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Tea Table Etiquette of the Past

Tea drinking has become very fashionable among us of late years, almost as much as it was in England a century ago, but the prevailing customs at the table are different. The “teacup times of hood and hoop” had their own etiquette, of a sort not likely to be revived. What should we think now of a fashionable lady who cooled her tea with her breath? Yet Young says of a certain bewildering Lady Betty:

Her two red lips affected zephyrs blow
To cool the Bohea and inflame the beau.
While one white finger and a thumb conspire
To lift the cup and make the world admire.

Again a passage in contemporary literature shows that it was a lack of good manners to take much cream or sugar in one’s tea. Says a lady of quality to her daughter: “I must further advise you, Harriet, not to heap such mountains of sugar into your tea, nor to pour such a deluge of cream in. People will certainly take you for the daughter of a dairymaid.”

Certain other customs may be remembered in this country among us who had grandmothers trained in the ceremonies of a later day. One of them consisted in putting the spoon in the cup to show that no more tea was desired; another was that of turning over the cup in the saucer for the same purpose.

Etiquette also demanded that the tea should be tasted from the spoon, and that the hostess should then inquire, “Is your tea agreeable?” Certain scrupulous old ladies ask that now, and the question savors of a more sedate and gentle day than this.


St. Louis Republic, 1899