This week, I entertained inside my home for the first time since the pandemic. We’ve hosted a few casual, four-to-six person, socially-distanced, outdoor gatherings, but in keeping with the CDC guidelines, nothing indoors. Since I’m so out of practice, I started small by having a close friend over for tea. Adrienne and I began having occasional tea happy hours together during Lent a few years ago when I was abstaining from alcohol. We enjoyed it so much, it remained in the repertoire. We’ve been counting the days to when we could resume our ritual and, post-full-vaccination, we were ready.
To keep things easy, I relied on the professionals at Whole Foods for snacks, instead of making savories, scones and pastries. Also, I veered away from the traditional finger sandwiches, opting instead for crudités as the savory element and omitted the clotted cream and lemon curd for the sweets to keep it simple. (Note: I did attempt a to make dip to include a homemade element but either the recipe failed spectacularly, or I did. Either way, it tasted dreadful, and I was grateful for the dip that came with the pre-cut veggies.)
By the time Adrienne arrived, the record player was spinning Motown hits by Smokey Robinson, incense lingered in the air, colorful crudités were arranged on my large, long-neglected, orange Fiesta ware platter next to my newly acquired, two-tiered marble cake stand, which was laden with buttery shortbread cookies, delectable orange and cranberry mini-scones and fresh strawberries. Teacups and plates in assorted hues, as well as napkins completed the scene. The sight — along with everything it symbolized — was so pretty, I nearly cried.
Thankfully, amusement was the order of the day. Adrienne and I had many occasions to laugh at ourselves. As the scones and cookies crumbled into our laps, we took turns awkwardly pouring the tea and joked repeatedly that we need to re-learn how to socialize. It was perfect and I highly recommend it.
If like me you decided to re-enter the world of entertaining at home with tea, here’s a refresher on tea etiquette. I clearly need it and so might you. For this post, rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m drawing from a 2017 Wediquette Wednesday post I penned for New Orleans Bride Magazine’s “Let Them Eat Cake,” blog.
Do’s and Don’ts for Afternoon Tea
For the most part, the etiquette for an afternoon tea doesn’t differ much from traditional dining etiquette. There may be a few items you aren’t used to seeing in the typical dinner place setting, such as the tea tray, tea set and a two-or-three-tiered serving rack for savories (those adorable little sandwiches), scones, pastries, clotted cream and lemon curd or preserves. Note: It is considered an honor to pour the tea, and in a larger group there will be more than one “pourer” designated, but as a rule, each “pourer” will pour for only about 15 or 20 minutes. Each place setting will include a butter spreader or knife on the right side of the plate, a fork on the left and a teaspoon on the saucer or to the right of the knife.
- Don’t raise your pinky even a little. Do put your index finger through the handle, the thumb above it and your middle finger below the handle for support.
- Don’t swirl the tea in your cup.
- Don’t let the spoon clang the sides or rim of your cup when you stir.
- Don’t sip with the spoon still in the cup. Do place it on the saucer behind the cup, with the handle of the spoon pointing in the same direction as the handle of the cup at the 4 o’clock position.
- Don’t sop spilled tea from the saucer. Do ask for a new saucer (unless you are in a very casual setting, then it’s OK to place a napkin under the cup, then remove it and place it in another discarded dish.)
- Don’t unfold your napkin above or over the table. Do unfold it on your lap and unlike at dinner, rather than folding it in half with the fold facing your body, leave it open.
- Don’t place the napkin on the table if you have to excuse yourself from the table. Do place it on your chair. When the tea has ended, place the napkin loosely to the left of your plate.
- Do have fun and revel in the joy of being with a friend or loved one, even if you violate all of the above.
According to the U.S. Covid Risk & Vaccine Tracker (covidactnow.org), as of March 13, 44.8 percent of the population in Orleans Parish has received at least one vaccine dose. This slow return to normalcy feels pretty great, so please keep getting those vaccines and taking the necessary precautions. Soon enough, we’ll all remember how to socialize again. Until then, brush off the crumbs, laugh it off and enjoy being in the same room together again.
Are you finding a return to entertaining or socializing awkward or humorous? Respond in the comments or email Melanie@MyNewOrleans.com.