady