7 Etiquette Essentials for Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea is more popular than ever, with some leading hotels holding as many as six sittings per day to meet demand. For those who want to brush up on the traditions before joining this great British ritual, we have canvassed the experts from London’s top hotels for their tips:

1. Spoon

The teaspoon should never be left in the teacup. When not in use, the small teaspoon is placed on the right side of the tea saucer. Matti Wente, afternoon tea ambassador at the London Hilton on Park Lane, adds: “As a gesture of respect to other guests you should pay attention to not touch the cup with your tea spoon, in order to avoid noise from the silver banging against the china.”

2. Teacup

Mr Michael Kotb, Palm Court Manager at The Ritz, says: “Never wave or hold your tea cup in the air. When not in use, the teacup is placed back on the saucer, rather then held. The saucer will be on the table, or in one’s lap if there is no table.”

3. The posh stir

Do not stir your tea in sweeping circular motions. Rather, place your tea spoon at the six o’clock position and softly fold the liquid towards the twelve o’clock position two or three times. Michael Kotb adds another point of courtesy: “When stirring your tea, do it gently and refrain from clinking the sides of your teacup.”

4. Milk

If having milk in one’s tea, pouring the milk into the cup first constitutes good manners. Matti Wente, however, says there is some leeway here: “In fact many tea drinkers prefer to see the colour of the tea, before they decide on the right amount of milk to get the taste of their cup to their liking.”

5. Sugar

Sugar cubes may be added to tea with or without milk.

6. Cutlery

Forks should never be set back down on the table after eating. Instead, they are set on the side of the plate. Matti Wente adds:

“Even though it is nice to exchange information during tea time, you should avoid gesturing while having cutlery in your hand. It also shows respect to others to not make any scraping noise with your cutlery.”

7. Napkin

When seated at the table, place the napkin on your lap. When excusing yourself from the table, gently place the napkin to the left side of your place setting. Avoid placing it on your seat, because if the napkin is soiled the seat covering may be damaged.

The Tea Guild recently gave its top award to afternoon tea at Claridge’s, but the most commonly booked by diners on Bookatable.com, is Tea at the Ritz.

Top 10 Afternoon Tea venues by Bookatable bookings over the last year:

1. Tea at The Ritz
2. The English Tea Room at Browns Hotel
3. Palm Court at The Langham, London
4. The Bollinger Bar at Palm Court
5. The Goring – Afternoon Tea
6. Harvey Nichols & Second Floor Manchester
7. The Portrait Restaurant & Bar
8. Palm Court Lounge
9. The Wolseley
10. Afternoon Tea at the Milestone Hotel

See all of Bookatable’s restaurants serving afternoon tea in London.

About Daniela


Other James Gray

I've ALWAYS put milk in first.

People mocked me, they said I didn't know what I was doing, but I was right all along.



I have been in England for 3 years and only just found out about the REAL posh stir.. Better later than never!!

Actually cultured

One puts the milk in after.

The tradition of putting the milk in first dates from when poorly made cups were not able to tolerate the heat shock of the tea being poured directly in, and offered a small amount of thermal protection.

Should you put the milk in first, you are now directly inferring that not only does your host not have quality chinaware, but that you are also not familiar with well made crockery.


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