Keep your pinkie up: a high tea for two 34



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My husband and I recently attended a formal High Tea in the Queensland Parliament’s Strangers’ Dining Room. It’s quite an experience. Not too expensive, in elegant surroundings, with graceful accoutrements, and waiting staff at one’s service. We were presented with petit sandwiches, petit cakes and pastries, savoury quiches, fruit scones with cream and strawberry preserve, chocolate-dipped fresh strawberries.

That strawberry preserve is so delicious, so full of real berries, it could be addictive. Just my opinion, as they say. And the scones were full of sultanas, my very favourite!

The setting in the Strangers’ Dining Room is extremely stylish, featuring a Tasmanian timber parquetry floor and interior decorations that reflect its construction period, the late 1800s. The term “stranger” refers to any person in the parliamentary precinct who is not a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

We had time to consider the attractive well-designed same-colour-as-the-walls printed sheet that provided ‘some history for taking tea’, a brief history of the Strangers’ Dining Room, and ‘tea etiquette’. These are things one ought to know, ladies and gentlemen!

One should pick up the cup and saucer together, we were advised, with saucer in one hand, cup in the other. Sip with the saucer under the cup ‘lest you should spill or dribble’. Originally, all porcelain teacups were made in China from around 620 AD. They had no handles and the proper way to hold them was ‘to place one’s thumb at the six o’clock position and one’s index and middle fingers at the 12 o’clock position, while gently raising one’s pinkie up for balance’.

Raising the pinkie is not an affectation, we were assured. When the handle was introduced to the cup in 1710, the tradition of raising the pinkie continued – it is ‘a graceful way to avoid spills’. Finally, never loop fingers through the handle, nor grasp the vessel bowl with the palm of your hand.

Were you advised in your youth, when stirring your tea, don’t make noises by clinking the sides of the cup? To ‘gently swish the tea back and forth’, to ‘never leave your spoon in the cup’ and never sip the tea from the spoon either?

Who knew such an elegant origin could lie behind the tin mugs of billy tea that have been boiled up over a fire under the Southern Cross?

Are you a tea drinker? Have you been to a high tea? What was your favourite part? Tell us about it below!

Fran Goodey

Frances Goodey is the mother of four daughters and the grandmother of two primary school age boys. With six brothers and two sisters, she was raised in Sydney and later lived and worked in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Brisbane. She is an avid reader and has had some small success with children's stories being published in New Zealand and Australia. Both she and her husband are retired, and her daughters live in Brisbane, Toowoomba, Sydney and Frankfurt.

  1. Sounds like u had a great time. I’ve have a set of cups without handles handed down from years past I wondered why no handles now I know. Nan would have been banded from that tea party she used to pour her tea into the saucer from the cup and slurp it up. Lovely noise it made too.

  2. They look better than cucumber sandwiches.

    1 REPLY
    • A neighbour and her husband put on a lovely afternoon tea for me last year. Her dainty cucumber
      sandwiches were out of this world. Couldn’t stop eating them! The scones were fabulous. Tea served in expensive bone china – daintiest cup, saucer and plate sets you could imagine! I’ve requested a repeat performance some time! LOL!

  3. Would like to have read the whole article, but the Apia insurance ad is blocking. Opened it to “get quote”, X-ed out back to article and up it pops again.

  4. I’m ex pat English, I left all this nonsense behind. Enjoy yourself and stay polite. Any extra rules belong to small minded people with too much time on their hands.

    3 REPLY
    • What a shame you feel that way Linda. Remember you can always stoop and pick up nothing. It isn’t nonsense, just tradition and very enjoyable. Beats sitting in the Food Hall at the Mall.

    • im an expat to, but I have kept up some of the nice things from my culture and joined it up to my new culture.

    • Lol I didn’t mean the High Tea, I love that, just don’t appreciate all the rules people try to make about pinkies etc, so trivial and so not needed.

  5. Yes I actually attended a Victorian Hi tea on the weekend Everyone dressed in Victorian era attire. It was a friends birthday. There were scones with Jam and cream small swirled sandwiches Angel cake and an assortment of small cakes. We were served by girls wearing black and white and wearing a small cap. A harpest played in the back ground. It was fabulous fun and recommend it to anyone.

  6. sounds nice but has no appeal to me, I would rather have an ice cream sitting on the beach and gazing out over The Pacific

  7. Yes I have… My daughter took me to High Tea at The Ritz in London for my 60th birthday and it was sooooooo heavenly.

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