Time for Tea?

Have you ever thought about Tea Etiquette and wondered how you are to practice it?
Do you know which teas should be drunk and when?
Look no further I will explain it all in step by step instructions on how to.........
  • Properly make a delicious brew, with step by step instructions
  • Advise on which tea to use for what occasion
  • Advice of teacups and their importance
  • Give a historical guide of teacup shapes of each era ( 1880s-1960s)
  • And advise on proper etiquette for having Afternoon Tea
  • In addition their will be historical information on social history surrounding tea. Such as how the working classes had tea and how the upper classes had tea.
  • Finally there will be a selection of recipes for what is historically appropriate for serving with Afternoon Tea. ( in England, Australia & New Zealand & France)
If you wish to buy some fine china or linen for your Afternoon Tea click the Butlers tray  below
Let's start with cup designs


Classic Antique
Art Nouveau
Arts & Crafts
Court Early_7879_Rd447137_117mm.jpg
Various Shapes
Shell shaped rim


Characteristics: Mostly Low and wide bowl shape.Small  owner operated factories employed artisans to design, make & decorate by hand the cups in tea sets.

Handles: Various decorative shapes, mostly elongated


Bowl: Various decorative shapes, but mostly wide 


Main Designs: Most were classic antique, Art Nouveau or Arts and Crafts. 'Antique' designs often had pattern inside the cup as well - fully covering the inside)

Materials mostly used: Fine Bone China, hand painted, often gold rimmed


Queen Anne low_F11873_106mm.jpg
Queen Anne tall_G11873_100mm.jpg
Queen Anne
Queen Anne
Round Shape
Classic Shape

Characteristics: Slightly higher and smaller narrower cup shape than that of the previous decades, a sort of tulip shape was popular. Small factories employed artisans to design, make & decorate the cups in sets.

Handles: Pointed edges were popular as well as the classic round finger hole shape


Bowl: ' Tulip Shaped' ,flute and round 


Main Designs: Mostly Queen Anne Style, round or what we would call a 'Classic' fluted shape

Materials mostly used: Fine Bone China, hand painted, sometimes a thinner gold rimming 


Vogue_11850 _112mm.jpg
Art Deco
Willow Pattern
Ascot_YS0182 _100mm 1938-39.jpg
Round 'Footed'
York late_2148_98mm.jpg

Characteristics: 'The 'Golden Era' of the tea cup, tea set and afternoon tea!.

Most designs had 'footed' bottoms, 'cone' shaped bowl, hand painted designs or artisan designed transfers to decorate , the bowl was usually the classic shape , medium sized, not wide or narrow. The 1930s the teacup industry was thriving on mass! Small,medium & large  factories employed artisans to design, make & decorate but on an industrial scale.

Moderne & Art Deco designs were not so much about 'functionality' but artwork. This great divide between the two would not rise until later generations after World War 2.

Handles: Various including 'filled in' triangles, round, triangle, scroll finger holes


Bowl: 'Footed' bottoms, Art Deco cone' shaped bowl, round or classic shape with footed bottom.


Main Designs: Art Deco and Classic with Orientalism like 'Willow 'pattern. Some had patterns on the inside ( often flowers in sprigs)

Materials mostly used: Fine Bone China, Pottery, Porcelain and ironstone,hand painted or transfers, silver or gold rims.



1940's - 1966
Devon _NR065_109mm.jpg
1937 1940's
1934 - late 1940's
Carlton  Block Handle Tea Cup_100mm.jpg
'Carlton'( with Block Handle)
Earthenware_Essex _K13145_105mm 1940s.jp
Essex ( Earthenware)

Characteristics: Often 'footed' bottoms, but narrow, generous round shaped bowl or classic, hand painted designs or transfers, 'bowl' shape , generous sized. As in the 1930s, most cups were mass produced and transfers were designed by artisans to be used to created several colour options for a tea set. Some still hand painted but this was only for very high priced items. The humble tea cup was losing its rank as a social marker and piece of art and the two worlds of artisan and functionality were departing from each other.

Handles: Various including 'pointed 'round, block and  scroll finger holes. Often very decorative or intricate. Definitely 'stand out' handles, sometimes painted a different colour or were gold or silver to stand out


Bowl: 'Footed' bottoms, full round 'bowl' shaped.


Main Designs:  A lot were floral or 'Empire style' ( Motif like 'Devon ' above ) and 'Country Scenes were popular, some were new patterns of abstract art but still floral & fauna.

( see 'Oxford' above )Most has patterns inside the cup as well in the form of smaller motifs or floral sprigs. Some had fluted rims with gold or silver or painted rims.

Materials mostly used: Fine Bone China,Porcelain and earthenware ,hand painted or transfers, silver, gold, painted rims. Mass produced by small factories- human design still played its part.


Stirling_Pastoral 13893_104mm.jpg
' Stirling'
1956 - early 1960's
Carlisle_Black Grecian Scroll_102mm.jpg
1950 - 1966
Bristol Early_99mm.jpg

Characteristics: By the 1950s tea cups began to be designed as more of a functional item than a decorative one, although, style was expected for tea sets, this was more about 'Chic' and quality. The cups  quality was much better than previous eras, the cups were sturdier,   and more washable, less vulnerable to chips and cracks and one didn't have to worry about when to put the milk in, as one did with grandma's tea cups.( more about this later)


Handles: These were made more functional and basic in shape, with bigger handle holes for fingers. No more ' dainty ladies' teacup handles  but more ,one size fits all! Becoming the classic shape we have today. The handle was incorporated into the cup rather than standing out in its design a and colour.


Bowl: Various sizes and shapes


Main Designs:  Styles became more simplistic  and  modern. The whole cup did not to be decorated.

Materials mostly used: Fine Bone China,Porcelain ,transfers, factory made, silver, gold, painted rims.


Avon_Agean 14283_105mm 1964-66.jpg
Avon ' Aegean'
Bristol_Blue Harlequin_141018 _101mm 196
Bristol ' Blue Harlequin'

Characteristics: By the 1960s the functional requirements for a teacup had completed it's evolution. Decorative elements were less important than its functionality . The old fashion fussy designs were deemed unimportant, with 'simple style' being the by words in design, considered smart.

But still the need for a ' smart' matching tea or coffee  set was still desired. The 'coffee mug' and tea bag generation of the 1970s was soon to arise, with the de-function of the need for tea sets or coffee sets, but not just yet!


Handles: Most cups had the classic shape and size with larger handles and handle holes.


Bowl: 'Plain with little or no foot.


Main Designs: Uniform white was the most commonly used colour with a 'modern' design transferred. Gone were the days of time wasting hand painting. Cups did not need to be an art work but rather... just a cup!

Materials mostly used: Porcelain and earthenware ,transfer decoration mass produced.

Everything Stops for Tea - The Sncopators ( orginal by Jack Buchanan 1935)
00:00 / 00:00

The Social History of the Teatime

Edwardian Ladies 'Take Tea'
Catherine of Braganza,
Queen of England

Tea in the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Her Dominions Across The Seas.

Since the eighteenth century, the United Kingdom has been one of the world's greatest tea consumers, with an average annual per capita tea supply of 1.9 kg. The British Empire was instrumental in spreading tea from China to India.


Tea, which was an upper-class drink in continental Europe, became the infusion of every social class in Great Britain throughout the course of the eighteenth century and has remained so. Tea is a prominent feature of British culture and society.

History of Tea in England

The history of European interactions with tea dates back to the mid-16th century. The earliest mention of tea in European literature was by Giambattista Ramusio, a Venetian explorer, as Chai Catai or “Tea of China” in 1559.Tea was mentioned several more times in various European countries afterwards, but Jan Hugo van Linschooten, a Dutch navigator, was the first to write a printed reference of tea in 1598 in his Discours of Voyages.

However, it was several years later, in 1615, that the earliest known reference to tea by an Englishman took place in a letter exchanged between Mr. R. Wickham, an agent for the British East India Company stationed at Japan to a Mr. Eaton, who was stationed in Macao [portuguese domain since 1557], China

Though there were a number of early mentions, it was several more years before tea was actually sold in England. Green tea exported from China was first introduced in the coffeehouses of London shortly before the Stuart Restoration (1660).

Thomas Garway, a tobacconist and coffee house owner, was the first person in England to sell tea as a leaf and beverage at his London coffeehouse in Exchange Alley in 1657.He had to explain the new beverage in a pamphlet. Immediately after Garway began selling it, the Sultaness Head Coffee House began selling tea as a beverage and posted the first newspaper advertisement for tea in Mercurius Politicus on 30 September 1658

In London "Coffee, chocolate and a kind of drink called tee" were "sold in almost every street in 1659", according to Thomas Rugge's Diurnall.Tea was mainly consumed by upper and mercantile classes.

The British East India company made its first order for the importation of tea in 1667 to their agent in Bantam, and two canisters of tea weighing 143 lbs 8 oz arrived from Bantam in 1669.

The first factor that contributed to the rise in popularity of tea was its reputation as a medical drink.According to Ellis, Coulton, Maugher, “tea was six to ten times more expensive than coffee” in the 1660s, making it an extremely expensive and luxurious commodity.Moreover, the proliferation of works on the health benefits of tea came at a time when people in the upper classes of English society began to take an interest in their health.

Royal Endorsement:

In 1660, two pounds and two ounces of tea bought from Portugal were formally presented to Charles II by the British East India Company.The drink, already common in Europe, was a favourite of his new Portuguese bride, Catherine of Braganza, who introduced it at court after she married Charles II in 1662, and made it fashionable among the ladies of the court as her temperance drink of choice.Catherine of Braganza's use of tea as a court beverage, rather than a medicinal drink, influenced its popularity in literary circles around 1685.Whenever it was consumed in the court, it was “conspicuously on display” so as to show it off.

Accordingly, tea drinking became a central aspect of aristocratic society in England by the 1680s, particularly among women who drank it while gossiping in the home.Catherine of Braganza’s introduction of tea to ladies was significant because it made tea an acceptable drink for both sexes, when it easily could have been categorized as a men’s drink if it had remained only available in the coffee houses that only men frequented. Wealthy ladies’ desire to show off their luxurious commodities in front of other ladies also increased demand for tea and made it more popular. 

Tea Shops:

While tea became more common in coffee houses during the second half of the 17th century, the first tea shop in London did not open until the early 18th century. Thomas Twining's tea shop has been claimed as the first, opening in 1706.

Tea would not have become the English staple it is known as if not for the increase in its supply that made it more accessible. Between 1720 and 1750 the imports of tea to Britain through the British East India Company more than quadrupled.

Trade with China Brought Tea for Everyone:

When tea was first introduced to England, the British East India Company was not directly trading with China and merchants relied on tea imports from Holland.Because this tea was so expensive and difficult to get, there was very little demand for it, except among the upper classes who could afford it and made special orders. It was not until after 1700 that the British East India Company began to trade regularly with China and ordering tea, though not in large quantities.Once the British East India company focused on tea as its main import, tea soon attained price stability. As the price of tea fell it become more popular among the upper-middle and middle classes. The significant drop in tea’s price between 1720 and 1750 was a major turning point for tea in England. The increase in supply of tea was one of the most important factors that boosted its popularity in Britain and opened up the world of tea to new levels of society.By the nineteenth century, tea’s popularity had reached the working classes and it was soon considered an everyday necessity among poor labourers.Between 1872 and 1884 the supply of tea to the British Empire increased with the expansion of the railway to the east. The demand, however, was not proportional, which caused the prices to rise. Nevertheless, from 1884 onward, due to innovation in tea preparation, the price of tea dropped and remained relatively low throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Soon afterwards London became the centre of the international tea trade.With the custom of 'high tea' , came a large increase in the demand for porcelain too, the demand for tea cups, pots and dishes increased to go along with this popular new drink.


Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford,
 a lifelong friend of Queen Victoria,

how the Working classes had tea and how the Upper classes had tea.

Working Classes Tea

You may be surprised to know that High Tea is a name for the evening meal, usually associated with the working class and is typically eaten between 5 pm and 7 pm

High tea typically consists of a hot dish, followed by cakes and bread, butter and jam. The term was first used around 1825, and "high" tea is taken on

(a high) dining table; by contrast, low tea, which was more of a light snack, was served on a low table – what would be called a coffee table today.

Tea drinking was participated at both types of 'meals'.

Tea Break: ' Elevensies'

A tea break is expected around 11am on any working day. This is where there is a 10-15 minutes break from work and the workers drink 'builders tea' accompanied by biscuits.

Builders Tea:

This is the common strong brew of everyday tea.


Upper Classes Tea

By contrast, what most people think is 'High Tea' amongst the upper classes, that is a high quality more lavish affair, is infact called 'Afternoon Tea' by the upper classes.

Afternoon tea is a light meal typically eaten between 4 & 5 o'clock .Observance of the custom originated amongst the wealthy social classes in England in the 1840s, made into a ritual by Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford. By the end of the nineteenth century, afternoon tea developed to its current form and was observed by both the upper and middle classes.

What to serve in Traditional Afternoon Tea

In an Afternoon tea , only the finest tea you have is served, typically this is usually the more delicate black leaf teas like, Ceylon, Earl Grey or Afternoon Tea ( a Indian tea blend)

The beverage was accompanied by thinly sliced white bread and butter, delicate 'finger' sandwiches and homemade cakes made from the finest ingredients.


Cakes, Pastries & Buns that would have been served:Not all at once,about 3 types 

Battenberg cake

Victoria sponge 

Fruit cake

Madeira Cake

Seed cake

Chelsea Buns ( the non -iced originals)

Eccles Cakes

The sandwiches are crustless, cut into small segments, either as triangles or fingers, and pressed thin and are traditionally of cucumber.


Scones with whipped cream and preserves( finest quality jam) may also be served ,


A Cream Tea: ( is NOT' Afternoon Tea')

Also known as a Devon cream tea, Devonshire tea or Cornish cream tea,

is a lighter version that is the specialty of Devon & Cornwall and where clotted or fresh whipped cream is used with scones and preserves or jam and a pot of black leaf tea.

It has no 'class distinctions'.


What NOT to serve besides coffee!

Biscuits and savouries are not served, these are in a working class

'Low Tea'. Hot food is not served as this is 'High Tea' to working classes and  is served at 'Dinner' for the upper classes.

Tarts are not served either as they are considered a 'pudding' which is served in 'High Tea' or is the 3rd or 4th course in a 'Dinner'.

Coffee is not served at teatime.

Originally, English coffeehouses in the 17th and 18th centuries were public social places where men would meet for conversation and commerce.

Later on in the 19th and 20th centuries the  beverage was reserved for after dinner at night and served with brandy. It was a 'treat' rather than a norm and mostly for the upper classes, seen as a sort of digestive or medicinal like brandy .

But later on around the 1920s, perhaps due to the increase of travel and the influences of 'continental customs', coffee could also be drunk as a 'morning tea' drink and served alone or with cake, as a sort of late breakfast. 

On the European continent, coffee was a daily beverage served in cafes with cakes for many years before England had coffee houses or cafes.

Colonial Versions

The British Colonies of Australia and New Zealand and their British pioneers still kept the traditions of these 'tea times' but adapted them to the supply of ingredients.

For example the added bit of delicious fresh strawberries & cream to a sponge cake, since they were readily grown and available  but as dried fruit was scarce, fruit cake was substituted with Luncheon cake;a British recipe, thanks to Mrs Beeton in 1861. It was a lighter version of fruit cake with much less fruit and not using dark sugar. Afternoon tea was kept but as most folks worked, work commitments often meant the strict British routines of times was not upheld. The working classes and farm workers had tea ( as a main meal) after farm work was done ( after dark). Only middle class ladies could enjoy 'Afternoon Tea' in the 1860s to 1920s. After that time frame the custom was mostly lost to even middle class families. Everybody simply had afternoon or morning tea - which was a simple tea break with biscuits like the English 'Low Tea'. Or if you had the money, you 'took tea' at a tea shop with friends as a treat at anytime of the day.

NB: (In Australia and New Zealand, any short break for tea in the afternoon is referred to as "afternoon tea". As a result, the term "high tea" is used to describe the more formal affair that the English would call "afternoon tea")


The French Version 

The tradition for serving afternoon tea in France  is very probably an 18th-century custom associated with the memorable Queen of France, Marie Antoinette (1755–1793) and reserved for the Aristocracy and Bourgeoisie. 

What was served was invariable ;

Dainty biscuits, petit fours, éclairs, meringues and little glacé gateaux with light and refreshing black leaf tea.

What Tea for When?

Only Black Teas listed here, as appropriate for British 'Tea times'

Tea Blends             type of Black Tea         Taste                              when to serve


Earl Grey                  Chinese                                 Refreshing flavour                         Afternoon Tea

                                  infused with bergamot        with malty undertones.


Afternoon Tea          Indian                                    Lighter, refreshing                          Afternoon Tea


Ceylon Tea                Sri Lanka                              Strong flavor,notes of spice.         Afternoon Tea


Darjeeling                 1st Flush Indian                  Delicate ,light flavour                     Afternoon Tea


Assam Tea                Indian                                    Crisp finish,earthy flavor,              Breakfast

                                                                                                             bitter aftertaste


English Breakfast    Assam, Ceylon, Kenyan       Robust, full bodied                         Breakfast



Irish Breakfast         Assam teas.                         Malty flavor,rich,smooth                Breakfast

Builders Tea             Assam, Sri Lanka, Kenya    Strong                             Through out Working day

                                              Uses low-grade cheaper tea                                                                             including 'Eleveneses'

                                                                                                                       and 'Low Tea'


How to make a traditional tea 

What you will need.........

Afternoon Tea  '' Shall we take tea ?''

Your best fine China teapot and cups and saucers, sugar bowl, milk jug, side plates to match

Silver tea spoons

Silver sugar tongs

Silver tea strainer

A kettle of hot water

A black tea blend suitable for Afternoon Tea ( see above chart)

Fresh milk

Sugar cubes

Soft butter

Fresh cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

Suitable assorted cakes of three types ( see above)

Cotton Napkins

Cake tier and sandwich plate


Black tea served with:

Assorted 'fancy' cake sliced and served on a cake tier

Delicate cucumber sandwiches on white bread, cut out with a biscuit cutter, served on a sandwich plate ( this is a narrow oblong plate )

Thinly sliced, lightly buttered,white bread slices , cut into triangles,also served on a sandwich plate.

Low Tea  '' Tea time''

Earthenware or ceramic teapot

Black tea, ordinary blend

A kettle of hot water


Fresh Milk


Pottery cup or mug


Sturdy wooden Tray with plain linen or cotton tray cloth

Low table ( Coffee Table)

High Tea- ''lay the table''

Earthenware , China or ceramic teapot, sugar bowl and milk jug

* Tea Cosy ( optional)

Black tea


Fresh Milk


Ladle or serving spoon

Serving dish or Tureen

Cake knife

Cups & saucers

Dinner & side plates

Dining table with tablecloth

Knives & forks

Butter knives

Hot dish- eg: Toad in Hole, Cottage Pie, Sausage & Mash, Irish Stew, etc

One plain cake- eg: Lardy Cake, Apple Cake,etc

Bread & butter

Butter dish

Bread board & Knife

Jam pot


Plain napkins

Served on a 'laid' dining table with the hot dish in serving dishes. Each person has a place setting. Tea is served with the cake, bread, butter and jam after the hot dish has been eaten.

Brewing the tea

Boil fresh clean water in a kettle.

Put 1 teaspoon of black leaf tea per person into the teapot

( make sure the pot is bigger enough) Standard size pot will serve up to four people.

As soon as the water is boiled, pour into the teapot with the tea in.

Replace the lid and cover the pot with a cosy( optional).

Let the brew stand for 3 minutes.

Serving the Tea











Afternoon Tea

Sit at a dining table with your best tablecloth on it.

The place settings are set with folded napkin placed on the side plate.

The tea set with pot,cups and saucers , milk jug and sugar bowl with tongs is set upon the table already.

Pour into the teacups one at a time slowly, leaving enough room for milk.

Hand the tea to each guest just after you poured the single cup out.

Let your guest add the milk and sugar ( but offer it )

After everyone has sipped their tea once, then offer the sandwiches and then cakes.

Make polite conversation.

High Tea

Place the trueen or serving dish with the hot dish in the center of the 'laid ' table after all have sat down to tea. Serve each person from the Tureen. While eating the dish talk about your day together.After the hot dish has been eaten remove the used dinner plates,cutlery and the serving spoon and dish or tureen.

Place the teapot, cups and saucers with teaspoons on the table with the sugar bowl and milk jug along with the cake on a cake plate, bread on a bread board with a bread knife, butter in a butter dish and jam in a jam pot. Slice some bread, cut the cake and pour the tea let the others help themselves and continue conversing.


Laying the table 

One place setting per guest set out with a dinner plate and side plate placed to the right, fork on the left side of the dinner plate, knife on the right side of the dinner plate, butter knife on folded napkin that has been laid on the side plate. 

Colonial New Zealand Ladies taking Tea

Other 'Tea' Things

Tea Dance

A tea dance, also called a thé dansant (French for "dancing tea"), was a dance held in the summer or autumn from 4 to 7 p.m. In the English countryside, a garden party sometimes preceded the dance . Tea Dances had been held since the 1800s but during

World War Two one saw a lot of tea dances in Britain to entertain the troops.










Tea Rooms

The 18th Century tea rooms were very different from coffee houses. ... Tea Rooms offering the first ever self-service tea rooms. During this period, and into the early 20th Century, suffragettes would often meet in tea rooms, gathering together to informally discuss their rights, and of course enjoy a nice cup of tea.












Tea Gown , then later Tea Dance Dress


A tea gown or tea-gown is a woman's dress for informal entertaining at home. These dresses, which became popular around the mid-19th century, are characterized by unstructured lines and light fabrics.

“The tea gown, on the other hand, drapes the figure loosely so as to fall in graceful folds, and may be regarded as a distinct economy, as it so often takes the place of a more expensive dress.” – The Evolution of Fashion,Florence Mary Gardiner, 1897''

By the 1910s & 20s these tea gowns were worn more and more in public dances and occasions.

By the 1930s-40s they had become a knee length simple dress to wear to a tea dance conducive with modern dancing.


1870s                          1900s                                 1920s                         1930s



Tea Rose

A wild rose plant originally from China. It is the ancestor of our antique & modern hybrid Tea Roses. 

Presumably called 'Tea' Roses because they were drunk as a tea in China and later in Western countries.

Hybrid tea flowers are well-formed with large, high-centred buds, supported by long, straight and upright stems


Original Tea Rose

'China Rose'

Early Hybris 1795