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  • Writer's pictureKL Forslund

Time to Tea

There comes a point in every man’s life, where he must drink what’s in front of him. Next week, I’ll be at Steampunk November and partaking of their Tea Tasting. We all know I was raised by wolves, which means I know nothing of proper tea etiquette. Thus giving me another topic for my Steampunk Gentleman series of blog articles. I learned quite a bit researching this, I hope you enjoy it.

When is it

Elevenses is the name for a tea break the English take, around 11 in the morning.

The fancy tea time we see on Downton Abbey is around 3 or 4 PM, because noon lunch is sparse and dinner is around 7:30PM.

Low Tea, High Pressure

The ritzy afternoon affair is called Low Tea or Afternoon Tea because of the low armrest chairs. Here, manners matter. In the 1800s, a man could be judged an unsuitable mate for a variety of infractions.

Do not show up hungry like a wolf and chow down on the sandwiches. This is a light snack, eat less than one of the largest thing being served. The napkin goes in your lap. Stir without clinking the fine china or splashing. Make no noise or mess. Sit straight and don’t put your feet up on the table.

High Tea, Lower Class

The concept of High Tea began with the lower classes, and includes heartier food like pies. It is served at a dinner table because it is dinner. Americans don’t know this and ask for High Tea in the afternoon. That’s the kind of mistake this article is meant to prevent.

The Way It’s Done

On arrival at the tea event, there’s greetings, handshakes. When you sit down, the ladies would put their purse on their lap or behind them against the chair back. Unfold the napkin and place it over your lap. If you need to get up, place the napkin on your chair.

To serve a cup of tea, put sugar and/or slice (not wedge) of lemon into the cup first, then pour the tea, then add milk. This is critical sequencing as there is superstition about crossing the path of love. Do not fill the cup to the brim or it will spill which is a faux pas. Stir in a figure eight pattern without touching the sides. Then place the spoon on the saucer behind the cup, that is between you and the cup. Again, without making noise, this is a delicate operation. The handle of the cup and the spoon should point at the four o’clock position (from your perspective).

Proper tea is brewed in a teapot. If there are any unsightly tea bags, they are handled there. If you are at a simpler function with your own tea bag, there’s extra guidance. Do not bounce the bag trying to get more steepage. Do not wind the string to squeeze out the juice.

There are three courses, savories, scones, then sweets. You may be famished, but this is intended to be a snack. One from each course should do it. Ask for a saucer to place the spent tea bag on if one is not provided.

Split the scones horizontally with a knife. Place cream or curd on your plate, and then using the knife spread a small amount with each bite. Be neat while using your fingers. Set the knife down between uses.

Pinky Up Nonsense

Commoners use all five fingers to eat, cultured people use three. From that, somebody (probably an American) thought that meant sticking your pinky up or out. That is rubbish. Certainly only use your three fingers (thumb, index and middle), but do not thrust your pinky out in some awkward false display of regalism.

Pick up the cup with the aforementioned fingers by the handle. Don’t cradle the cup, it’s not a snifter of brandy. Don’t swirl it either. Pick up the saucer with your other hand. The cup and saucer should never separate by more than twelve inches. Once you pick up the saucer/cup combo, they stay together and do not go back on the tea table where it came from.

While at rest, that means you hold the saucer on your lap with the cup on it. To drink, you grasp the cup and bring both up. The cup making the last twelve inch leg of the journey while the saucer waits for its return.

Assuming you are at Afternoon Tea/Low Tea, the Tea Table in front of you is meant to be art. When your cup is empty and you are leaving, you set the saucer and cup to the side on your side table.

Sipping to the End

Now we know how to take tea like a gentleman. Don’t slurp. Oddly enough, the origin of the saucer under the cup was to pour hot tea into, which cooled it off faster. My great-uncle Ray (pictured below in his favorite wool coat) would have found that a lot easier.

Check out the rest of my Steampunk Gentleman series at


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