Cream tea etiquette | The do's and don'ts
We spoke to Devon Heaven, who sell cream tea hampers by post, to discover the true etiquette of cream and afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea, high tea or cream tea?
These are commonly used interchangeably to describe the same thing, however, they are all different.
Firstly, a cream tea is a West Country speciality, where tea is served with scones, jam and clotted cream.
Afternoon tea includes finger sandwiches, cakes and pastries, in addition to a cream tea.
The term high tea shouldn’t actually be used to describe an afternoon tea, instead the term traditionally refers to a hearty meal eaten at a proper table (unlike afternoon tea which was traditionally served on a lower coffee table) at around 6pm.
How long should you let tea brew for?
The longer the tea is left to brew, the stronger it will be. The ideal strength is down to personal preference, but it’s often best to leave it for at least 3 minutes.
It can be seen as a tad rude to only pour your own tea and not offer to top up the rest of the table's. So if you are worried about spilling it or just don’t want that duty, you may want to steer clear of the teapot until someone else picks it up.
Milk or tea first?
It’s easier to judge the strength when the tea has been poured first. So pouring the tea first and then adding the milk remains the best way to pour tea, even for the most experienced tea connoisseur.
Stirring the tea
The posh way of stirring tea is in a 6’o clock to 12’o clock linear loop motion, rather than a circular one. Ensuring that the spoon is removed from the cup and placed on the saucer is more important.
Bagged or loose leaf tea
Although many serve afternoon tea with bagged tea, the more premium locations will use loose leaf tea. Loose leaf tea is generally made from higher quality fresh leaves that produce more flavour.
Sticking your little finger out
Contrary to popular belief, sticking your little finger out whilst drinking tea doesn’t make you look sophisticated!
Scones should be split into two halves before jam and cream is applied to each. Ideally it should be possible to break the scone in half without using a knife; the use of your hands is actually encouraged here. Being prepared with a saucer to catch any stray crumbs is a good safeguard.
Cream or jam first?
Whether to apply jam on top of cream or vice versa is really a matter of preference; jam first is the Cornish way, whilst cream first is the Devon way.
The main argument for the Cornish method is that you can taste the clotted cream better when it’s on top, whilst Devonians believe the cream is the replacement for butter and it tastes better when allowed to soak into the scone.
It’s of much greater importance that the cream itself is clotted cream from the West Country!