Afternoon Tea Etiquette, Dorset style- who made the rules anyway and why do we keep to them? The rural, humble opinions of a Born and Bred Dorset Chef

What is the difference between a cream tea, high tea and an afternoon tea?
We have an established café here in Dorset which we serve both Dorset cream teas and Afternoon teas and I have noticed when our customers book that’s where the confusion often comes in to play. We also have to make sure of our customers expectations when taking the booking so that when they arrive they are getting the tea they think they are getting.
Its really very simple though….
Dorset cream tea= scones, jam and clotted cream
High tea=a more substantial type of tea involving sandwiches with meat, cheese or vegetables and washed down with a cup or mug of tea. In Dorset we simply call this ‘tea’ as it is most likely that we would have had a cooked, main meal at lunchtime.
Afternoon tea= savoury sandwiches, scones, jam and clotted cream plus a selection of cakes.

Fundamentally us Brits are enveloped in traditions of times gone by and whilst its fabulous to have those ‘go to’ rules to use as a foundation to serve a cream tea by, it also gives us a sense of tradition and Britaindom I have to say I am a born rebel and love to add my own styles and quirks to the proceedings. I often use the phrase – ‘Who made the rules anyway?’
Scone or Scone (pronunciation is all!)
With our dulcet tones in Dorset the word scone (pronounced like ‘gone’) rolls from our Dorset accent much more fluently and most born and bred Dorset folk you will find pronounce it this way.
The alterative is pronounced like ‘cone’ well that is reserved for folk that have come from over the county lines.

Go on – be a rebel! ( I promise you won’t get arrested!)
I think it is a necessity to add your own stamp to presentation and service of a cream tea, if nothing else to make it memorable apart from anything else! It does not have to be complex tweaks to have an effect. For instance, you could offer flavoured scones, maybe blueberry scones or plum, maybe even a chocolate scone. Jam doesn’t just have to be strawberry it can match your scones, so for instance a plum and marzipan scone is taken to dizzy new heights by having some plum and amaretti jam on top (yes I do speak from direct experience)! A chocolate scone could have orange curd on instead of jam?
You could of course create a themed cream tea party, perhaps a mad hatters cream tea, Easter themed, Alice in Wonderland cream tea or Wimbledon even.
On a themed note and being the rebel I already told you I am, why not have G and T with your cream tea or Pimms and lemonade in the summer. Winter could involve mulled wine or mulled cider or apple juice as a non alcoholic option. Then there are always cocktails, a strawberry daiquiri which could potentially be very delicious with a cream tea? Prosecco or Bucks fizz are of course a known drink to enjoy as well with a cream of afternoon tea.

Tea, coffee or which drink?
There are of course endless types of tea you can have with your cream tea and most have been covered one way or another. The only part I feel really strongly about is that it should most definitely be loose tea. I personally can taste the tea bag when I have tea made that way. Not to mention the plastic presence that is found in many brands of tea bags which goes against my grain.
Bottom line is drink what you enjoy.

Pinky or not to pinky
Definitely no to the pinky sticking out, its rude and very unorthodox and considered bad form. Besides, this is not something us earthy Dorset folk would do, we just would not! To cradle the cup is also considered slovenly. It goes without saying that you also should not rest your elbows on the table either.
As tempting as dunking a biscuit in a cup of tea is and lets face it many of us rural folk love a good dunk of a biscuit but there are times and places and a marginally formal occasion such as this is not the time, it would be uncouth! It is just knowing how to behave and when!

How to dress- table and clothes!
If you are going to the effort of inviting friends and family over then the scene should be set! Both in dress and in the laying of the table.
A retro style of dress is fun, a smarter casual approach is also good. I think to steer away from jeans and trainers is no bad thing and to make and demand a little effort.
The table without doubt should have a cloth on. I am not much of a lace fan myself but lace is a very acceptable traditional style. I myself like a brightly coloured cloth with some bright contrasting napkins, linen not paper napkins when at home. It is also lovely to have plain white linen with white starched linen napkins too, but I guess if you have a very whitewashed decorated room then it could potentially look a bit stark! The white does wonderfully show case the cream tea to its best though.
A tiered presentation stand adds height to the table and also showcases your tea to its best. It also allows your guests to see everything clearly. If the stand has a top handle, it also means it can be lifted to guests to reach easily around the table.

Jam or Cream First
Well, I am from Dorset and we have very clear thoughts on which way around this should be and that’s 100% jam first. I believe we share that thought with the Cornish who also serve their cream teas like us Dorsetshire folk. Devon on the other hand serves it completely wrong in my opinion by placing the cream first, almost acting like the butter before the jam. This is an issue for me merely from a practical point of view, as I like copious amounts of cream (well we have a hale and hearty attitude in Dorset) and if you put jam on top of the cream then you can be sure mess incurs!
However, the pleasure for me is biting into a lavishly laden scone, jam touching the scone and then piled high with Dorset clotted cream and preferably with the top golden crust of the clotted cream sitting presentably on the top. To bite into that cold cream, then hitting the sweet jam followed by the soft scone but with a slight crisp crust on the outside is what gives me the decadent feeling and immense pleasure. If you are going to indulge in a Dorset cream tea then you need to immerse wholeheartedly, after all its not an every day food and an occasional treat!

We all know to avoid the conversations surely about religion and politics? If we don’t we should! However, on an occasion such as this, conversation should be kept light-hearted and jovial. The news is depressing enough so avoid such gloom! Gossip should also not come into the equation. We should look to depart from our cream tea feeling satisfied in the belly and vivacious from time spent with those we wish to spend time with.

To conclude…
The bottom line is this is a social occasion with the addition of some special food, it needs to be enjoyed by all.

Margot x

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