There's a lot more to royal tea-drinking etiquette than putting your pinky up.

Elisabeth Sherman
April 02, 2018

The British royal family may be notoriously private, but that hasn't stopped the public from waking up every morning and trying to glean anything there could possibly be to learn about the innermost mechanics of their lives. We can’t help it—the centuries of tradition that govern their days provides an endless font of intrigue for us commoners. The current standard-bearer of those traditions, of course, is England’s longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and if you’re going to join her prestigious family, then you had better be able to prove you can play by the rules.

According to a new biography, Meghan: A Hollywood Princess, by Andrew Morton (who also wrote a biography of Princess Diana) that’s exactly what the soon-to-be newest member of the royal family, Meghan Markle, had to do to gain the approval of her fiancé’s grandmother. 

As US Weekly reports, Markle actually had to rehearse how to properly drink tea with the queen before the two could meet in person.

British tea-drinking etiquette has many intricate layers that Markle probably had to follow during her meeting with Queen Elizabeth II—Morton divulges that she had to learn to crook her finger when holding her teacup, for one thing. But there are many other rules to consider:

  • You should never add the milk to your cup before pouring the tea. Always add milk after.
     
  • If you need to stir the milk in the cup, you should use a back and forth motion, rather than a circular motion, so that the spoon doesn’t clink against the sides of the cup, according to British etiquette expert Jo Bryant.
     
  • Bryant also advises that you should not blow on the tea to cool it down and that you should replace the cup on the saucer between sips.
     
  • You should never drink your tea with your pinky finger extended, despite what you may have seen in the movies.
     
  • As People points out, women should take a sip from the cup at the same place every time, to avoid leaving lipstick marks around the cup.
     
  • There are rarely foods that require cutlery served with tea (scones and small sandwiches, which you are permitted to eat with your fingers, are more typical) but if you do use a fork and knife, do not put down your utensils while the meal is being served, unless you are completely done eating or must excuse yourself from the table.
     
  • Even the placement of the napkin is important: You should never leave a used napkin on your seat. If you’re getting up to leave or to use the restroom, place your unfolded napkin on the table, to the left of your plate.
     
  • Your host may consider it rude if you only stay long enough to enjoy one cup of tea—it’s most polite to drink two cups, but three is excessive, according to etiquette expert The Royal Butler.

Markle likely had to memorize all this before meeting the queen, and while it sounds like quite a lot to keep in mind— especially when your future grandmother-in-law is one of the most formidable, respected, and regal figures in the world—clearly she aced her interview. As you may remember from their post-engagement interview with the BBC, Markle and Prince Harry revealed that the queen’s corgis snuggled on Markle’s feet during tea. Does having your pets at the table violate any etiquette rules? Not if you’re the Queen of England.