The English Cream Tea Company: The Etiquette of Afternoon Tea

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Source: The English Cream Tea Company. Etiquette

One could hardly call oneself an Anglophilic Anglican – much less “THE” Anglophilic Anglican! – without holding the classic English tea (the meal, not merely the beverage) in great respect and appreciation. Ranging from a light snack to a fairly substantial meal, “tea” can mean a number of different things!

Contrary to the expectations of us former Colonials on this side of the Pond, what many of us would think of as “high tea” is nothing of the sort. “High” vs “low” tea has nothing to do with levels of aristocratic sophistication, but rather the height of the table: “high tea” is the traditional evening meal of the laboring class, featuring meat pies and other such substantial fare, eaten between 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock at a high table (think dining room or – more likely for workers – kitchen) after arriving home from work.

What we often (and erroneously) think of as “high tea” is actually low tea – also known as “afternoon tea” – so named because it is taken at a low table surrounded by comfy chairs and sofas in the drawing room. It was and is served around four o’clock, to tide one over between lunch (originally, in upper-crust England, a mid-morning meal closer to our brunch) and a late dinner, around 8 o’clock.

A “full tea” is an afternoon (low) tea of three courses: the first savory (typically tea sandwiches, also known as finger sandwiches, and sometimes also including other savories such as quiche or soup), the second comprising scones with jam and cream, and the final sweet pastries and/or other confections.

Illustration depicting the difference between the different types of tea service

But the simplest form is a “cream tea,” consisting of – as one might expect – merely the scones, with clotted cream and jam, lemon curd, or similar, and of course, tea. It is this meal with which the linked Etiquette page, including a very enjoyable video, is concerned, for there is a definite etiquette involved. Yet, as Jane Malyon, of The English Cream Tea Company, points out, “Etiquette is not about putting on airs and graces and pretending to be posh! It’s actually all about consideration.” Indeed!

For additional information on the fascinating subject of the English tea, check out “How is High Tea Different from Afternoon Tea? Deciphering British Tea Time” and “What Is the Difference Between Afternoon Tea and High Tea? How history shaped the British afternoon and high tea traditions,” at The Spruce Eats.

There is also a Cream Tea Society, whose website notes that National Cream Tea Day (in Britain) is the 26th of June this year (2020). Alena Kate Petitt of The Darling Academy also comments on this day, here. And if you’re looking for ideas for a full, as opposed to a simple cream, tea, you might also want to check out these “Recipes for a Complete Afternoon Tea Menu.” For general information on British meals, see “The Different Meals and Mealtimes in Britain,” at the same site. And enjoy your tea!