Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image
Scroll to top


A Tale of Afternoon Tea (History and Etiquette) - Rivertea Blog

A Tale of Afternoon Tea (History and Etiquette)

| On 19, Jun 2013


Enjoying an afternoon tea alongside friends and family is a long lasting British tradition, but it’s not mandatory to keep it in the country. Throwing an old fashioned tea party is a good reason to meet up with your closest ones, make your favorite tea and serve the most delicious cookies you can find.

If you want to do it the right way, though, there are a few things you need to know about what afternoon tea entails, what is permitted and what is a faux pas.

How it all started


Before anything else, let’s find out how it all started. It is said that when King  Charles the II married Catharine of Braganza, who was a heavy tea drinker, in 1661 she brought with her from Spain to England a casket of tea, thus becoming the first tea drinking queen. She would invite her friends in her bedroom chamber to share a porcelain cup of hot beverage.

During the 18th century tea parties in the garden became popular. It was fashionable for ladies and gentlemen to take their tea together surrounded by entertainers. This made tea a voguish drink at the time.

However, the taking of tea in the afternoon developed as a social event in the late 1830s and early 1840s.  It is credited to Anne, the Duchess of Bedford. She requested to have tea and snacks brought to her in the late afternoon because she couldn’t bare through the long gap between meals. Then she began inviting her friends to join her turning it into a tradition.

First steps


Starting the party means setting the scene. Use your best crockery and make it a little more special with lace-like doilies, folded napkins and name place signs. For a truly formal table you should place the napkin on the left side of the place setting and it should be folded with the closed edge to the left and open edge on the right.

Cover your table with a table cloth and string up some bunting. If you’re feeling ambitious you can make some place name cookies and ice them  with your guests’ names. On arrival make sure you have sugar and milk set on the table and everything is ready to pour a cup as soon as one sits down. A variety of tea should be provided so that you satisfy everyone’s liking: Earl Grey, peppermint, chamomile, fruit, herbal, English Breakfast and so on. Iced Tea is also an acceptable welcoming beverage.

There aren’t any specific rules when it comes to the edibles, but you should consider sandwiches, cakes, scones, pastries or biscuits. We had 10 amazing snack ideas for you in a recent article that would go great at any tea party. If you’re serving the food on a tiered stand then you should know the bottom tier is for finger sandwiches, the middle for scones and the third for tarts and other bite size deserts. Make sure everything looks elegant and clean and comes in handy for all your guests.

Follow the etiquette


When participating at an afternoon tea party there are certain things you need to do properly. When it comes to serving tea you need to behave with elegance and manners and make sure you do not bother nor offend the people next to you. To make it easier we made a list of 20 things you have to take into consideration at such a gathering:


1. You should know never to slurp your tea or wash down food.

2. Do not fill your cup to the rip or stir so others can hear.

3. Do not allow the teaspoon to touch the sides of the cup.

4. Always keep your teacup and saucer together.

5. The tea bag should be placed in the teapot first and afterwards add the water.

6. Use lemon slices, not wedges.

7. First place the sugar in the cup and then add the lemon. Never use milk and lemon together.

8. You can either pour the tea or the milk in the cup first, but never use cream.

9. The handle of the cup and the spoon should point to 4 o’clock.

10. Never bounce the tea bag up and down in your cup to help the steeping process.

11. Do not drain the tea bag by winding the string around a spoon.

12. Take your spoon out of your cup after steering and place it behind the cup always.

13. You should always look inside a cup while drinking, not over it.

14. When seated at the table, you should put your napkin on your lap.

15. Never put your fork back on the table, place it in the side of the plate.

16. Do not hold your tea cup in the air, always place it back on the saucer.

17. Never loop your fingers through the handle, nor grasp the vessel bowl with the palm of your hand.

18. There is no smoking at a tea party. It’s absorbed into the tea and ruins the flavor.

19. Do not put your pinky up.

20. Remember to write a thank you note to the host after the party.


With all this information, now you must throw an afternoon tea as soon as possible. Just remember that the most important thing is seeing your friends and having fun!


We’ll soon launch our new incredibly tasty tea blends. Join us, there are lots of special gifts waiting for you.