9 Aug 2016

The Art of Etiquette – high tea

From Upbeat, 1:30 pm on 9 August 2016

Upbeat producer Zoë George raises a delicate pinkie and bites into the culinary arts once more, this time with Olivier Rivoalan from Louis Sergeant. She asks him about high tea: Is it OK to use fingers? What about a napkin? How do you hold a tea cup correctly? And what about dunking?

A sample of high tea goodies from Louis Sergeant

A sample of high tea goodies from Louis Sergeant Photo: Zoë George

Should we drink out of bone china?

Historically, fine bone china had some bone ashes in it. If you’re a purist and a vegan you might be opposed to drinking tea from it. Glass is the only acceptable alternative.

What is high tea?

Let’s be clear “high tea” is not the proper term. We should be talking about “afternoon tea”. That’s what aristocrats had - fine bone china, tea, cakes, cheese and nice surroundings.

High tea was served to servants at 6pm and it was called “high tea” because it was served on a high table. It often was made up of meat cuts. But it’s a little more posh to call it “high tea”.

First, onto the tea. Do I have to drink tea?

No, you can have coffee or juice.

How long should we brew it for?

An Earl Grey from three to five minutes. Some teas brew up to eight minutes. It all depends if it’s herbal, floral, green or black. Green tea should be poured immediately as one of the notes in the green tea becomes more bitter the longer you leave it. Tea should be loose leaf.

What tea should we drink first?

Start with mild teas then finish on blacks

Can we add milk, honey, lemon or sugar?

Yes, but again some teas don’t go well with milk - like green tea. Generally milk goes well with black tea. Earl grey purists will tell you to add lemon.

Should milk go into the cup before the tea goes in, or after?

Milk should be added last.

Who should pour the tea?

The host pours the tea. It allows the guests to relax and enjoy.

Is there a special way to pour it?

Hold the teapot lid and pour it away from the guest as not burn them. In an ideal world the host stands next to guest and pours.

How much tea should I put into a tea cup?

Fill the tea cup to about two thirds. It’s like a champagne flute. If you fill it up, the champagne will start to warm up. If you only add a small amount of tea there’s enough space to add milk and allow the tea to cool down. It also means you’re not drinking a lot of tea from the start and can drink lots of different ones.

How should I hold my tea cup? Can I hold it at the base?

No. The handle is held between the thumb and forefinger. Use your middle finger or ring finger to support the bottom of the tea cup.

What about my pinkie going up?

You don’t have to do it. But if it feels natural, do it.

Do we “cheers” when we are at high tea?

No none of that, but we won’t stop people from doing it. It’s more about remarking on the tea and its quality.

How many cups of tea are too many?

It’s up to you. We have bathrooms! People can quite easily have six cups.

When food is served, it’s usually served in tiers… do we start at the bottom?

Yes, the bottom is savoury so we start there.

Can’t I go straight to the sweet stuff?

You can! But it’s best to start with savoury. All the pieces on the tiers are explained by our staff and they will come in a specific order because of the flavours.

Do I have to use a knife and fork?

It depends what you are eating. Sandwiches are called finger sandwiches for a reason.
Eat a pâtisserie with a spoon or fork. A cake fork is preferred. Spoons are used when creations are presented in glass and use the spoon to get the desert out.
Macarons, can I dip them in my tea?

No! It’s not made for it. It’s very English to dunk. The French will have a bowl of coffee or hot chocolate and dip their croissant or baguette into it. If you are going to put macarons in the tea you are spoiling the flavours. It’s not something you would do.

Napkins or serviettes? Do we need to use them?

Yes, do use them. The proper term is napkin. Undo it and put it on your lap. Don’t tuck it into your pants, or shirt. We assume you know how to eat!

What should we wear to high tea?

It’s a good reason to dress up. Jeans are fine. Jandals - if you must! Who are we to judge!?
The food is a work of art, is it OK for me to photograph?

Yes, that’s totally fine.

Can I bring my children to high tea?

Yes. We have a policy about ladies with babies who breast feed. If someone complains then the complainant can leave. Breast feeding is a human thing. Children are more than welcome, we prefer children who are well behaved.

What should I do if I have a food allergy?

Anytime someone books we’ll ask them if they or their guests have any food allergies. And then we’ll follow up with them a few days before their booking so there are no surprises.

The food is little. Should I stick it all in my mouth all at once?!

Some can fit. They are bite-sized, and you’d usually get four savoury and five sweet. But it’s not lunch; it’s something to have between lunch and dinner. Always finish with the macaron.

Bon appetit!