Even for us independent Yanks, the thought of being invited to Buckingham Palace for tea with Queen Elizabeth is thrilling. There’s something about the British ritual of an afternoon cuppa that just seems so calming and civilized (or, should we say, “civilised”?). As with anything royal, a tea service at the palace is no minor matter, and you can be sure that a cup of Earl Grey or English Breakfast will be served in perfectly proper style.
British etiquette expert William Hanson weighed in on the method of tea-brewing that the queen herself always follows, making for a perfect cup. He explained to the Daily Mail that for optimal flavor, one should pour the brewed tea into the cup before adding flavorings such as milk and sugar. “You’ve got to put the tea in an empty cup to see how strong [it is], especially if you haven’t brewed the pot yourself or you’ve taken your eye off the ball and you don’t know how strong or weak the tea is,” he explained. “So you’ve got to see that first, whether you have to let it sit or put some more water in.”
Hanson adds that it’s believed back in Downton Abbey days, one’s class was determined by the way they prepped their tea. While the upper classes used fine china cups that could withstand hot water, the peasantry used flimsier clay mugs and poured milk in first to keep the cup from cracking under the heat of the drink.
Queen Elizabeth always serves tea to her guests
If you’re lucky enough to get an invitation to tea with Queen Elizabeth, expect to be treated in style. According to Hanson, it’s considered proper for the monarch to pour the tea for her guests. Then she offers milk and sugar so guests can prepare to their personal tastes. “Some people like a splash of milk, others like more milk than tea, so it’s much nicer to let their guests decide rather than do it for them,” he explains.
Avoid the faux pas of stirring your tea around as if you were mixing a cake. Instead, says Hanson, gently move your spoon back and forth from top to bottom a couple of times (as if you were pointing toward the 6 and 12 on a clock) before taking it out and placing it on the saucer.
Although it’s rare for Her Majesty to offer a one-on-one with average folks, she does host several garden tea parties at the palace in the summer months, which are attended by some 30,000 guests (via the official palace website). The guest list consists mainly of U.K. citizens in the public service industry or members of the military. Residents of Australia and New Zealand can enter a lottery for invitations and hope to get lucky, per Insider. For these events, Queen Elizabeth has staff serve the refreshments, since it would be a bit of a chore for her to pour all those cups herself.
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