The modern world may have moved on a little from strict Victorian formality, but in the ritual of afternoon tea us Brits still cling to a little of the pomp and circumstance of old.
Afternoon tea has undergone something of a revival in recent years, spurred on in part by a spike in British pride, "keep calm and carry on" kitsch, and a series of royal weddings, births, and jubilees. And while the country might have changed since afternoon tea's early days in the 1800s, this quintessential British institution has continued on largely undeterred.
From the correct size and shape of our cucumber sandwiches, to making and pouring the perfect cup of tea, the rules and etiquette that surround afternoon tea are old and complicated. To help you to avoid the pitfalls of improper tearoom conduct, and help you to impress your friends with your newfound sophistication when you next visit us for your afternoon tea, here's the Crown Lodge Hotel's guide to tea etiquette.
Dress for Success
Dinner suits and top hats might once have been a gentleman's tea uniform of choice, but these days 'smart casual' is enough to satisfy all but the most discerning of tea room owners.
For ladies, sportswear or trainers are out, as they are for men, no matter where you are dining. Otherwise, the rules on female tearoom fashion are open to interpretation, with some establishments recommending a 'smart casual' equivalent, and others suggesting it as the perfect excuse to get dressed up.
Making The Perfect Cup of Tea
As any tea drinker knows, making the perfect brew for friends, family, colleagues and guests, can be a minefield of potential errors. From the perfect steeping time to the precise shade and strength, we all have our own idea of what constitutes the ideal cup of tea, and indulging in that while at afternoon tea with others can be tricky.
While the strength, blend, and brand of tea that you drink is personal preference, there are a few rules that experts agree on, namely that you should always use loose-leaf tea, not teabags, put the milk in after the tea, and stir in an 'up and down, back and forth' not 'round and round' pattern.
That's right, you've been stirring wrong all these years!
Drinking Like A Duchess
Or a Duke, whichever you prefer.
Afternoon tea was supposedly invented in the 1840s by Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, and while tea might now be the drink of choice of everyone from the royal family to you and me, some of the finer points of tea drinking have remained.
The most common tea-drinking faux pas spotted in tearooms up and down the country is the raised pinkie. Supposedly some people think that this helps you to balance the weight of the cup, and some people even think it makes them look sophisticated - but they're not fooling anyone.
William Hanson, 'Etiquette Expert' for the Daily Mail, says: "The correct way to hold your fine bone china is by making your thumb and index finger meet in the handle. The cup is supported by the handle resting on your middle finger. Never hook your finger through."
You've been told.
Only The Finest Food
You might look the part, and might even have perfected the art of the pour, but you'll soon be found out as an afternoon tea novice if your nibble etiquette isn't up to scratch.
First off, the scone - definitely pronounced skon, we're told. Scones should be eaten as two separate halves, either cut in half with a knife or torn in two with your hands, and served with jam and clotted cream. The flavour of the jam is up to you, as is the order in which you layer it and the cream, but make sure you never sandwich the two halves together after spreading - not only will you look very inelegant, but you'll also risk squirting jam on your nice new tea outfit.
Sandwiches should always be served with their crusts cut off, and be cut into small delicate shapes. If you're preparing your own, the shape you choose to cut your sandwiches is up to you - apparently the royals prefer squares - just make sure to cut them small enough that they don't look like something you bought from a supermarket.
Finally, no dunking your biscuits in your tea. I know, it's lovely, especially when you find a biscuit that's just perfect for dunking, but afternoon tea enthusiasts and newcomers alike frown on the practice - so it's probably best to save it for when you're having a cuppa on the sofa in private.
There we have it - no pinkies in the air, no crusts on your sandwiches, and definitely no dunking. Pretty simple really.
If all this talk of pouring perfection and dainty snacks has got you craving afternoon tea, why not come down and join us at The Crown Lodge Hotel?
We offer a wide range of teas for you to try, plenty of homemade cakes, sandwiches and scones, plus lashings of cream and jam, and are open for afternoon tea Monday to Saturday, 3pm to 5pm.
To find out more about having afternoon tea at The Crown Lodge Hotel near Wisbech, head to our restaurant page or click the button below to view the menu.