Tea Party History & Etiquette

Perhaps the most famous historical tea party is the Boston Tea Party. This event was instrumental in creating America and was an impetus for the American Revolutionary War. Prior to the Boston Tea Party, many people enjoyed much more civilized tea parties. But no worries: these traditional tea parties are still happening today.


The original tea party began as an “afternoon tea” by royal Britain’s Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. Anna started drinking tea and eating light refreshments when she became hungry in the afternoons, since it was typical to eat only breakfast and dinner at that time in Britain. She began inviting friends to join her and soon the afternoon tea tradition was born. Usually served between 3 and 5pm, afternoon tea (sometimes referred to as “low tea”) is very different from “high tea,” during which a more hearty meal was eaten at the end of a work day, around 5:30 or 6pm, by working classes.


Black Dragon Pearls Black TeaThere are three types of afternoon tea differing by the foods served. Aside from tea, cream tea offers fresh baked scones served with clotted cream and jam. Light tea features teas, scones and sweets like petit fours. Last, full tea has a smorgasbord of tea, sandwiches or appetizers, scones, and a variety of desserts including cookies, cakes and pastries.  The selection of teas for an afternoon tea may include some lighter black teas (compared to breakfast teas) such as Earl Grey Crème Black Tea and Black Dragon Pearl Tea.


At an afternoon tea, the tea table is usually set around a lovely centerpiece. For formal full tea services, menus and even guest place cards can accompany each place setting. Most normal place settings apply for tea parties; however, the plates and silverware used may be modified. Smaller salad plates are typically used at tea parties, with the tea cup atop of a saucer placed directly to the right. A single fork on the left side of the plate and one knife and spoon on the right are usually enough to enjoy the food and drink. A water glass may also be supplied, placed above the knife. Cream, sugar, and a plate of lemon slices should be available for everyone at the table to use, as well as the tea pot and other necessary equipment for serving tea. The food may be presented on a nearby buffet table, on a tiered stand at the tea table, or brought out in courses by a server.


Tea Party Etiquette

Just like the royalty and upper class did in the original tea parties, it is important to use proper etiquette when attending a formal tea party. Here are a few tea party etiquette tips to remember:


  • If you like to have milk in your tea, add it to the teacup before the tea is poured. Also, do not use lemon in your tea if you are also using milk to avoid curdling of the milk.
  • Hold the handle of the teacup using your thumb and your first one or two fingers. There is no need to stick out your pinky; this is an exaggeration of how people sometimes tilt their pinky upwards to balance the cup. Do not loop your fingers through the teacup handle or cradle the side or bottom of the cup with your hands.
  • Take small, quiet sips of your tea. Do not blow on the tea if it is too hot.
  • When you are not drinking tea, place the cup on the saucer.
  • Make sure to place the napkin in your lap and never on the table; if you leave the table put the napkin in your seat.
  • It is fine to eat most of the foods with your fingers, taking small bites; however, use a fork when trying to eat messy foods.


Thinking about hosting your own tea party?  Check out these tea party ideas and find tea sets and tea cups for your next tea party at Teavana.

Tea Party History & Etiquette