Friday, February 9, 2018

Miss Manners on Tea Etiquette

“Tea is made in the drawing room in full view of the guests, so get it right. The proper method is this: Rinse the teapot with boiling water. Give your teaspoons a chance to do the job for which they were trained by putting in one teaspoon of loose tea (tea is claustrophobic and hates being stuffed into little bags) for each tea drinker, plus one. Now pour on the rapidly boiling water. There are few things worse than tepid tea.” 


Tea for Two or 3,000 

Dear Miss Manners: I should like to begin having tea on a daily schedule with friends stopping in, with or without invitations. A couple of questions do require answering: At what time is “teatime,” and should coffee be offered or placed on the table? 

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners adores afternoon tea, from “oh-do-join-me-for-a-cup” to royal receptions for 3,000 people. She would advise you to get some practice in the former before attempting the latter. There are few more charming ways to spend an afternoon than to sit, surrounded by fine china and friends, wolfing down scones and bringing up epigrams. 

If you wish to test the water before jumping in even on a weekly basis water for tea should always be boiling invite people for a specific day writing: Tea Tuesday the Seventeenth. Four to Six o’clock. All should be written in the lower left corner of your visiting cards. Later it may be “Tuesdays 4 to 6 p.m.” Place on a tray a large silver or copper kettle over an alcohol burner and tea caddy, with a teapot, cups (which have been warmed with boiling water), teaspoons, a slops bowl, a tea strainer, a milk pitcher (cream overpowers a dainty cup of tea), a bowl of lump sugar, little plates and napkins. 

Tea is made in the drawing room in full view of the guests, so get it right. The proper method is this: Rinse the teapot with boiling water. Give your teaspoons a chance to do the job for which they were trained by putting in one teaspoon of loose tea (tea is claustrophobic and hates being stuffed into little bags) for each tea drinker, plus one. Now pour on the rapidly boiling water. There are few things worse than tepid tea. 

When the tea has steeped for about four minutes, ask your guest of honor how she takes it. Using the strainer, pour straight from the pot for strong tea and dilute it from the kettle for weak. Then add sugar (the reason for using lump sugar is so you may ask the traditional “One lump or two?”) and milk, according to the taste. Some troublemakers prefer lemon to milk and you may put slices in a glass dish on the tray, but you are only encouraging them. 

When this ritual is performed, the guest takes her tea from the hostess or if there is a gentleman present, he takes it to her. She then takes a plate, napkins and a modest selection from your platters of hot breads, tiny sandwiches, cookies and a slice of whatever luscious cake your cook has baked that day. If you become addicted to this form of entertaining, you may need to to move on to stronger doses, such as the reception, which is tea served in the dining room.

The tea service is placed at one end of the table, and the teacups napkins, plates, forks if needed, and a larger supply of tea food (at least two of each kind mentioned above) go in the middle. At the other end stands an urn of chocolate, boullion, or more often lately to Miss Manners' dismay, coffee. You may ask friends “to pour,” that is to serve the tea and chocolate for you as you move among your guests. Being asked to pour is an honor just short of knighthood.

The traditional time for tea is four o'clock, which is perfect if you have your afternoons free. However, coffee is only one of the sad things that has happened to tea over the years. Some people have the idea that there is something more important to do in the afternoon than sip tea and eat buttered bread, such as earning a living. If you have friends who work, Miss Manners suggests that you schedule your tea on a weekend or at a time convenient to them on their way home when you could give them yet another variation, “high tea,” so as to replace, rather than interfere with, their supper. 

High tea is more substantial in all matters of food and drink than afternoon tea. It could include a whiskey and soda tray. Along with the dainty foods traditional to afternoon tea, there are soft boiled eggs, sausages, sardines on toast, kippers, chicken livers and such. While some unscrupulous restaurants try to make afternoon tea sound more “high society” by calling it “high tea,” the word “high” is actually related to “it's high time we had something to eat.” As social events go, high tea is lower on the scale than afternoon tea, because the chances of being fed dinner are small on a day you are given high tea. In that respect it is like the “cocktail-buffet,” than which there are few lower social events. – From Judith Martin’s, “Miss Manners’ "Guide fo Excruciatingly Correct Behavior,” 1985

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia