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The Etiquette of Afternoon Tea in Hertfordshire

Jim Dawson
6th August 2018

A Hertfordshire afternoon tea is lovely, isn’t it? But how do you know if you are conducting yourself properly?

One day in 1840, realising that it was quite a long time until dinner, Anna the seventh Duchess of Bedford asked for tea, bread and butter, and some cake to be brought to her room at around four o’clock. Afternoon tea was born and pretty soon she was inviting her friends to join her. Probably so she felt a little less guilty about sitting in her bedroom scoffing cake on her own.

There are now so many choices across Hertfordshire where you can enjoy those little crust-free sandwiches, crumbly scones and light fluffy cake all accompanied by a delicious cup of tea (not a mug obviously, we’re not builders). Indulge us as we suggest a few places you may like to take tea, and also to guide you through the minefield of afternoon tea etiquette; we don’t want you to look like a Neanderthal with jam on your chin and your pinky sticking out like a tiny aerial of ignorance.

If you choose to enjoy the quintessential afternoon tea at The Grove make sure you add the milk second. Only people with inferior quality china put the milk in first to stop the cup cracking when the hot water goes in. It goes without saying that the cups at The Grove are the very best quality. The head pastry chef is not too shabby either.

Hanbury Manor serve their afternoon tea either beneath the chandeliers in the Zodiac Restaurant or surrounded by the sumptuous panelling in the Baronial Oak Hall. If you do visit, when you stir your tea do it properly, it isn’t a circular motion but a gentle back and forth; and should you tap your spoon on the rim of the cup be prepared for some very disapproving looks and possible ejection.

Hotel Cromwell in Stevenage offers a truly delightful cream tea which is served daily from 2pm until 5:30pm. With chef’s special pastries, fresh baked scones and a platter which includes a very English cucumber sandwich. Just don’t sit there with your little finger sticking up in the air as you sip the finest tea. You will look like an idiot and more to the point it is really just not the done thing, old bean.

In fact, the correct way for the teacup to be held is for the thumb and index finger to meet within the handle, which then rests on the middle finger. Don’t hook your fingers right around the handle. Certainly do not, I repeat do not pick it up with your fingers around the bowl of the cup. It has a handle for a reason. Remember this when you are at the Tewin Bury Farm Hotel. They also offer a child’s afternoon tea so there’s no reason to leave them at home with the nanny.

At Pendley Manor, just outside Tring, afternoon tea is usually served in the Peacock Lounge. Don’t tell everyone, but if you ask your butler to book online he can sign you up for a complimentary (that’s the posh word for free) drinks voucher. Just don’t get carried away and think that you can go straight for the cake, it’s sandwiches first, then a scone, then the cake; and please, don’t talk with your mouthful. Nobody wants to see that.

Down Hall Hotel and Spa is situated right on the Hertfordshire border. As you roll up to the impressive entrance of this stately country house in your carriage you’ll realise you really are moving in some lofty circles. Such a regal location dictates that your pronunciation must be impeccable. When addressing the waitress remember to say “skon”, it rhymes with “gone”; it is definitely NOT “scone” as in “bone” (apparently). Throughout August Down Hall Hotel are serving their unique allotment afternoon tea.

Staying on the subject of scones (skons); and this applies to all afternoon teas not just the one you may be enjoying at St Albans Cathedral after your guided tour, the correct approach is to tear them into two and not cut them with a knife. In fact, the mark of an exquisitely baked scone is that it can be easily parted with the fingers.

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Nestled in the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside you will find Sopwell House. This luxury hotel and spa offers a delicious traditional afternoon tea. When you are there don’t get yourself worked up over whether it’s jam or cream first, it is completely down to personal preference. This is Hertfordshire not Devon or Cornwall where there seem to be much stronger feelings on the subject.

There it is, a round up of some of the places you can enjoy a traditional afternoon tea and everything you need to know in order to avoid committing crimes against common decency. It goes without saying that embellishing your experience with a glass of something fizzy if so inclined, is completely acceptable, although we would steer you in the direction of a drop from one of Hertfordshire’s fine vineyards!

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