Raised pinky fingers, scone slicing and other tea faux pas

AfternoonTeaWith a Starbucks on every corner and American’s addiction to coffee, it’s hard to believe that at one time tea was the beverage of choice.

Perhaps because it seems like a novelty, afternoon tea and tea parties are now in vogue – a fun reliving of a past tradition. Many hotels advertise High Tea, but the proper term is Afternoon Tea. High Tea was actually a full meal served to the laborers and miners at 6:00 PM. Afternoon Tea is the repast that includes petit fours, tea sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and is traditionally served between 3:00 and 5:00 PM.

I recently held a birthday afternoon tea party at the fabulous Columbia Tower Club. Eleven of my friends helped me celebrate my special day. It was so much fun! The food was fabulous, the view was incredible and the company was divine.

I shared a few tea facts and etiquette with my guests for fun. Did you know when drinking tea, or any liquid, you’re supposed to look into the cup rather than over it? The reason is it is easier to spill when you’re not paying attention to your cup. It also looks more demure when your eyes are focused on your cup.

Here are some other fun facts and tea etiquette tips.

When you are standing, hold the saucer and tea cup by cradling the saucer in your four fingers with your thumb securing the saucer on top. If you’re sitting at a table there is no need to hold the saucer, keep it on the table and just pick up the cup. For larger handles, put your index finger through the handle with your thumb resting on the top of the handle. Your middle finger should support the handle and your fourth and fifth (pinky) fingers should curl in towards your wrist. For smaller handles, you would squeeze the handle with your thumb and pointer finger while resting the handle on your third finger and using the rest of your fingers to press against the cup to balance it.

People often think proper tea drinking means sticking your pinky out. That’s actually rude and connotes elitism. It comes from the fact that cultured people would eat their tea goodies with three fingers and commoners would hold the treats with all five fingers. Thus was born the misguided belief that one should raise their pinky finger to show they were cultured. Tuck that pinky finger in.

When enjoying your tea, never swirl the liquid around in the cup like wine in glass. You might spill.

The hostess pours her guest’s tea and asks, “With sugar, lemon or milk?” Put the sugar in first then the lemon, otherwise, the lemon will keep the sugar from dissolving. Always add milk, not cream which is too heavy for tea, after the tea has been poured. That way you can decide how much milk to add by seeing the color of the tea. And, never combine lemon and milk; the lemon will curdle the milk.

When stirring your tea avoid clanking your teaspoon against the cup. Instead swirl it quietly and then rest the teaspoon behind the cup on the saucer with the handle facing towards the tea cup handle. Never leave the teaspoon in the cup and never put it in your mouth.

Scones, petit fours and tea sandwiches are all traditional Afternoon Tea fare. To eat scones properly, do not use a knife to slice them open. Instead, just as you would with a bread roll, break off one small piece at a time, put butter, cream and/or jam on just that piece and enjoy.

The word “petit fours” means small oven in French. They are so named because they were baked in a small oven next to the main oven.

Afternoon Tea is a wonderful tradition. It’s a lovely way to enjoy the company of friends while indulging in some delicious treats. Enjoy.


20 thoughts on “Raised pinky fingers, scone slicing and other tea faux pas

  1. Brenda Kelly

    Hi Folks,
    Whether or not one raises the pinkie, while
    drinking tea, depends on the size and weight
    of the cup and especially on the length of the handle. It’s a matter of balance really and not
    one of either snobbery or rudeness. A nice
    big mug needs all fingers curled around it.
    A dainty china teacup forces the raised pinkie
    grip. Do what feels comfortable and above all
    else e

  2. Arden Post author

    Hi Brenda,

    Thanks for stopping by. One can hold a tea cup without raising one’s pinky. It will continue to be seen as a snobby gesture, so best to avoid doing it. You can actually tuck that little digit in under the handle or hold it against the cup and balance the cup beautifully.

  3. Daniel L

    “Always add milk, not cream”
    Always USE milk, not cream.

    Adding would mean you put it in AFTER the tea…and there is no rule to say you must.
    While adding milk after does make it easier to judge the strength, putting it in first changes the flavors to somewhat creamier ones, and also cools your tea a little more at the start, making it ‘safer’ to drink, instead of risking a scalding.

    And don’t stir in a swirling, circular motion if you add sugar. You’ll leave it in the ‘eye’ of the circle, and thus leave the top of your tea short on sugar, and the bottom VERY strongly sweetened. Instead, stir in a cross-wise fashion, up-down and then around left-right(or the other way, if you’re left-handed). That will spread your sweetener evenly.

  4. Arden Clise

    Thank you Daniel, for your comment. You’re right, milk is not required. It’s up to the tea drinker to decide if they want milk, sugar or lemon or none of the above.

    At one time it was traditional to put milk in first because it was believed pouring hot tea into a porcelain cup would possibly crack it. That was proven wrong and so it’s better to put the milk in after the tea so you can determine how much to put in and not cool the tea down right away.

  5. Marianne Rousseau-Vanderkamp

    Your argument of pinky finger positioning is a bit dogmatic at best. Tea etiquette is elitist. Etiquette as an entirety is elitist. Elitism is not inherently bad, but it does erase AAVE and other mannerisms that are no longer considered low brow, and are rather just a part of a larger collective of cultures. There are many places in the world where holding your pinky finger out is the standard.

    Class as a noun is elitist, class as an adjective is not.

  6. Connie mead

    No pinky fingers should stick out. Looks saloon girl manners. What proof do you have it is all right?
    Post and Vanderbilt say no pinky stick outs

  7. Mark Condon

    I habitually have my pinky finger raised when I eat and drink and I beleive it to be because when I hold a heavy glass, I have my pinky rest under the glass and the rest of my indexes around the side. I refuse to conform to putting in my pinky for the fact of “etiquette” and I beleive one should do how he or she feels most comfortable. It is in fact, people like yourself Arden that are judgemental and feel there needs to be a certain guidelines on how to drink or eat. I also recommend travelling to other parts of the world, where for example burping is not seen as rude but in fact a gesture of appreciation of good food.

  8. Terry Lovelace

    Etiquette is simply good manners. To ignore your hosts etiquette is rude and insulting. It might make you feel superior, but in reality you look inferior

  9. JB

    People apparently used to stick their pinky up as a sign to potential lovers that they had a venerial disease. So yeah, keep that pinky down.

  10. Arden Post author

    I’ve never heard that before. Seems a little odd someone would advertise that, but you never know. Either way, yes, pinky down.

  11. Arden Post author

    Hello Mark, absolutely agreed that when in Rome do as the Romans do. If it’s polite to burp and slurp your soup in Japan then by all means do it. However that is not culturally acceptable in the United States. If you slurped and burped in the U.S. people might think you were not being very mannerly. It’s all about the cultural and etiquette norms for the country and region. As a trained and certified etiquette consultant I am simply sharing my expertise. People can take it or leave it. Etiquette is guidelines and rules that help you to better present yourself and be kind and respectful to others. People may think you’re being ostentatious by sticking your pinky out, but if you don’t care then go for it.

  12. Big Nat

    You are all talking rubbish and are clearly mistaken. Your faux Britishness is embarrassing and pretentious. Try asking an English person next time you attempt to explain the intricacies of English decorum….
    It is widely known that raising your little finger whilst drinking any kind of beverage is to show solidarity with those that were stricken with venereal disease as one of the symptoms is that your little finger automatically sticks out like so, therefore all gentlemen would raise the little finger so as not to intention their questionable acquaintances…

  13. Lisa

    “However that is not culturally acceptable in the United States. If you slurped and burped in the U.S. people might think you were not being very mannerly. It’s all about the cultural and etiquette norms for the country and region.”

    I think you contradicted yourself here. You cannot say anything is or isn’t “culturally acceptable” in a melting pot country. Unless you specifically mean secluded restaurants that are serving crumpets and tea, away from all other culture groups in the US. It sounds like you haven’t immersed yourself in the US’s full array of restaurants and lounges if you consider slurping generally rude in the very multicultural US. And I am not only speaking about non-Caucasians (i.e. sucking your fingers is acceptable in a predominantly Caucasian bbq or hot wing restaurant as it is in an Indian restaurant).

    Please open your mind for future writing, that the United States is not only the fork eating, closed mouth masticating, pinky-tuckers you enjoy being in company with.

    What is considered rude can change simply by turning towards the person on your left.

  14. Annie

    I’m British and trust me I just hold my pinky up because it’s comfortable. I’m pretty sure people don’t think anything of it.

  15. Ash

    I have no control of drinking with my pinky up, it just happens… Peoole pick at me for it stating im trying to be proper when really i dont even know im doing it.

  16. Arden Post author

    Thanks for your thoughts Lisa. Each country and region has its cultural and etiquette norms. In general, it is not acceptable to slurp or burp in the U.S. However, there may be some people from other cultures in the U.S. who practice the etiquette norms of their country. If you’re dining with them go ahead and follow suit. As I said earlier, when in Rome, do as the Romans.

  17. Jon dough

    My pinky just naturally sticks out when I am drinking from almost any cup or glaas.

    No VD or elitism or other “reasons”, it just works that way for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *