Royal Wedding

Meghan Markle Had To Learn These Tea Etiquette Rules Before Meeting The Queen

by Aly Walansky

Tea etiquette rules before anything else, right?

Meeting the family is a scary part of any relationship, but imagine when that family includes the Queen of England.

There are a lot of rules involved in proper tea etiquette, and Meghan Markle likely had to memorize them ALL before meeting the Queen — and remember them when she was pretty nervous! Obviously it went well though, the wedding is on May 19th. According to a new biography, Meghan: A Hollywood Princess, by Andrew Morton (who also wrote a biography of Princess Diana) Markle had to be trained in the etiquette of how to properly drink tea with the queen before the two met.

tea etiquette rules

If you are planning a royal wedding viewing party, chances are tea will be involved (it’ll be the wee hours of the morning here in the US). Here’s those rules to keep in mind:

Set a pretty table or tray. Sharing a cup of tea always feels more special when you put some energy into making it a true celebration. “If you set a tray for one (yourself), or a lovely tea table for a group of 10, drinking tea from a pretty cup or mug, while enjoying a favorite cookie or tea sandwich feels like a mini-ceremony or a full-fledged event,” says Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert, author of Modern Etiquette for a Better Life, and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.

Be careful who is on your guest list. There are three guests that shouldn’t be included: Jealousy, Anger and Negativity. “These three guests have no place at your tea table, or in your life. Tea conversation should be uplifting and positive. Stay away from negative topics or subjects that are best discussed in private,” says Gottsman. Focus on the big floral bouquets, happy topics, and endearing thoughts of the future.

Milk in last. There is an ongoing debate as to whether milk should be poured into the cup before the tea (“MIF”), or the other way around. The prior reasoning of “milk in first” was to prevent fragile porcelain from cracking as a reaction to boiling water. “The protocol of “MIF” or “MIL” is to pour milk in after the tea has been poured in your cup,” says Gottsman of these very special tea etiquette rules to remember.

Milk is not added to green or oolong tea. Strong teas are enhanced by milk but lighter teas, such as green, white and oolong are best taken without milk so as not to overwhelm the gentle flavor. “I know some tea lovers who insist on adding milk to their white tea, and it’s strictly a palate preference,” says Gottsman. It’s also considered an unusual ingredient in mint teas.

A scone should be eaten one bite at a time. Never cut your scone in half and “butter up” the center with jelly, proceeding to eat the scone like a baloney sandwich. “Break one piece of the scone apart, butter it with clotted cream or jam, and eat the single piece. Jelly or jam go on the scone first, followed by the clotted cream,” says Gottsman.

Use your napkin properly. Remove the spot of cream from your lips or the side of your mouth with a gentle blot, rather than a swipe across the face. “Your napkin is specifically for your mouth, placed on the chair when you leave the table temporarily. At the end of the tea, place your napkin on the table,” says Gottsman.

Look into the middle of the cup. When taking a sip of tea, focus your gaze into the center of the cup. “Looking over the cup will most likely encourage a spill down the front of your blouse,” says Gottsman.

Use your fingers. “A tea sandwich may be eaten with your fingers, as well as cookies and petit fours. Cake or any sticky food items require a fork,” says Gottsman.

Never drink with a teaspoon in your tea cup. ‘After you have stirred your tea, making every effort not to clink the sides of the cup, place your teaspoon behind the cup, at an angle, on the saucer. The handle of the cup and the teaspoon should face the same direction,” says Gottsman.

Don’t confuse Afternoon Tea with High Tea. “High Tea is not a fancy affair at all. In years past, it was considered a heavy meal often fed to farmers coming home for dinner after working in the fields. A strong tea was served with the meal to give the workers strength, as well as act as a stimulant,” says Gottsman. “Afternoon Tea, which consists of dainty sandwiches, scones and pastry, has traditionally been served between the hours of 3 and 5 o’ clock, intended to fill in a lengthy space between the mid meal and a late dinner,” says Gottsman.

Pinkies stay down. Above all else, please do not stick your pinkie straight up in the air. It’s very bad manners!

tea etiquette rules
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A few of the Faux Pas of Tea Service

Cradling the cup in one’s fingers if it has a handle  or swirling the tea around the cup as if it were a wine glass are some major faux pas we can assume Meghan Markle did not commit at tea with the Queen, Sharon Schweitzer, JD of Access to Culture, a certified tea consultant, says. Other tea faux pas Schweitzer says to avoid include:

  • Extending the pinkie
  • Lifting only the cup, leaving the saucer on the table when standing, or when there is more than 12 inches between you and the plate
  • Leaving a spoon upright in the cup
  • Placing the spoon on the saucer in front of the cup
  • Making noise while stirring by touching the sides of the cup with the spoon (quietly stir)
  • Letting the spoon drop with a clank onto the saucer
  • Placing a used napkin on the table before the meal/tea is over
  • Putting the halves of a scone back together after spreading on the jam and cream
  • Placing any item on the table that was not there when you first sat down
  • Pouring tea to the rim of the cup
  • Placing lemon in the tea before the sugar prevents the sugar from dissolving
  • Adding lemon to a cup of tea with milk in it will curdle the milk
  • Removing the lemon slice from the cup
  • Reaching across the table/another person for someone/something

Ack, all the tea etiquette rules! After all that, Markle deserves her princess title.

If you are planning that party, there’s a lot to keep in mind when brewing and serving the tea, as well, says Schweitzer.

  1. Water: bottled or fresh that has run from faucet for over a minute
  2. Tea Pot: may be ceramic, china, porcelain
  3. High mineral content water: Longer steeping time may be needed since does not infuse as easily in hard water
  4. Connoisseur–quality teas: Always use bottled water in the tea kettle.
  5. Tea measurement: Rounded teaspoon of Tea for each cup of water the teapot holds; extra teaspoon if strong tea preferred
  6. Tea leaves: Decide if you will place leaves directly into the teapot; use infuser or filter?
  7. Rolling Boil: Pour over tea leaves and cover the teapot to allow steeping. Use a timer.
  8. Why steep? Tea leaves steep to produce a liquid of a temperature much reduced from the boiling stage
  9. Steeping time? Depends on size of the leaf. Large requires more time; small less. Black tea 3 minutes-very few more than 6. Formosa Oolong is 7 minutes. Green tea is 1 minute.

When serving, Schweitzer says consider all of the following:

  1. Strong Tea Request: Pour cup 3/4s full to prevent spills in saucer. Then ask “with milk, sugar or lemon?” Add the requested ingredients. Place a spoon on the saucer if not there.
  2. Weak Tea Request: Pour cup ½ full to prevent tea spilling and follow the procedure above.
  3. Sugar & Lemon requests: Add the sugar or sweetener first, otherwise the citric acid of the lemon prevents it from dissolving.
  4. The Tea Strainer: Hold the tea strainer in one hand while lifting tea pot and pouring with the other hand.

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