Considering how many cups of tea I drink each day and the fact that I’ve now lived about six years of my life in this city that’s pretty synonymous with the stuff, it’s strange to think I’ve only just experienced my first traditional afternoon tea.
Invited to learn about the etiquette of this ceremony and indulge in a bit of bubbly as well as a snoop into the hotel rooms, Jorge and I arrived at the Millennium Knightsbridge Hotel on the style strip that is Sloane Street. We were met with glasses of champagne and an overwhelmingly female group of mainly fashion bloggers.
We were taken upstairs for a tour of an “average” hotel room followed by a £1,000 per night + VAT (excluding breakfast) suite on the 14th floor. It was much too brown for me (I prefer quirky, colourful, boutique type of hotels), but the view was beautiful, looking down over the rooftops of Chelsea while the sun was beginning to fade.
And the details on the lamps were pretty:
Then, it was time: My first afternoon tea. It took place in the hotel’s Tangerine Cafe Bar, which had tables on one side of the room, a bar in the middle and a group of guys watching football on the other (one of whom, coincidently, turned out to be an old student of mine who I bumped into later on).
I somehow managed to be seated as the only female with three out of the total of four male bloggers who attended, but one was Jorge and the other two were interesting to talk to – brothers from Nepal.
Christine Pearce from Minding Manners had been invited in to give us a run down of the history and etiquette of the traditional afternoon tea.
Who knew there were so many rules? Here’s some pointers from Christine on how to have an afternoon tea properly:
- Invitations, if you host your own, should be sent by post and require your guest to RSVP.
- Napkins are placed on your lap, of course, but only opened halfway.
- There should never be phones or keys placed on the table. Everything on the table should be about the food and the tea.
- The china used for an afternoon tea should be your finest and most beautiful. It’s perfectly acceptable if it’s mis-matched. It could be a variety of pieces collected from your travels, picked up at vintage shops or inherited from your family.
- When you’re drinking tea, tea goes before milk, of course. Know why? It’s because historically, the cheaper china couldn’t handle the heat without it, so pouring in the water first was a discreet way for the richer folks to show off their wealth.
- If you have sugar cubes, never plunk them in the middle. Instead, let them slide down against the side.
- Don’t stir in a circle, rather slowly move the spoon from side to side.
- When you drink your tea, leave the spoon on the saucer, pick up and hold the saucer around the level of your chest while you sip the tea soundlessly. In some cultures it’s considered a sign of appreciation to make a sipping noise, but not here!
- Scones are on top, cakes in the middle and sandwiches on the bottom, but you always start with the sandwiches, then the scones and then the cakes, in that order. You can’t move to the scones until the sandwiches are finished. Then you can’t move to the cakes until the scones are finished. And you better have your fill because there’s no going back even if some have been left behind!
- Sandwiches are dainty and delicate with fillings like chicken salad, salmon, cucumber, egg salad, tomatoes and mozzarella, etc.
- Crusts must be cut off.
- Scones must never be cut with a knife. They are like bread and should be broken with your hands into bite sized pieces.
- The clotted cream is considered the most indulgent part of the tea. The cream goes on the scone first in Devon-style afternoon tea, though in Cornwall-style afternoon tea, it goes second.
- Always put the cream and jam on your plate first before putting it onto the scone.
- If scones are larger, they may be eaten with a knife and fork.
- Cakes are eaten with your fingers.
- However, if there is something a bit more complicated, like the chocolate cups filled with mouse in the photos above and below, it’s acceptable to first use a spoon.
- Plates are not changed between courses, because it was traditionally a “relaxed” occasion among friends.
- Everything should be eaten as elegantly as possible.
- The best tea you can buy will say “SFTGFOP” on the package. If it has all of these letters, it’s the best tea you can buy.
- When you finish, you should leave your napkin on top of the table, to the left side of your plate, folded maybe once, but not too neatly.
There are probably more rules but that was difficult enough to try to remember as it was!
If it’s all a bit too girly for your liking, there’s rumours of a Gentleman’s Tea at Sanctum Soho with caviar, mini burgers, a tankard of Gentleman’s Jack and a cigar.
I really can’t compare this to other afternoon teas in London as this was my first but if we had paid for it, minus the champagne was about £20 so it was good value for money. Finding some of the best afternoon teas in this city is a mission I’d be willing to take on! The staff at the Millennium were delightfully accommodating and curious about what us bloggers do and they made it a really fun evening.
On a side note, London Living has also posted their choice of the top five unusual afternoon teas in London which includes a Mad Hatter tea at The Sanderson and a Chinese take on the tradition.
I’m curious to know: Where in London did you have the best afternoon tea? Leave a comment and tell me all your afternoon tea secrets!