If the age old ritual of taking afternoon tea still conjures up images of polite, white-gloved ladies engaging in polite chit-chat over cups of fragrant tea then you might want to reconsider your opinion, as afternoon tea has an altogether naughtier side. Indeed what started in the Regency period as a secret boudoir snack progressed throughout the century as cosmopolitan and aristocratic circles enthusiastically embraced the ritual of the afternoon tea and it wasn’t long before the prim and proper afternoon tea started to be associated with more erotic elements, in the guise of the tea dress.
The tea dress is also known as a “tea gown”, “robe d’interieur”, or as fashionable Edwardian women christened it the, “teagie”. Essentially tea gowns were an indoor dress and a close cousin to the dressing gown and the peignoir, they were created in the 1870s, when both day and evening dresses were tight fitting affairs that did not lend themselves to comfortable lounging. The tea gown offered the period lady a chance to relax from the bustles and corsets of the day in the company of her female companions. It was inevitable that the garment’s relative ease of fastening and connotations of liberation would become the natural setting for seduction. Afternoon tea then transformed into what the French called “le cinq à sept”: the accepted time when a lady could entertain her lover with the wordless permission of her husband. It was an unspoken rule that a ladies husband would not enter the drawing room at that hour (perhaps because he was enjoying extra marital frivolities himself ), and with the collusion of inconspicuous maids, the lady of the house would announce herself “at home” solely for the benefit of her gentleman caller. So it seems afternoon tea time and the dresses that accompany are more seductive than stuffy.
With its saucy connotations the tea gown soon became a necessary part of a stylish lady’s wardrobe. Combining comfort and style the gown moved seamlessly into the evening and became a dinner tea gown, this version was lower at the décolletage and made more elaborately with seductively, decorative embellishments. The Edwardian style was already to wear chiffon and lace to titillate the male fancy and the soft flowing dinner tea gown continued in this mode, making the very most of the feminine form. These tempting gown were intended to be worn at small informal dinners hosted at home and were made even more rousing because they were not meant to be worn outside of one’s own home.
Attired in her tea-gown made of soft satin, light chiffon or fine silk, trimmed with fine lace and generally free from the confines of corsetry, the hostess must have been a greatly alluring to male guests. These comfortable gowns afforded such femininity that whilst fashions changed and hemlines rose and fell the tea-gown, which had appeared in England from 1875 enjoyed popularity into the 1920’s.
So when dressing to take tea disregard fitted dresses and stop thinking about hemline lengths, because historically dressing for afternoon tea was all about trend setting and new found freedom in women’s attire. Remember lots of soft, free-flowing fabrics that flow across your feminine form and give the promise of easy undressing are the key to correct tea apparel. Ooh la la
The Genteel Art of Taking Afternoon Tea
We British are famous for our afternoon teas and in many respects it is more of a social event than one that is exclusively culinary. There are few things filled with more vintage nostalgia than afternoon tea and it’s easy to understand why this graceful ritual is enjoying a comeback, for few can resist the temptations of dainty cakes and finger sandwiches, all arranged beautifully on an elegant cake stand served with fragrant tea and enjoyed in refined surroundings.
In our hectic modern lives, afternoon tea is often regarded as an indulgence; something reserved for special occasions or times when you want to allow yourself a special treat. However, this hasn’t always been the case, as the custom of afternoon tea was once an essential daily undertaking. The idea of afternoon tea is generally believed to have been conceived in the early 19th century by the seventh Duchess of Bedford and was initially nothing more than a small meal between breakfast and dinner. The story goes that the Duchess of Bedford, began a daily afternoon ritual of taking tea and a snack. She lived during a time when it was common to eat only two main meals a day, with breakfast being served early in the morning and dinner occurring late in the evening. Struck by hunger pangs each afternoon the duchess used to complain of a ‘sinking feeling’ and so took a dainty meal and a pot of tea in the afternoon, this private routine was firstly done surreptitiously in her bed chamber, but over time she began inviting friends to join her between 3pm and 5pm and so the tradition of afternoon tea was born. There is evidence that suggests that afternoon tea was already an established tradition, but I am not one to spoil a perfectly good story and it is certain that Anna did help to evolve afternoon tea.
Over the next few decades, the custom of afternoon tea became firmly established as a part of the British culture and enjoyed great popularity, but as lifestyles became faster paced the popularity of taking afternoon tea declined and became the remit of those with more leisurely lifestyles. Today afternoon tea is back in fashion and I for one am glad to see its return in popularity. Now special occasions are regularly celebrated by booking an afternoon tea and it is undoubtedly a good excuse for a social gathering that appeals across the generations. It is undoubtedly a sociable, slightly decadent and fun occasion.
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea,” concurred the Victorian novelist Henry James in ‘The Portrait of a Lady’, a sentiment I whole heartedly share. I can think of nothing better than taking time over good tea, cake and sandwiches. If you do partake in afternoon tea you’ll be in good company as Her Majesty the Queen takes tea at 5pm, each day, rigidly observing a tradition that goes back centuries.
Nowadays tea rooms and hotels throughout the country offer permutations of this centuries-old tradition. Plenty are pretty much indistinguishable but quite a few offer something unique and exceptional. Below are some of the country’s best afternoon teas for those who want to experience something truly special.
Take Tea whilst Seeking the Holy Grail
Nanteos Mansion is a grade one listed Georgian Mansion, regarded as one of the most important estates in the county of Ceredigion. Whilst records of the estate stretch back to the 13th century the Mansion itself was built by the wealthy Powell family in 1738 and they remained in residence for over two hundred years. Today it has been lovingly restored and is a welcoming and impressive hotel that offers many mysteries and stories to reflect over whilst taking tea.
After a tour around the hotel and a brief history of the building as part of the tea tour that Nanteos Mansion offers, I sat down to enjoy my pot of Flowering Heart tea, something I had never tried before. This was one of the prettiest pots of tea I have ever enjoyed , for as I stared into the clear tea-pot I was delighted to see that instead of loose leaf or a bag a fragrant and visual theatre evolved as a giant round bulb woven with chrysanthemum flowers and topped with a rose bud flowered in my teapot. Not only was this beautiful to look at, but I was reliably informed that it was packed with anti-oxidants known to aid digestion, well with so much cake I needed all the help I could get.
As I sat comfortably with my tea I reflected over the story of the Nanteos Cup, a wooden chalice thought to be the object of the great Arthurian quests and the subject of ever renewing interest. The alleged holy provenance of the Nanteos Cup, a drinking bowl celebrated through the ages for its healing powers, first gained notoriety when it was put on display in 1870 at Lampeter University. After that it was kept behind glass at Nanteos Mansion and was still regularly filled with water for distributing to the homes of the ill and infirm, but in the 1980’s the cup disappeared into obscurity although it is rumoured that one day it may return to its former resting place.
Top Treat: The Guinness cupcakes were rich, moist and moreish very much like the mythology of Nanteos Mansion.
Address: Nanteos Mansion, Aberystwyth SY23 4LU. Phone: 01970 600522
Cost: Full afternoon tea £15.95 per person, Champagne afternoon tea £27.50 per person Booking Advisable. The ‘Tea Talk’ is currently only available on Wednesday afternoons, but afternoon tea is available throughout the week.
A Journey to Remember
An afternoon tea is always a treat, but when the afternoon starts with a blast of the whistle and the hiss of steam then for me it is a real journey to remember. To get to my afternoon tea booked at the Hafod Hotel in Devils Bridge I travelled on the Vale of Rheidol Railway which first opened in 1902. The journey was certainly a good way to build up an appetite as I took in the beautiful scenery of the Rheidol Valley, whilst listening to the sound of the narrow gauge steam locomotive working hard to climb 700 feet in the 11¾ miles from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge. Donned in a tea dress and with two little ones in tow I gazed at the picturesque scenery from the vintage carriage and enjoyed riding the rails. After a nostalgic train journey I headed over to the Hafod Hotel at Devils Bridge for a much needed spot of light refreshment.
The Hafod Hotel is a commanding building as it stands seven hundred feet above sea level and overlooks the stunning Rheidol Valley and Falls, it is in a truly magnificent position. Originally a small hunting lodge built in 1787 by Thomas Johnes, the then squire of the Hafod Mansion Estate, it was extended and converted into a Swiss style chateau in 1839 by the third Duke of Newcastle with subsequent additions and modifications taking place over the years to come.
The Hafod Hotel has an old charm to it and on first entering the hotel I was struck by it being an echo of how British hotels used to be. It did have a touch of Fawlty Towers refinery about it and I was secretly hoping to be greeted by Basil Fawlty, but the similarity to the much loved sitcom was purely down to its old-style charm personality and there was no Waldorf salad incident with my afternoon tea. The Hafod belongs to a style and breed of hotel that are fast disappearing and I fear will soon become obsolete as we strive to iron out British quirkiness in favour of uniformed sleek interiors. Whilst it may not offer the modern, sumptuous trappings of many other hotels of its size, the owners and staff are most accommodating and it is comfortable enough. This is a traditional privately owned hotel and the afternoon tea was straightforward with a selection of sandwiches, some sponge cake, welsh cakes and a couple of scones, it was reflective of the hotel itself, pleasant and approachable. It is somewhere you can rest at ease and ideal if you fancy a trip on the railway or a walk around Devils Bridge. They are also dog friendly which is a bonus and I did feel genuinely welcomed and it was good value for money.
Top Treat: Nothing could top the journey on Rheidol Railway, but the Welsh cakes were a welcome treat. From a purely vintage perspective the ladies loos in the foyer were a vintage delight, in powder pink they offered a welcome blast from the past.
Address: The Hafod Hotel, Devil’s Bridge, SY23 3JL. Telephone: 01970890232
Cost: £10.95 per person or £19.95 for afternoon tea for two
The Vale of Rheidol Railway
Address: Park Ave, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 1PG Phone: 01970 625819
Telephone or visit the website for details of the train timetable and fare costs www.rheidolrailway.co.uk
Tea in the Garden of Wales
In the pretty Carmarthenshire town of Llandeilo is the Cawdor Arms Hotel; it sits dominantly on the main street its commanding stature being three storeys high and five bays wide, the outer ones projecting with two-storey canted bay windows linked across the centre by a balcony over the Doric columned entry. Like many historic hotels it has a long and fascinating history that has seen its fortune take twists and turns. Once owned by Lord Cawdor and a prominent coaching inn that has its fair share of history, it was acquired by the Morgan Family and underwent full refurbishment in 2005 and it now operates as a boutique hotel that features an interesting mix of antique and contemporary styles.
This listed Georgian building is central in the history of Llandeilo it was a busy coaching inn and a 19th century observer notes its popularity: “there above the stables was the Long Room renowned for scenes historical, civil and political – where feasting was carried out and drinking to excess. Here too many a strolling player strutted his hour as a Richard or Alexander.” It must have been full of hustle and bustle in the days when eight coaches a day were arriving at the hotel, although today it is still a popular destination for travellers and locals alike.
As I relaxed and enjoyed a nice selection of sandwiches and a freshly baked scone and other treats, I happily reflected on all the notorious guests that the hotel has hosted, if only walls could talk. The old photographs of Llandeilo that were displayed in the bar were well worth a look and the old manuscripts that were discovered during the renovation were a nice touch and I can only imagine the excitement that was felt when these were discovered.
This boutique hotel has friendly and accommodating staff with a real home-away-from home feel and plenty of room to relax and enjoy a decadent glass of Prosecco whilst daintily eating afternoon tea treats. The Cawdor is a perfect place to relax and a perfect base from which to explore the historic town of Llandeilo or the wonderful county of Carmarthenshire which is often referred to as the Garden of Wales.
Top Treat: The chocolate and rum cake was moist and decadent, a real indulgence.
Address: Cawdor Hotel, 72 Rhosmaen St, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire SA19 6EN Tel: 01558 823500
Cost: Full Afternoon Tea £9.95 per person or a Full afternoon tea with Prosecco £12.95 per person
Chocolate is a Girl’s Best Friend
Whilst I am a stickler for tradition especially when it comes to refined arts such as afternoon tea, when it comes to things of great beauty that just happen to be made of chocolate I can make an exception and throw tradition to the wind. Whilst in Llandeilo I was drawn to the delectable smell of chocolate wafting along the high street before I knew it I was standing in chocolate paradise, known as Heavenly Chocolate. The chocolate creations on display in this shop were truly works of art and as chocolate in my opinion is most definitely a girl’s best friend I asked the talented chocolatier and proprietor of Heavenly, Tracey Kindred, what she would provide for an afternoon tea, she smiled and said, ‘’well it would have to be chocolate’’. When I think of afternoon tea and chocolate is mentioned I tend to think of the delicious, yet aesthetically boring chocolate sponge covered with a delectable coating of chocolate, what I didn’t expect to be presented with was a chocolate masterpiece based on the Mad Hatters tea party. This is a cake that would certainly inspire excited chatter amongst genteel ladies taking tea.
Top Treat: being in a shop filled with chocolate and award winning ice cream, indeed this was truly heavenly.
Address: Heavenly Chocolate, London House, 60 Rhosmaen St, Llandeilo SA19 6EN Tel: 01558 822800
Talking of Tea
The Moat House hasn’t always been a hotel it was originally a fourteenth century moated manor house and throughout its life it has had various owners before it came into the care of the Lewis family back in 1955, who still own it today. Back in 1988 the decision to turn the Moat House into a village pub was taken and once more the Moat House became one of the focal points of the village and from this initial move it has flourished into an independent hotel and restaurant.
The Moat House has lots of original and quirky features and boasts exposed medieval timbers as well as all the nooks and crannies that you would expect from a period property, but with new extensions and modern refurbishment it also has a contemporary twist whilst retaining the charm of a country pub.
The afternoon tea did not disappoint and offered something a little different. Part of the pleasure of afternoon tea is in the presentation and in languishing over a good pot of tea. At the Moat House, Acton Trussell, there was a real focus on the tea. After being seated I was delighted to be party to an interactive ‘smelling’ tea menu, featuring exclusive Twining’s rituals teas offering the chance to smell and hear about the taste attributes of a variety of teas, it certainly put the focus back on the tea and with enchanting names such as gypsy caravan it did entice me to try something other than my usual pot of Earl Grey. A three tiered cake stand complete with finger sandwiches, warm scones and Victoria sponge, accompanied by little lemon meringue pies sat alongside the modern addition of whoopee pies.
As I sipped my afternoon tea and admired the resident pair of swans gracefully gliding across the moat, I couldn’t help thinking that I should really be partaking in a goblet of wine or mead considering the history of my surroundings. Archaeological digs in the village where The Moat House is situated resulted in the discovery and excavation of a Roman villa under and around the church which has provided conclusive evidence that there was a settlement in Acton as early as the second century, whilst the discovery of Iron Age pottery and flint suggests an even earlier occupation.
The raised mound the manor was built on was constructed in Norman times. The moat itself is more a status symbol rather than a military defence and now it serves as a photographer’s favourite backdrop for weddings. Moated sites were at their most popular between 1250 and 1350 and examination of the timber frame during the refurbishment of the Manor, suggests it was built around 1320. This date ties in with the time that the Trussell’s are first recorded in the area, when in 1342 John Trussell of Acton settled the Manor of Acton on himself and his wife.
With so much history it is well worth taking a look and the staff were attentive and the food was delicious.
Top Treat: The lemon meringue pies were beautiful with rich buttery pastry and a sweet and zingy filling, topped with perfect meringue peaks.
Address: Moat House, Lower Penkridge Rd, Acton Trussell, Staffordshire ST17 0RJ. Tel: 01785 712217
Cost: Silver package £14.50 per person Gold Package £16.00 per person , Platinum Package £21.00 per person. Booking essential
A trip down Memory Lane
There has been a recent resurgence in vintage style tea rooms but the Bay Tree Tea Rooms in Welshpool , offers more than just a themed experience, it is decked out with original enamel advertising signs and old packaging. I was in my element looking at the old tea packets and I loved sipping my tea from vintage china.
The owner, Trudy explained to me how having a vintage tea rooms combined her two passions in life, ‘‘I have always had a passion for baking and interior design so my idea was to combine the two together to follow my dream and create a place that felt homely and inviting yet still modern and contemporary capturing the essence of a vintage tea too’’, she cheerfully exclaimed. Her love of baking and vintage was well and truly stamped all over this quirky tea room and it was a delight to enjoy delicious home-baked treats and a good chin wag in a place that gave rise to conversation.
Nice little touches like fresh roses used to decorate the cake stand were a lovely touch and a traditional array of cakes reminded me of Sunday teatimes, with home-made chocolate éclairs and light sponge cakes. The portions were generous and it was nice to see a cake and sandwich balance taking place. Despite the three tiered cake stand being shared between myself, two hungry under-fives and my good friend Layla we just couldn’t eat everything. We tried to polish everything off and despite a valiant effort we failed, but we thoroughly enjoyed the trying.
Afternoon tea here was a real treat and it was lovely to look upstairs and see the display of vinyl records, it seemed that everywhere I looked there was something fascinating to observe.
Top Treat: drinking from bone china, a rare treat when out these days. On the food front, I can’t forget those chocolate éclairs made by the owner Trudy for the choux pastry was crisp and light.
Address: The Baytree Tea Rooms, 5-6 Church St, Welshpool. SY21 7DL. Phone:01938 555456
Cost: Full afternoon tea for two is £15.00
The Conrah is an elegant Edwardian house that was owned by the ‘Smiths’ of Smith crisps fame. It burnt down in 1911 and was rebuilt to its original design and specifications. Now a privately owned hotel it offers a tranquil retreat from which to observe the local countryside. Watching lambs bound through the fields certainly enhances the feeling of tranquillity and relaxation.
The afternoon tea is served on a three-tiered cake stand and offers the usual array of finger sandwiches and freshly baked scones as well as Bara Brith, Welsh Cakes and generous slices of Victoria Sponge cake. The food was of excellent quality and the service was matching. It was nice to take a stroll around the beautiful gardens afterwards in an attempt to work off some of the cake.
Top Treat: The strawberry and mint sandwiches.
Address: Conrah Hotel, Chancery, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 4DF. Phone: 01970 617941
Cost £19.99 for full afternoon tea for two
Fit for a Queen
Queen Victoria was very fond of afternoon tea and so it seemed most appropriate to take tea in the fine surroundings of one of her former country retreats, Ynyshir Hall. Indeed whilst afternoon tea originated in the Regency period in the Victorian era that followed it became popular in most households and a good Victorian tea table was an impressive sight that would see tea poured from exquisite china or silver tea pots, copious rounds of fragile, wafer thin sandwiches all accompanied by polite conversation. However, the link between Queen Victoria and afternoon tea is stronger than that of food laden tea tables, indeed Anna Russell who is widely credited with ‘inventing afternoon tea’ was in her adulthood a friend to the Queen. It was undoubtedly Queen Victoria, her court, the social and political cultures which surrounded Anna and defined the age that combined with Anna’s family background and connections placed her in a position of cultural and social influence and gave her the sway to lend status to the occasion of afternoon tea.
Set in beautifully landscaped grounds and surrounded by an RSBP reserve, Ynyshir Hall is a haven of calm. The afternoon tea was fit for a Queen with a selection of sweet treats including home-made marshmallows, miniature crème brûlée and lemon infused fudge as well as the traditional finger sandwiches and scones. Indeed the service and food was everything you would expect from a boutique hotel of this calibre and from a manor house that used to belong to Queen Victoria; who has left her imprint on the house and gardens. Indeed Queen Victoria’s favourite trees still stand where she planted them in the beautifully landscaped grounds and it is little wonder that she loved the fairy tale landscape here.
Located in Machynlleth, the ancient capital of Wales, there is plenty of history to be found in the local area, but as this country house hotel is cradled in 14 acres of grounds and has the good fortune to share its Dovey estuary location with one of Britain’s finest bird reserves, the RSPB Ynys-hir Nature Reserve there is no need to venture far and the walk to the estuary from the hotel is a magical ramble and well worth a look.
This Michelin rated hotel is privately owned by Joan and Rob Reen and their gentle giant of a dog forms part of the welcoming committee when you arrive at this unique hotel. Rob is a renowned artist and his most recent work, ‘Studies of Sheep’ can be seen throughout the hotel. It has a unique feel with period features and bold colours working in harmony just like an artist’s palette. Whether reclining in the drawing room with a pot of coffee or sitting in the dining room with a full afternoon tea whilst basking in the glistening tranquillity this is a wonderful place to reflect over British teatime.
Top Treat: It’s hard to decide. All of the sweet treats were divine, but the fudge captured my heart and taste buds.
Address: Ynyshir Hall, Eglwysfach, Machynlleth, Powys SY20 8TA. 01654 781209
Cost: Full afternoon tea is from £19.99 per person Booking Advisable
Modern City Elegance
When wanting to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy a slick and elegant afternoon tea then a stop at the Park Plaza in Cardiff is just the ticket. Afternoon tea is served in the Laguna kitchen which offers all the luxury of contemporary dining combined with laid back friendly service. The afternoon tea consisted of a delicious array of Welsh and British classics, I enjoyed a relaxing drink in the Laguna bar before indulging in a delicious display of freshly cut sandwiches, sultana and buttermilk scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, welsh cakes plus a selection of miniature meringues and a champagne and raspberry jelly.
The afternoon tea was beautifully executed and it was no surprise that this is a popular destination for ladies in tea dresses, indeed Saturday’s regularly see a hundred and fifty afternoon teas served, so this is one to book.
Top Treat: those little raspberry and champagne jellies were simply divine.
Address: Laguna Bar and Restaurant, Greyfriars Road, Cardiff, CF10 3AL. Tel: 02920 111 111
Cost: Traditional Afternoon Tea is only £16.50 per person or add on a chilled glass of Champagne for a Champagne Afternoon Tea for £22.95. Booking advisable
Refined and Tasteful: a must for the true afternoon tea connoisseur
If you are looking to enjoy your afternoon tea in true country house style then Llangoed Hall is your ideal destination. This beautiful country house hotel is set on the banks of the river Wye with outstanding views across the Black Mountains and beyond.
Once home to the famous designer Laura Ashley; this Jacobean mansion is oozing with charisma and history. Indeed it was built on the site of the first Welsh parliament and is a true Welsh gem. With spectacular interiors, things of beauty to be found in every nook and cranny and fresh flowers everywhere it is a wonderful place to step back in time and enjoy afternoon tea. The walls are adorned with noteworthy art and the beautiful grounds and landscaped gardens include a maze in which to stretch your legs after indulging in the bread, cakes and pastries all made daily on the premises.
The afternoon tea itself was served on beautiful china that is exclusive to Llangoed Hall and there was flawless service. With homemade strawberry jam, warm scones and array of cakes and pastries alongside a wonderful pot of tea called, Granny’s Garden, I was loathed to move, but I advise that it is well worth taking a wander around the beautiful grounds, where you will find a croquet lawn and kitchen gardens that are put to good use.
Top Treat: The raspberry tarts were a close contender, but where narrowly beaten by the geranium scented cupcakes.
Address: Llangoed Hall, Llyswen, Brecon, LD3 0YP, Powys.
Cost: Full afternoon tea £22.50 each Booking essential
The Italian Job
A nineteenth century Italianate-style country house is not the first thing you’d expect to see peeking out of a forested valley in the foothills of Mid-Wales’ Cambrian Mountains, but when you visit the Falcondale Hotel in Lampeter, that’s exactly what you discover.
The grade II listed former country house, has experienced mixed fortunes as it has changed hands through its history. It is the Harford family that are responsible for giving the Falcondale estate a Mediterranean makeover back in 1859 and bringing about its stunning façade. John Battersby Harford commissioned architect Talbot Bury to redesign the house in an Italianate style in 1859 and what an impressive design he created.
It is hard to believe that this elegant sanctuary was once owned by the county council and run as a nursing home. Today it stands as a lovingly restored hotel, with the style and history of a country house mansion and the comforts and service of a first class hotel.
Whilst nestled into a comfortable sofa, afternoon tea was served and this was a real treat with warm scones and cherry mille-feuille, I could have happily sat all day and pondered over my pot of tea but I was so comfortable and full after the scrumptious tea that I was in imminent danger of falling asleep.
Top Treat: The cherry mille-feuille was a delight
Address: Falcondale Drive, Lampeter, Ceredigion SA48 7RX. Tel: 01570 422910
Cost: £18.50 per person Booking Advisable
Now before you change into your afternoon frock and head off for afternoon tea, perhaps we should look at the etiquette that surrounds this genteel art. Whilst you may no longer be expected to wear a single string of pearls and have a well ironed cotton handkerchief about your person and it’s fair to assume that not all ladies present will be in hats, carrying gloves and handbags, there is still an etiquette attached to the occasion. Whilst there is no correct pronunciation of the word scone, according to the laws of etiquette there is a correct way to eat them, if a scone is presented whole then it should never be cut with a knife; pieces are broken in the same way as you would a dinner roll, then jam added to the small piece with little knife.
Suitable tea to be served for Afternoon tea would be Earl Grey, with its distinctive taste of bergamot and this should never be taken with milk, although Darjeeling, English breakfast and blended Ceylon and Indian teas are acceptable with milk. You might want to observe some the superstitions associated with tea before you pour a cup especially if you like your brew without scandal:
- To stir the tea in the pot anti-clockwise will stir up trouble.
- To spill a little tea whilst making it is a lucky omen.
- Bubbles on tea denote kisses or money.
- If two women pour from the same pot one of them will have a baby within the year.
- To put milk in your tea before sugar is to cross the path of love and perhaps never to marry.
- To make tea which is stronger than usual indicates a new friendship.
- Two teaspoons accidentally placed together on a saucer points to a wedding or a pregnancy.
Once you have navigated the ceremony of taking tea, remember that since ancient Rome, a cultured person ate with three fingers and a commoner with five and thus the birth of the raised pinkie as a sign of elitism. This three fingers etiquette rule is still correct when picking up food with the fingers. The idea of putting ones ‘pinkie up’, when drinking tea originated from a misinterpretation of the three fingers versus five fingers dining etiquette in the eleventh century. So whilst the raised pinkie when drinking tea is considered silly and is not correct etiquette, it does apply when reaching for that finger sandwich or cake.
Whilst trying to remember that a guest should look into the teacup when drinking and never over it, it becomes apparent to me that rules of social etiquette have changed dramatically since the idea of afternoon tea was conceived.