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Do’s & Dont’s: Afternoon Tea Etiquette

Do’s & Dont’s: Afternoon Tea Etiquette

Vania Ramadina
17 October 2023


Afternoon tea is one of the events to celebrate what happens in life, but being more formal rather than casual, enlighten yourself with its do’s and don’ts before experiencing it.


Having afternoon tea is a way to celebrate a person or special event and can be something that lasts forever to remember. Initially held as a private social event, it’s time to update what the do’s and don’t’s of this English ritual before getting used to experiencing it.

Things to Do When Having Afternoon Tea

Do: Dress Properly

Even if some still consider afternoon tea as fancier occasion, it isn’t always like that to a T. The most important thing is to dress appropriately, and it doesn’t mean you have to be all out to dress fancy. The dress code is primarily smart casual, meaning it is still formal in a way, but it can depend on the place. Essentially, the participants should look neat. What they shouldn’t do is misinterpret the casual and wear clothes that they would be walking on the sidewalk.

Do: Hold the Teacup Handle

When having regular tea, you can use any glass. But if it’s afternoon tea, using teacups is necessary. Remember, there is a slightly different treatment towards the teacups. We would have to hold the cup by the handle. And by hold, I mean not wrapping our fingers around the cup. We use our thumb and index finger to grip the cup handle gently. Some would say to “pinch” it. Grabbing the handle, let alone the whole cup, is something you don’t do in afternoon tea.

Do: Put Your Pinkie Down

Have you ever heard of putting your pinkie finger up when drinking tea? Well, in short, it’s a wrong notion. Some may think that raising the little finger will somehow balance the cup. The truth is, it’s not. Also, there’s no need to do such a thing. It’s not something that you must do in afternoon tea. Instead, don’t do that at all. Believe it or not, it’s discourteous, as people back in the day did it to show they were the cultured ones. Sticking a pinkie doesn’t mean you are more elegant, either.

Do: Saucer on the Table

The teacup comes with the saucer—it’s part of afternoon tea. When you take a sip or between sips of the tea, you don’t need to lift the saucer, just the cup. Afternoon tea is primarily a sit-down occasion, meaning we sit on the table, so there’s no need to hold the saucer every time we drink. The only time it’s okay to keep it is when you’re standing. If you’re drinking your tea while standing, your right thumb and index finger would grip the cup by the handle, and your left hand would hold the saucer.

Things Not to Do When Having Afternoon Tea

Don’t: Call It “High Tea”

Some people mistake afternoon tea for high tea. Thus, they would call it high tea. The problem is afternoon tea isn’t the same thing as high tea. So, you shouldn’t call it high tea but instead name it as it is. Afternoon and high tea are not interchangeable, and the two occasions differ regarding food. Afternoon tea consists of light bites like scones, while high tea is more of a meal or a supper with heavy foods like meat and vegetables. The high in high tea refers to a high table to enjoy the tea.

Don’t: Slurp Your Tea

In most countries, many people consider slurping your drink or food rude. This notion, too, applies to afternoon tea. Substantially, slurping your tea can come off as annoying to other people because it’s loud. While afternoon tea is an event to be social, it’s not a rowdy event. It’s way better to take small sips so you don’t create a sound from your mouth. It’s also better to not slurp it. Don’t ever chug your tea either because it’s not the event to do it.

Don’t: Make a Sound With Your Teaspoon

It seems kind of impossible, doesn’t it? Sure, you would want to stir your tea, especially when you add sugar or milk. It’s not that you can’t do that at all. You just have to blend your drink gently and silently. Making noise with the teaspoon is not needed in afternoon tea. Do it gently so you don’t splash your tea. Please don’t touch any side of the teacup so it makes no sound. The way to do it is to stir the tea up and down, pointing to six and twelve o’clock.

Don’t: Put Your Teaspoon in the Teacup

You do not make a sound with your teaspoon as well as putting it in the teacup. Remember you have to put the saucer on the table when siping? If you were to have your teaspoon, put it on the right side of the saucer every single time you drink the tea. Leaving your teaspoon is necessary because it will poke your face when you drink it. When that happens, it won’t be a sight to see. The teaspoon is solely for stirring, not tasting.

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