19 Tea Etiquette Rules

Tea Etiquette Rules
Tea etiquette rules include using clean teapot and utensils, pouring tea for guests before yourself, holding the cup by the handle, not blowing on hot tea, and using a saucer to catch drips. Add milk or sugar after the tea and stir up and down.

1. Dress Appropriately

The dress code for afternoon tea occasions can vary depending on the event’s formality and location. Smart casual is the appropriate dress code for afternoon tea. Avoid jeans and sneakers.

2. Pinky Down

When holding a teacup, never raise your pinky. While this is seen as a chic practice for some drinks, it is absurd and impolite to do so at a tea party. 

3. Teacups At 3 O’clock

It allows you to handle the cup comfortably. Placing the handle this way also provides a visual cue for the server to refill the cup when necessary. 

4. Hold Teacup Correctly 

Don’t stick your fingers into the teacup’s handle. Many teacup handles are tiny. Place your thumb and index finger on the cup handle and support the base with your middle finger.

5. Adding Milk And Sugar

Pour your tea first, then add milk and sugar. This enables you to see exactly how much milk you’re putting in.

Make sure you use black tea if you plan to add milk and sugar to any type of tea. Milk is unsuitable for white, green, oolong, or herbal teas.

6. No Cream

Cream has a distinct flavor that can easily overpower the delicate taste of your tea. Enjoy the natural taste of tea without any additional flavors by avoiding cream.

7. Tea Spoon Goes In The Saucer

tea spoon in saucer
Placing tea spoon on the saucer neatly

Never leave your teaspoon inside your cup after using it; put it on the saucer behind it. Make sure it does not rest on your cup. 

Don’t put your teaspoon in your mouth. It is for stirring your tea and not taking the tea.

8. No Swirling. Stir Properly

It is impolite to swirl your tea. Instead, stir gently up and down from the 6 to 12 o’clock position, 2 to 3 times.

Swirling may result in clicking your spoon against your cup, and you also risk scratching the tea wire.

9. Saucer Rules

  • Place the saucer on the table and the teacup on top of it. The saucer serves as the cup’s base and helps catch any spills or drips.
  • Hold the saucer with your other hand when you pick up your cup of tea while standing.  
  • You can place your spoon on the saucer when you don’t stir your tea. This keeps the spoon from dripping tea on the tablecloth and makes it easy to pick up again when needed.
  • If you’re enjoying some small snacks or sweets with your tea, place them on the saucer. 
  • While you can use the saucer to hold small snacks, don’t use it as a plate. Avoid placing large or messy foods on the saucer, as this can make it difficult to hold your cup.

10. Serve Your Guests

a woman serving tea to the guest
Serve tea to guest before pouring your cup

As a host, you should serve tea. Since friendship has always been at the core of afternoon tea, you should offer to pour your visitors’ tea.

Make sure to leave space in their cups when you fill them so they can add milk and sugar if they like. Fill cups three-quarters of the way.

11. Keep It Quiet

Swirling and loud sipping are impolite or unsanitary.  Slurping and blowing are not allowed. Here’ how you can avoid it:

  • Wait for it to cool: Before taking a sip, let your tea cool to a comfortable temperature. This will reduce the need to slurp or blow on the tea.
  • Take small sips: Instead of taking large gulps, take small sips.
  • Practice mindfulness: Pay attention to your drinking habits and try to be mindful of how you drink your tea. 

12. No cradling while Sipping 

Do not cradle your cup while sipping your tea. Hold your teacup firmly with the handle. It’s proper afternoon tea etiquette to take small sips. They have these benefits: 

  • Enjoyment: Taking small sips allows you to savor the flavor and aroma more fully, enhancing your overall enjoyment of the experience.
  • Temperature: If the tea is hot, small sips allow it to cool down slightly before it enters your mouth, reducing the risk of burning your tongue or mouth.
  • Digestion: Taking small sips helps your body digest the tea more efficiently, allowing your digestive system to process the liquid gradually.

13. Napkin Stays On The Lap 

Learning napkin etiquette is essential for every meal, including your tea time. Keep your napkin on your lap at all times.

If you must leave the table, place your folded napkin on the left side of your place settings. Avoid placing your napkin on your plate or chair.

14. Three-Tiered Stand And Eating Order

tea three-tiered stand
Filled three-tiered stand for afternoon tea

You should start with sandwiches, then scones, then finish with dessert.

Arrange your three-tiered stand as follows:

  • Desserts and sweets on the bottom tier. 
  • Finger sandwiches, buns, croissants, etc, go on the middle tier. 
  • Warm scones on the top tier.

The rising heat from the scones won’t warm the sandwiches and melt your desserts. Cover the scones to keep them warm.

15. Eat With Hands But Don’t Lick Your Fingers

Cut bread and scones into small bits and eat them using your hand. Never leak your fingers while eating.

Also read: 9 Sandwich Eating Etiquette

16. Scone Rules

Eat your scones bite by bite using your fingers. Never dunk them in tea, as this makes it soggy and messy.

It also loses its flavor. Slather cream or jam using a knife.

17. Placing Utensils And Napkin Back

If you used a cloth napkin, fold it loosely and place it to the left of your place setting. If you used a paper napkin, you could crumple it on your plate or to the left of your place setting.

Place your utensils on your plate neatly parallel to each other, with the handles pointing to the right and the blades or prongs facing inward. If you used a spoon to stir your tea, place it on the saucer or the plate beneath your cup.

18. No Phone On Tea Table

Savor the tea time moment and put your phones away. Keep your personal belongings off the table and focus on the occasion.

This makes for a more enjoyable afternoon, but it’s also polite. 

19. High Tea vs. Afternoon Tea

There’s a vital difference between the both. The working class’ version of high tea was an early meal of potatoes served at a high table with tea. In contrast, afternoon tea is a formal meal on low tables between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm.

It includes fine china cups, freshly brewed loose tea, and a three-tier cake stand piled high with scones, sandwiches, and desserts.

What Is The First Thing You Do Before Serving Tea To Someone?

Before serving tea, you should ensure everything you need is set. Your teapots, utensils, and your three-tiered stand should be in order.

Also, make sure that the table settings are in order.

What Is The First Thing You Do When Served Tea?

When your tea is served, it is courteous to thank your host before you start sipping your tea. It is polite to wait for everyone to be served before you start.

What Is The Last Thing You Do Before Drinking Tea?

Add milk and sugar, then stir quietly before drinking your tea. Make sure the temperature of your tea is suitable.

If it is too hot, wait for it to cool to avoid slurping.

Why Do You Raise Your Little Finger When Drinking Tea?

Raising your little finger while drinking tea comes from Roman times when raising the pinky was for the sophisticated.

Today, the pinkie finger should always be down when drinking tea.


Tabitha is a curious and enthusiastic writer who believes in the power of words and the importance of good manners. Etiquette is her passion, and she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her family.

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