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What's the secret to flawless high-tea etiquette?

14 Jun 2019


If there’s an upcoming high tea marked in your diary, you’ll want to sidestep any potential faux pas since the royal occasion does come with a few rules and expectations around etiquette. Ultimately, sipping on tea and nibbling tiny cakes is all a bit of fun, here are the rules to keep in mind if you dream of one day brushing elbows with royalty.

Five things you simply must know before sitting down to high tea.

1. A word on napkins

As soon as you take your seat, place your once-folded napkin over your lap with the fold sitting closest to your body. Should you need to leave the table, place it on the back of the chair. Once high tea has concluded, leave it to the left of your setting.

2. Scones are for gently breaking apart

As The Tea Room QVB executive chef Robert Crichton tells us, “The fluffy, short pastry is actually designed to be torn into bite-sized pieces using the fingers – never cut with a knife.” One, however, must eat the sandwiches first and then the scones, as they should still be warm. “We know it’s hard, but one must save those delightful cakes till last,” he says.

As for whether the jam or the cream goes on first, it’s reputedly the Queen’s preference to add her fresh, homemade jam first, then top with clotted cream.

3. There is a right way to stir your tea

Believe it or not, there is a very particular way to stir your tea. It requires gently moving the teaspoon back and forth from a 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock position without touching the sides of the cup. The reason is doing so means you are less likely to have tea spilling over the sides. As for not touching the sides, this is also to prevent an unpleasant clinging sound. There’s to be no tapping of the teaspoon either. A small shake above the cup should be sufficient to rid the spoon of excess drops before gently placing it on the side of the saucer next to the cup.

4. Pinkies down

Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually customary to sip your tea with your pinkies down. Sipping with a pinkie up is commonly misconstrued as classy, but it actually connotates elitism.  While there is a myriad of theories around where the lifted pinkie came from (most of which are quite amusing), the long and short was that back in the day, the elite ate using only three fingers (lifting their pinkies and ring fingers) while commoners used all five.

Today, there’s no room for that kind of separatism in the high tea tradition, we’re all here to enjoy delicious delicacies and have a bit of fun.

5. Dress for the occasion

A rather noble affair, dressing for the occasion is a no-brainer when it comes to high tea. Of course, when you’re settling into your own celebration, it’s up to you to be the fashion police, but smart casual is the rule of thumb. Sophie Noble of The Tea Room QVB says, “A suave blazer or fancy fascinator never goes astray beneath the room’s central Baccarat chandelier.”

High tea is available at both The Tea Room QVB on Level 3 and The Palace Tea Room on Level 1.