British Tea Drinking Etiquette

For British Children’s author Frances Hardinge, it’s the ‘magic key to the vault where [her] brain is kept’. Bear Grylls has a cup of it ‘halfway up a rock face’. And George Orwell said that ‘the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes’.

I’m talking, of course, about tea. It’s been a national obsession in Britain since it arrived here from China in the 1600s. Its rich history covers everything from travel and trade to class and etiquette. Our culture is split into two camps: those that pour the tea first and those who begin with milk.

Royal butler, Grant Harrold, recently shared the tea-drinking etiquette followed by the Queen. To drink tea like a royal, you’ll need to start by pouring it into a china cup from a teapot. To stir in the milk, use a back and forth motion rather than a circular one. Keep the spoon away from the sides.

When it comes to tea drinking, Debrett’s etiquette guide is very clear: sip, don’t slurp. Dunking biscuits is to be saved for informal settings (although it’s recommended. You can’t beat a chocolate digestive dunked in a piping hot mug of strong black tea). And – I’m sorry to say – the pointed pinky is a myth. From Debrett’s: “Hold the handle of the teacup between your thumb and forefinger; don’t hold your little finger in the air.”

SHOP OUR FAVORITE TEA AND TEA ACCESSORIES

But for us Brits, all of this pales in comparison to this one simple truth: there’s nothing better for our wellbeing than a good cup of tea. Former British Prime Minister, the late William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898) put it this way:

“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.”

I love this quote because it sums up exactly how I feel about the simple act of drinking tea. It’s good for every situation. The simple ritual of preparing tea is soothing. I bond with friends and family over a teapot shared around the table on a weekend afternoon. That first cup of tea my husband brings me each morning is like the elixir of life.

But this quote from Gladstone is more personal than that for me. When he died in 1898, Gladstone bequeathed the equivalent of £4.24 million to build the beautiful St Deniol’s library in Hawarden, a small village in North Wales. This is the village where my parents were married. Where my late grandfather was the vicar at St Deiniol’s Parish Church. And where, a couple of times a year, I catch up with my 90-year-old grandmother at that library Gladstone had built.

This is sacred time; when we crack jokes and share stories, I repeat myself a hundred times so she can catch what I’m saying, and time slows down a little over a good cup of tea.

What could be better than that?

Leave a comment below: do you enjoy tea time? What questions do you have for Rachel about UK culture? We’d love to know!

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The Petite Bijou is an online destination featuring wholesome yet sophisticated living and styling tips for women. The site is run by survivor, lifestyle influencer, and writer Mariam, who also runs The Bijou Show, a self help podcast.

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14 Comments

  1. Mary wrote:

    I love my tea. I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life.

    Posted 8.21.19 Reply
  2. June wrote:

    My grandma had high tea every day at 4 pm promptly you made no less then three cups of tea out of a tea bag. She really didn’t like the tea bags but whatever when in Rome well you know the rest. Instead of crumpets she had vanilla weavers and you took no less the three bites per wafer I won’t go into what happen to me when I popped a whole one in my mouth. She said it wasn’t lady like to take big bites and your right no pinky never made a showing. I miss my grams.

    Posted 6.18.19 Reply
  3. Sherry wrote:

    I so love this tea set!

    Posted 5.27.19 Reply
    • Mariam wrote:

      Thank you, Sherry! It is the perfect tea set

      Posted 5.29.19 Reply
  4. Frenchie wrote:

    I was introduced to hot tea by a teacher in high school and have enjoyed it for over fifty years. Since retirement, if i’m At home, I have a cup of tea with chocolate in the afternoons. Bedtime brings on relaxation with another cup of decaf tea. I’m also a huge fan of iced tea. I will try any flavor of tea and never turn it down.

    Posted 5.26.19 Reply
    • Ronda wrote:

      Frenchie where did you go to high school? I had the same experience.

      Posted 5.27.19 Reply
    • Mariam wrote:

      Hi Frenchie!

      Thank you so much for your comment! I do love a cup of tea to wind down the long days. What tea is your favorite?

      Posted 5.29.19 Reply
  5. karen wrote:

    I’ve loved drinking tea since I was a little girl…My Nana taught me to brew a proper cuppa, and all the tips you’ve mentioned. She was born and raised in Scotland, but brought all her wisdom to the states…

    Posted 5.3.19 Reply
  6. Elizabeth wrote:

    I’m an avid tea drinker. Though an American, I think its a natural tie to my British roots. My great grandfather hailed from Reading. We incorporate afternoon tea with my children as part of our homeschool studies. I’m always looking for ways to make our time a little more proper. Thanks for the tips.

    Posted 5.3.19 Reply
  7. Tracy wrote:

    Rachel,
    I love the Gladstone Library especially the reading room. I live in Wrexham North Wales and try to get to the library a couple of time a year.
    Love the article btw and totally agree with the quote from the great man.
    Tracy x

    Posted 4.21.19 Reply
    • Mariam wrote:

      Hi Tracy,

      Thank you so much for your comment and we are delighted to hear you enjoy the Gladstone Library as well. Thanks again and hope you enjoy more articles!

      Many thanks,

      Mariam (and on behalf of Rachel)

      Posted 4.23.19 Reply
  8. Mariam and Rachel, loved this post. I drink tea about 8 times a day, strong black tea, sometimes with a little milk, sometimes not, but never with sugar. And I give afternoon tea parties, and go out for afternoon tea at least once a month. I know exactly how you feel about tea, Rachel!

    Posted 4.18.19 Reply
    • Mariam wrote:

      Hi Jean,

      So happy to hear that you loved this blog post! We’re delighted to meet another tea drinker! And how fun that you give out tea parties! Please tag us if you ever post anything on Instagram about your parties. We’d love to see the pictures!

      Many thanks,
      Mariam

      Posted 4.19.19 Reply
  9. Nicole wrote:

    I agree 100%! My friends used to say, when I was at college with them, “Nicole, when are you NOT having a cup of tea?” 🙂

    Posted 12.24.18 Reply