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Afternoon and High Tea
Tea and Tea Etiquette
Only two meals were served per day during the nineteenth century, breakfast in the morning and dinner at 8 pm. The duchess of Bedford was the first to take afternoon tea around 4 p.m. to stave off hunger pangs.
During these first "teas," a small amount of food was served. The menu grew as tea became more popular. Although not as popular as it once was, tea is again growing in popularity as people rediscover its recouperative properties.
Afternoon Tea Service
Tea is usually served from a table to make service easier. If a single table is too small, more than one table may be used: one for tea equipment, one for coffee, and yet another for pasteries and sandwiches.
Formal teas are elegant and require significant preparation.
Guests serve themselves from an array of pasteries, mints, finger sandwiches, assorted nuts, pasteries and chocolates.
The best silver and porcelain are used.
Formal teas are normally held at 4:00 pm.
Curtains may be drawn and candles lit.
The hostess pours tea for her guests.
Tea plates are generally not provided if a small amount of finger food is provided which can be placed on a tea saucer. Plates may be used, however, if a more extensive menu is served.
At a formal tea, the table hold two silver services at opposite sides of the table. One for tea, and one for coffee. The following items are usually found at the table:
- sugar bowl,
- hot-water kettle,
- sugar tongs,
- tea caddy,
- caddy spoon,
- waste bowl,
- tea strainer,
- lemon plate,
- lemon fork, or a lemon pick.
Hot-water kettel and teapot spouts should face the pourer. Tea leaves are lifted with the caddy spoon from the tea caddy to the teapot. Boiled water is poured from the hot water kettle into the teapot. The tea is allowed to steep for three (3) to five (5) minutes or until the infusion is strong. Weak tea is made by pouring a small amount of strong tea into the cup and diluting it with hot water. Lemon, milk, or sugar are added as requested.
- Sugar bowls, sugar tongs, teaspoons, creamer, and lemon plate are usually found on the tea tray's right side.
- The pourer places a teaspoon on the saucer, behind the cup handle in a parallel position.
- The creamer is placed to the right of the sugar bowl with the handle pointed toward the pourer.
- The tea caddy, slop bowl, tea strainer (laid on a stand or over a slop bowl), plus teacups and saucers stacked in groups of two are found on the left side of the tray.
- Additional teacups are placed on the table to the left of the tray.
- The pourer lifts the teacup with the left hand and uses the right hand to pour tea.
The formal coffee service features a tray, a coffeepot with an alcohol burner to keep the beverage hot, a sugar bowl with sugar cubes, sugar tongs, and a creamer filled with cream.
Informal tea is usually held between two (2) and three (3) pm. The menu is fairly light comprising of pastries, finger sandwiches, assorted nuts, and candy.
The tea is served in a comfortable setting (patio, living room,) from any flat surface.
High tea is usually served around 5:00 PM. The menu is extensive, like that of canapés hors d'oeuvres at a cocktail party. All other aspects of high tea are the same as afternoon tea.
- Mike Lininger, Editor, Etiquette Scholar
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