Afternoon Tea Course Order

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Traditional afternoon tea is served in three courses and usually on a three-tiered tray alongside a pot of tea. This illustrated guide shows what order afternoon tea should be eaten.Afternoon Tea Courses

It’s not surprising there is such a thing as afternoon tea etiquette since it can be quite a formal (*ahem* dare I say civilized) affair. There are lots of rules to follow if you want to have proper tea which can be intimidating if you don’t know them.

RELATED: Afternoon Tea 101: Afternoon Tea and High Tea Definitions

The first few times I went for afternoon tea, I had no idea what was to be eaten first since everything comes out at the same time, usually on a three-tiered tray. I would just eat whatever caught my eye first.

Over time, I learned the proper order and that made me feel so much more comfortable since I knew I was doing afternoon tea the right way.

Let’s get started on the courses.

First Course

Tea sandwiches and savories are eaten first. These are small bites that can be eaten in 2-3 bites. It’s funny how afternoon tea, which is seen as so formal requires eating with your fingers.

Eye the sandwiches and savories first before touching one to bring to your plate. You definitely don’t want to be touching anything on the tray that you’re not going to be eating. Eat off your plate. Don’t place a bitten sandwich back on the tray but I think that goes without saying.

Finish all the tea sandwiches and savories before moving onto the second course.

Second Course

Scones. Well, scones served with jam and clotted cream is eaten next with your fingers.

I did a whole post on how to eat a scone properly so you may find that helpful.

Again, just touch the scone that you’ll be eating from your plate. Scoop a little of the jam and clotted cream using the spoons that are provided with the condiments and put them on your plate.

Knives are used to slather on the jam and cream onto your scones but the scones are eaten with your fingers.

Don’t cross-contaminate the jam and cream and the serving spoons. You don’t want to use the cream spoon to scoop the jam. Most importantly, don’t use the serving spoons to put the jam or cream directly on your scone.

RELATED: Afternoon Tea 101: Clotted Cream and Devonshire Cream

Third Course

The sweets are the third and final course. This course is also eaten with your fingers.

All pastries and sweets should be small, each one gone in 2-3 bites. Please, don’t be an animal and lick all the sweets and call dibs.

RELATED: Complete List of Places for Afternoon Tea in NYC


//Illustration by Alia Phibes//

24 thoughts on “Afternoon Tea Course Order”

  1. I read etiquette articles as a hobby, and this is the first time I read about afternoon tea courses. Thank you so much for posting this – fascinating!

  2. Hi everyone, some notes from Sweden. Next week some of my friends are having en English afternoon tea in our house garden, (all ladies are in the age plus 70,). One problem, only me who is drinki g tea, The other ones Coffee. Ok, cream Will be seved, scones as well, shortbread as well. I do hope to get nice weather and a lot of Sun.


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