Daily Dispatch from Windsor: Tea fit for a Queen
It’s been said the British drink 165 million cups of tea a day, and the ritual of afternoon tea has some careful etiquette to follow. (Mary Nersessian / CTV News)
WINDSOR -- Do you eat your finger sandwiches with your fingers?
Is afternoon tea the same thing as high tea?
The answers are yes and no.
Meghan Markle’s mother Doria Ragland joined her future in-laws, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, for tea at their London residence, Clarence House, on Wednesday. And it’s believed Ragland would be meeting with the Queen for tea today, after the wedding rehearsal in Windsor.
As we know, the British famously believed everything can be fixed with a cup of tea. It’s been said they drink 165 million cups of tea a day.
While we don’t know how tea with Prince Charles and Camilla unfolded -- although the tabloids reported it was “jolly” and they got on “extremely well” -- it’s not difficult to imagine Markle’s American mother may have had a question or two about the quintessential British experience.
Somewhat coincidentally, I popped into the five-star hotel The Savoy in London today for a lesson in afternoon tea etiquette.
The Savoy, where they’re serving a special Royal Wedding Afternoon Tea in celebration of the upcoming nuptials, has been a popular spot for Royals for years: not only did then-Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret enjoy dinner, dancing and cabaret at The Savoy in their younger years, but the public’s first inkling Elizabeth had a love interest came when she was photographed next to a tall blond Naval Officer at a wedding reception in the hotel’s River Room. That officer was Prince Philip of Greece.
Truth be told, I fancy myself a bit of a tea connoisseur. I collect china tea cups, attend afternoon tea every chance I get in Toronto and even hosted a tea party for my birthday a few years ago.
That said, the fancy digs at the Savoy had me second-guessing my tea-time know-how and wondering, when I picked up one of the finger sandwiches -- Scottish smoked salmon and lemon-infused crème fraiche and watercress on Norfolk crunch bread by the way -- whether I should be using my gleaming silver fork and knife instead.
Fortunately, The Savoy’s Rebecca Howard was there to guide me through the process and offered some good advice about how to enjoy a proper afternoon tea.
How to enjoy afternoon tea fit for a queen:
- Pour the cup of tea away from the table to avoid water drops falling on the tablecloth, Howard recommends
- Pour to about a centimetre below the top of the cup to leave room for milk if needed
- Make sure the water is hot and replenished regularly.
- Do not confuse high tea with afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is a social outing that bridges the gap between lunch and dinner, served mid-afternoon although there is often enough food to take the place of a meal. Meanwhile, high tea was traditionally more of a heartier meal for the working classes who needed sustenance after a long day; however, you would be accurate to remark that many hotels now offer a high tea, which will likely feature more savoury components.
- Eat finger sandwiches with -- you guessed it -- your fingers. Forks will usually be necessary for the delicate pastries.
- Don’t forget the strainer on the cup. There should be a small bowl it will fit neatly into, and will be within reach of your saucer.
- Let the tea steep as long as you’d like but ask if you’re uncertain.
- Whether you’re pouring the milk first or last is a point of controversy we won’t explore here but if you aren’t certain, you may consider asking your server what they recommend. Today, Howard recommended that I drink the “Tea for Heroes,” an English Breakfast blend, lightly steeped and without milk or sugar. And she was absolutely right: even without the sugar, it had a sweet, honey component.
- It’s not scawn. Scone. With a long “o.” Period.
And finally, when it comes to tea-time conversation, Howard suggested staying away from religion and politics. ”Strictly talk about the teas, the food and the finer things in life,” she said with a laugh.
Howard didn’t mean the advice to be directed at Prince Harry’s future mother-in-law, but it’s advice we could all use, I’m sure.
CTV News’ Senior Web Producer Mary Nersessian is among the news crew on the ground in Windsor and London, reporting on the royal wedding with behind-the-scenes updates on CTVNews.ca, and social media channels including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Watch for her Daily Dispatch from Windsor and follow the wall-to-wall digital coverage on CTVNews.ca/royals.