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Beginner’s Guide to Tea in London

Y’all, these are #teatimegoals! I was so excited when Steve suggested we get a reservation for tea at the Savoy before a show at the theater! Talk about an epic date night. I was a little nervous about it, though, because I have no fashion sense, and London is a very fashionable place!

Also, how should I act? Would I get kicked out if I wore the wrong shoes? Would the maitre’d turn us away if my hair wasn’t just right? Would the waitstaff look down their noses at me if I stirred my tea the wrong direction?! Here’s the run-down of what to expect when you have tea at the Savoy or anywhere else on your next trip to London!

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Very excited for date night!
Dress Code

The official dress code according to their website is “Smart casual. No sportswear.” So, what is smart casual? A friend of mine recommended a little black dress and pearls, which is always a winner, but “smart casual” can be less formal than that.

For Men: Khakis and a polo shirt is a good option, but you can go with a button-down shirt or blazer if you want to err on the less casual side. Jeans, tennis shoes (or trainers, or running shoes, same thing), and t-shirts are not acceptable.

For Women: Think polished, yet relaxed. A classic skirt paired with a nice blouse and pretty jewelry is acceptable, as is a classic and feminine pantsuit if that is more comfortable for you. Shorts, low-cut tops, and any sort of athleisure is not acceptable.

Because we had theatre tickets right after tea time, we chose our attire to fit both situations.

Navy Lace Dress
Beigh Flats similar to what I wore.
Similar to Steve’s Sweater
Similar to Steve’s Pants
Similar to Steve’s Shoes
Etiquette

Do not panic! I made the mistake of Googling “Afternoon Tea Etiquette,” and the long lists that came up in response were kind of overwhelming! So I asked a friend of mine who actually does afternoon tea as part of her business at Rosebriar, Dining in the Country, and she gave me her short list of ways not to embarrass yourself or instantly be labeled as a “dumb American.” Here’s your cheat sheet!

1. Don’t Stick Out Your Pinkie

Your pinkie is supposed to support the bottom of the teacup, and your thumb and first two fingers are there to hold the handle. Just Google pictures of Kate Middleton drinking tea for a proper visual!

Pinkies for support!
2. Taste Your Tea First

It is considered rude to put milk or sugar in your tea before you’ve tasted it, so don’t add anything until you take a sip and evaluate what you’ll want. Also, please don’t clank your spoon on the teacup while stirring, and do stir clockwise.

Tea time!
3. The Napkin is Called a “Serviette,” is Reserved for Your Fingers, and Goes in Your Lap

Don’t wipe your mouth with your napkin. Tea as a meal is finger food, so if you’re making a mess that requires a mouth wipe, take smaller bites!

In your lap, for your fingers!
4. A Scone is Not a Biscuit

I grew up in the South, and scones down there are just super dry biscuits. You slap some butter or breakfast meat and eggs in the middle and eat it like a sandwich, right? Not so in England! First of all, a “biscuit” in England is a cookie. Second of all, it will not be served hot, so don’t send it back and tell them it’s cold; you will only be showing your ignorance! Here is the correct procedure:

  • Put a spoonful of clotted cream and a spoonful of jam on your plate.
  • Use your fingers to break your scone in half, then into bite-size pieces.
  • Spread jam first, then cream, and enjoy!
Lemon curd, Cornish clotted cream, and strawberry jam for scones!
5. All Teas are Not Created Equal

It’s not all “high tea” my friends! There is a variety of “tea” meals, and you will impress the Brits if you know the difference! Here they are:

  • High Tea: This is the supper of the common man, eaten at a high table, and thus called “high tea.” It was more robust than Afternoon Tea becuause it was their regular supper, which happened to include tea.
  • Sweet Tea: At this snack-type meal you will be served desserts and tea.
  • Cream Tea: This tea includes only scones, clotted cream, jam, and tea.
  • Afternoon Tea: This is the fancy, dainty meal you’ll have if you go to the Savoy like us! It includes sandwiches or other savory items, scones with clotted cream and jam, small desserts, and of course, tea of your choice.
  • Royal Tea: This is Afternoon Tea with the addition of Champagne.
Cream Tea from a small shop in London from our trip in 2016.
Timing

As always, timing is everything! Londond is a busy place, and you have lots to do and see! Make sure to time your tea strategically so you can get the absolute most out of your trip and enjoy a leisurely tea time.

Tea Time

The Savoy serves Afternoon Tea from 1:00pm-5:45pm daily. Times vary by restaurant, but this is generally the timing of Afternoon Tea throughout the UK.

Reservations

Reservations are recommended for most restaurants serving tea, and can be made by phone, e-mail, or Open Table. Check their website for the most up-to-date contact information.

Planning

If you’re like us and want to bundle your tea time with a show, giving yourself two hours will be plenty of time to enjoy tea and walk to the theatre district for your play with time to spare! Our tea reservation was for 5:15pm, and our show started at 7:30pm. We had plenty of time!

Ready to see the longest-running show in show business: The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie at St. Martin’s Theatre!
The Service

The service at the Savoy Tea Room was flawless, as one might expect! There was live piano music, people smiled at us, the waitstaff were knowledgeable about tea, helpful, and attentive without hovering! One of the waiters noticed I was a little camera-happy and made sure to show me the presentation of my Flowering Jasmine and Lily tea:

Complete with flower!
Afternoon Tea at the Savoy

Now for what you’ve all been waiting for… the food! Afternoon Tea at the Savoy is an event, so plan to spend some time really enjoying it! I’m sure selections change with the seasons, but here’s the sampling of what we experienced.

Table Setting

In case you wondered, a set of two cups and saucers at the Savoy goes for 80 GBP (or about $106). I took lots of pictures instead!

The set-up: menu, real silver, fancy plates, champagne glass, teacup and saucer, tea strainer, and tea strainer bowl behind.
Tea Selection

There was quite a selection of tea, so I tried two kinds! Because of my US-to-UK jet lag, I was wide awake in the evening and did not need a caffeine boost to get me through, so I stuck with herbal. Steve had the vanilla black tea because he can have caffeine any time of day!

Tea Pages 1 & 2
Tea Pages 3 & 4
Started with Strawberry and Rooibus tea; very pink and girly!
Vanilla Black Tea; very masculine!
Flowering Jasmine and Lily Tea; girly and yellow, my favorite color!
Sandwiches

Talk about precision! Only the British can take something as down-home as a sandwich and make it something fancy. Not only did they serve the most creative and tasty sandwiches, they also came around with seconds!

The Tasting Menu
Sandwich course! Left to Right: Cucumber and feta sandwich on sundried tomato bread; Egg salad on white; Coronation chicken on black olive bread; Salmon and cream cheese on spinach bread; and Shrimp salad on wholemeal bread.
Also, on a separate plate: Tuna tartare with avocado spread on charcoal bread. You read that right.
Sweets and Treats

Traditionally, the sandwiches are served on the bottom plate, scones in the middle, and sweets on the top. Not so at the Savoy! We enjoyed two plates’ worth of sweets! I don’t know about you, but I think that’s my preference!

The Tea Tier
Top

Coffee and hazelnut petit four with cream and chocolate work on top; Chocolate-covered passion fruit bombe on butter cookie; vanilla and lemon curd cream puff topped with white chocolate cream; apple pie tartlet behind.

Ready for their close-up.
Middle

Lemon-poppyseed cakes with lemon curd and cream on top; Muffin with whipped cream.

The cream on that muffin (let’s tell it like it is: it’s a cupcake!) was literally lighter than air and melted in my mouth!
Bottom

Plain and Raisin Scones served with lemon curd, Cornish clotted cream, and strawberry jam.

British scones are so much better than American scones: not dry at all!
Lemon curd, Cornish clotted cream, and strawberry jam.

They also replenished the sweets, of course! Steve had more sandwiches, I saved room for more dessert!

Do you feel prepared to take on Afternoon Tea? I hope so! For more on London and the UK, check out my United Kingdom Page!

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