Tea Tables: Add a special simple British touch to your Sanctuary

May 18, 2021

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Side tables are a must, but who said they only have to function. Certainly they can be elegant and cosy as well.

After taking British interior designer Rita Konig’s online décor course last June, I can still hear the oft repeated phrase – wherever you have seating, make sure you have a place to put your drink and light (i.e. lamp) to read. I have taken this seemingly simple piece of advice to heart when planning the layout of my own home, Le Papillon. Simple décor details provide immense comfort, and such comforts really are as simple as having a place for your cuppa, a glass of wine or a favorite mixed drink or cocktail as well as having necessary, but flattering and welcoming light settle us, keep us present and release a deep sigh of easing into the moment.

Gradually, the comfort trifecta (seat-table-light) is coming together wherever I have a chair or my sofa, even near the stools in my kitchen I include and have placed a lamp on the console counter next to my island near where the two stools are situated for softer lighting.

Wanting to mix my love for English traditional décor with touches of seaside calm along with my predilection for French country and Parisian elegance, I happened upon the tea table designs and became instantly enamored. Such designs perfectly fit my lifestyle as well as my décor aesthetic preferences, and I have included one in living room and soon I hope to welcome one into my office.

While delicate in their design, a tea table is high enough to be a tea tray, but stationary and often with an upturned edge identified as a ‘pie crust’ to keep items from slipping off or hanging off the cliff and being accidentally nudged over causing them to fall to the ground. The pie crust edge in and of itself makes me smile as someone who loves a great slice of homemade pie with buttery crust, just seeing this detail delights me.

I found the table you see here on Chairish and was able to purchase it at a significantly lower price than the asking (don’t hesitate to barter – the worst that can happen is they say no). The double legs is not terribly typical, but you can find round tops, oblong tops, triangle tops, rectangular or square tops, and even fold-down tops to fit the space you have in your home most ideally.

A tea table beckons us to slow down, sit down and savor a cup of tea with a lovely nibble of an Edinburgh shortbread biscuit while either with someone or in our own company.

I often place a simple bouquet of fresh flowers on my table as seen in the pics I have shared here on the blog and IG, and a book or two I am reading as the table is next to my Poirot armchair and Hastings ottoman from Arlo & Jacobs (now renamed the Agatha chair and Archie ottoman and usually my photos are taken while I am sitting in this chair which is not seen in the photo above) – a reading nook that offers oodles of comfort in multiple ways.

Today and especially this week, as tea and savoring the ritual of tea time is the topic of discussion, I thought I’d share the history of the tea table, a handful of types of tea gatherings and traditional tea etiquette which is more fun to know just because and helpful if attending as a guest or customer at the various tea houses in Britain.

The History of the Tea Table

Tea was so frequently consumed in England during the early 1600s through the 1760s that it became one of the world’s most popular drinks. Laurel Crown’s handcrafted furniture shares how two factors helped secure tea into the British daily ritual it is today:three successive Queens of England encouraged the drinking of tea: Catherine of Braganza, Mary, and Anne” and the tea table itself.

“The importance of the tea table which, through its domestic setting in private homes, assisted in making tea and the tea table an almost permanent addition to any home, even in modern times.” Seen as a sign of exceptional taste in the 17th and 18th century if a household had a tea table, often the centerpiece of the moment to enjoy tea, taller than a coffee table (which had not been created yet), the prominence allowed the china and silverware to take center stage. However, tea tables are more difficult to find as following the Revolutionary War, in American it was seen as anti-American to enjoy tea. Tea prices began to decline and the tea table became all but obsolete for quite some time.

However, tea is beginning to enjoy a bit more popularity in the states, even if my favorite teas currently come from England, as well as few from France. (Discover the benefits of drinking tea and a list of my favorite varietals here.)

In the inaugural British Week (2019), I shared eight ideas for hosting your own Afternoon Tea, but what if you want to have tea, just not the traditional Afternoon Tea? A wonderful online resource for all things tea – An Afternoon to Remember — shares a list of different types of tea gatherings and traditional tea etiquette. The site is full of tea making tips, tea gathering ideas, and much more. I have shared the two lists mentioned above just below.

Types of Tea Gatherings

  • Low Tea/Afternoon Tea — An afternoon meal including sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, curd, 2-3 sweets and tea. Known as “low tea” because guests were seated in low armchairs with low side-tables on which to place their cups and saucers.
  • Cream Tea — A simple tea consisting of scones, clotted cream, marmalade or lemon curd and tea.
  • Elevensies — Morning coffee hour in England
  • Royale Tea — A social tea served with champagne at the beginning or sherry at the end of the tea.
  • High Tea — High tea co notates an idea of elegancy and regal-ness when in fact is was an evening meal most often enjoyed around 6 pm as laborers and miners returned home. High tea consists of meat and potatoes as well as other foods and tea. It was not exclusively a working class meal but was adopted by all social groups. Families with servants often took high tea on Sundays in order to allow the maids and butlers time to go to church and not worry about cooking an evening meal for the family.

Traditional Tea Etiquette

  • Greeting/handshake
  • After sitting down — put purse on lap or behind you against chair back (never on the ground)
  • Napkin placement — unfold napkin on your lap, if you must leave temporarily place napkin on chair (not the table).
  • Sugar/lemon — sugar is placed in cup first, then thinly sliced lemon and never milk and lemon together. Milk goes in after tea — much debate over it, but according to Washington School of Protocol, milk goes in last. The habit of putting milk in tea came from the French. “To put milk in your tea before sugar is to cross the path of love, perhaps never to marry.” (Tea superstition)
  • The correct order when eating on a tea tray is to eat savories first, scones next and sweets last. We have changed our order somewhat. We like guests to eat the scones first while they are hot, then move to savories, then sweets.
  • Scones — split horizontally with knife, curd and cream is placed on plate. Use the knife to put cream/curd on each bite. Eat with fingers neatly.
  • Proper placement of spoon — the spoon always goes behind cup, also don’t leave the spoon in the cup.
  • Proper holding of cup — do not put your pinky “up”, this is not correct. A guest should look into the teacup when drinking — never over it.

I have shopped a few tea tables for you below. Many are vintage, but you can also find new designs. Be sure to keep your eye out for these treasures as when you find the one that fits not only in your home but to your tastes, I am fairly confident, it will be with you for many years to come. The bobbin leg style is also something to keep an eye out for and I have shopped a few of those for you below as well.

And, if you were curious about the Burleigh teacup & saucer, teapot tray and teapot, yep, I am giving the entire set away to a lucky reader (the 4th Giveaway this week). Become a TOP Tier subscriber to enter, and if you are already a TOP Tier subscriber, click here to read the post and enter the giveaway. But back to tea tables for a quick moment. 🙂 I have gathered up a few to peruse found on Chairish, 1stdibs and Etsy and don’t be afraid to barter and negotiate!



39 thoughts on “Tea Tables: Add a special simple British touch to your Sanctuary

  1. Thank you for this post! I loved reading and learning about the history of the British tea time and seeing all the beautiful tables. Such a treat!

    1. Thank you for stopping by! When I first learned about tea tables (which was not that long ago I must confess), I was most curious to learn about their origins, and what I learned fascinated me too 🙂

  2. I just did an afternoon tea at the Dallas Arboretum for my mother and sisters on Mother’s Day. We had such a lovely day, and I’m going to brag and say we were the envy of all who saw us with our spread on the lawn!
    Are those giant red peonies in the photo above? They are gorgeous!!

    1. Elizabeth,

      What a lovely memory! Thank you for sharing and to be outside in fresh air – ahhh! 🙂

      Yes, the peonies are a deep fuchsia or mauve I guess you would say. I picked them up at Trader Joe’s and they have just been magnificent. 🙂

  3. Now I will be drinking tea correctly and looking into it;)
    Thank you again, Shannon.
    I loved how broad your topics are.

    1. Jen,

      If nothing else, we know what the expectations are and can defer and tweak as best fits the situation and our company. 🙂 Thank you for stopping by. I always enjoy seeing your comments. xo

  4. Some of my favorite travel memories are having tea time at various places in London, or at the Plaza in NYC, or the Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C.

    1. Cathy,

      Thank you for sharing what has punctuated positively your travel getaways. I think keeping a ritual of enjoy a tea rendezvous during each trip might be a wonderful addition to any excursion. Thank you for the inspiration! 🙂

  5. One of our favorite London memories was the girl’s outing to take tea at Brown’s Hotel. Thank you for bringing that smile to me.

    1. Patricia, Thank you for sharing your memory. There are so many wonderful destinations to enjoy Afternoon tea, but knowing which to choose is difficult. Reader recommendations are incredibly helpful. Thank you. 🙂

  6. Dear Shannon,

    Two years ago my husband and I went to London on our first retirement trip. I had made a reservation for tea at The Lanesborough for our last full day in London. We still talk about the setting, the music, the tea (of course) and the people watching. Our next time (hopefully soon) we plan tea for our first full day in London and our last. It is just so special!
    Thank you for bringing back wonderful memories!

  7. I am truly grateful to learn the proper etiquette and rituals associated with tea so I won’t be too much of a clueless American, thank you Shannon! ( Myka Meier’s book, Modern Etiquette Made Easy, is such a good resource, thank you for the recommendation.)
    Before I embarked on my tea adventure, I acquired two tea tables because no one else wanted them: a lyre/harp four leg with pie crust top and a two tier oval with pie crust edging. (Both are 1940s reproductions.) They have now been put into service supporting my ever-growing tea habit, and, like you and Rita Koenig suggest, with room for lamps and flowers.
    I literally gasped when I saw the pic of the Burleigh teapot, cup and saucer, so gorgeous. (And a sweet picture of handsome Norman as well!)

    1. Thank you Rona for sharing your tea table stories and how you enjoy welcoming into your decor. I too appreciated the list of proper etiquette as I do want to extend my appreciation and respect to this tradition that brings such joy and comfort! Your tables by the way sound lovely! Wishing your next moment sipping your cuppa is a delight. 🙂

  8. Afternoon tea at The Prince of Wales hotel here in Niagara On The Lake is always a nice treat! And, I recently learned they are offering a pick-up option with everything you need to serve it at home since we are still in lock-down here, and you have reminded me to treat myself soon! I have a wonderful collection of teacups passed down from my Nana that I use often! An evening cuppa is part of my evening rituals and using a fancy tea cup makes the tea taste that much better! Looking forward to the Burleigh giveaway!!

    1. Thank you for sharing Maureen and how wonderful the hotel adapted and kept open for customers. A unique and most memorable and positive way to remember the past year. 🙂 As well, the passing down of china and silverware is something special to savor isn’t it? I too have teacups and dinnerware (from England) from my Great Aunt who I adored. I always think of her when I use them. 🙂

  9. Oh how I love all things tea! The rituals, the smells, the treats, the cozy of it all…My best friend and I are planning a long trip to England (with daily tea rituals!!) when her youngest graduates high school (mine finishes next year) so we dream of our adventures to come! I do follow the rule if there is seating, there must be somewhere to put a drink. I always feel the room is unbalanced otherwise. Love this post!

    1. What a wonderful trip to look forward to! I am excited for you both! 🙂 And yes, isn’t the ritual of it all so cozy and helpful in keeping us in the present? I am grateful to have been introduced to tea as when I was, very few people drank it in Oregon (still there are few, but now more). My mom and I will frequently enjoy our chats while sipping a cuppa whether in person or over the phone. 🙂
      Thank you for stopping by.

  10. Thank you Shannon for the tea etiquette reminders and I loved learning about the history of the tea table. One of my favorite memories was having tea at Claridge’s in London – it was extremely elegant. It felt surreal to be in a place I had always read about – the beautiful decor, the music, the service, and, of course, the outstanding food. I savored every minute. Very special.

    1. Carolyn,

      Thank you for sharing your high tea memory and where it was. I am, and I think fellow readers are as well, appreciative of the recommended places for enjoying tea while traveling. I cannot wait to return to England and enjoy a tea outing as you have described. 🙂

  11. Hi Shannon,

    I loved reading this post…I didn’t know about the tea tables and it was fascinating. My family has always drank tea rather than coffee, but more Lipton teabag-in-a-mug than the pretty set of china and loose tea. So that is something I’ve come to enjoy as I’ve gotten older.

    Question for you and other readers: Does anyone know any background about tea carts? My gram had one similar to this in her living room. I don’t know if she ever used it, but perhaps it was based on something from an English country house? I have it now and it might be fun to use it some time.

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/164474365257?chn=ps&norover=1&mkevt=1&mkrid=711-213727-13078-0&mkcid=2&itemid=164474365257&targetid=4580153134080572&device=c&mktype=&googleloc=&poi=&campaignid=410490108&mkgroupid=1224856179845776&rlsatarget=pla-4580153134080572&abcId=9300491&merchantid=51291&msclkid=29054818d21b1982977b28bcc9f79e66

  12. Hi Shannon,

    The art of tea. As someone who has loved tea for a long time, I loved reading this post and thinking about all the different ways I can make my tea pauses during the day all the more beautiful and sacred!

    Thank you so much for this post! Love learning from you.

    Love,

    Zohra.

  13. Shannon,

    I love this article. Thank you so much for putting a name to the type of table I have been searching for.

    Loving British Week!

    Michelle

  14. A great post Shannon. The tables are beautiful. I donated my English tea tables when we moved to France. I now have a Moroccan tea table for my teatime . Tea time in France isn’t something my friends enjoy. But some female friends will now have a tea after lunch or dinner instead of coffee .Tea is an institution as we say in Britain. A sigh of appreciation escapes my lips at the thought of afternoon tea. As a lover of all things tea I have had the pleasure of indulging in afternoon teas at the Ritz London and a few other establishments including cosy teashops. These were gifted to me for birthdays etc. The Ritz is my favourite as it’s the grandfather of afternoon teas and has a dress code which I prefer. Unlike Claridge;s which does not. I have also attended a few tea dances. They were such fun. Sadly going out of style. At my very first afternoon tea my English hostess showed me to split the scone by hand as it has a natural split line after it has been baked. That’s the way I have always done it. Just for information to TSLL readers the Shard in London also offers afternoon tea and the price includes the entry fee to the establishment. To Debby. What a lovely heirloom. I think that they were used in the grand houses to serve afternoon tea in the salon as it was a less formal affair than the dining room Much more practical for the maids assembling the tea accoutrements and to manoeuvre it around. A precursor to a hostess or bar trolley.

  15. I have been on the hunt for tea tables for a few spots in my home. I am constantly hunting for a place to set my cup or book. Thank for the lovely ideas.

  16. Thank you for the helpful guide on tea gatherings! I did a bit of research on this topic earlier this year when I challenged myself to enjoy 31 different self-care/luxurious activities for the month of January (I recommend)… all culminating with afternoon tea with a loved one. Your guide will be helpful as I revisit the practice next month!

  17. Thank you for your post – I’ve enjoyed reading the British Week topics so far, including the many ideas shared in the comments!

  18. I am fortunate that my friends and I are tea lovers, We have several parties through the year, hostesses alternate but everyone contributes. The beautiful tea tables remind me of one my Mother had but I have no idea what happened to it. My sister and I think it went the way of several smaller pieces in one of 6 moves she made in the last 15 years of her life. She enjoyed the changes each of these moves provided. I am on the search to replace her table, it has become a quest!

  19. Interesting article on tea tables. Yours with the double legs is especially beautiful! We have a tea room in our town that has a wonderful afternoon tea. They have a tremendous collection of china pots (with cozies) and cups and a very wide assortment of teas. Great fun for a girls afternoon out!

  20. I grew up in a tea family, my dad born in England and my mom born in Canada. We never had coffee at home. My mom had a Brown Betty teapot and for many years only used tea leaves purchased by the carload at AP&P market. When the market had a going out business sale, my parents stocked up on boxes and boxes of tea. As a grown-up, I collect teapots and other tea things, displaying them on my Welsh hutch. I connect tea with my beloved mom. Thank you for all your tea teachings!

  21. Another lovely post!
    High on my bucket list is to enjoy afternoon tea at The Ritz! And now I’ve seen the various names for the different types – I of course mean a Royal Tea with a glass of Champagne to start!
    X

  22. This Scot, in America since 1997, has never given up her afternoon tea. At work ( critical care nurse specialist ) its generally accepted “Sharon, when do you want your tea break ?” They even bought a new kettle for the breakroom when mine died.
    My three teenage sons often make themselves tea too but ive had a few of their friends look questioningly at them when they put the kettle on and go digging in the tea cupboard for their tea of choice haha
    Lastly I inherited my mother in laws lovely set of coffee with two side tables set which work perfectly for all the roles you describe above, pie crust edging and all.
    Growing up, taking my mum out for afternoon tea, usually in one of the many small hotels dotted around home, on the Isle of Skye was a delightful way to spoil ourselves.
    Hoping I can get to do it again one day soon.

  23. This is a great commentary on Afternoon Tea and added Tea Time information in Kya Meier’s Etiquette book, I am ready to do Afternoon Tea correctly.
    You never cease to post most relevant information

  24. I inherited a glass topped tea table (the top comes off to go to the butler’s pantry) from my great aunt Ella (I’m 65 and never met her, she died at 80). The table used to take place of pride at my dolly tea parties and now serves me well as my human dollies meet for tea.

  25. This is one of my favorite posts. My husband and I enjoyed tea at Dromoland Castle in Ireland several years ago. The experience was one highlight of our trip. Such a wonderful way to cherish the day and time spent together.

  26. Tea; best drink of the day! I’m British so spend most of my time with a mug by my side. I don’t feel awake until I have had my first of the day and am craving one as I write this. I’m definitely a mug person though as I like to hold it in my hands to warm them up.

    On the subject of eating, we. always call our evening meal tea. It’s generally called tea the further north you live in England. And, high tea is for me a hot meal such as cheese on toast or chips not a heavy meal but more than cake and sandwiches. It’s fascinating how these things have evolved.

  27. Shannon, great post! Another tip about buying tea tables- look at auction houses! I work as a painting specialist for a regional auction house in Washington, DC and you can get find absolute steals on period tea tables (18th century, though they were almost produced in the 19th). Unfortunately (or fortunately??), the market for furniture from this is period is very depressed right now as the mid-century modern trend continues and so you can get some amazing deals. Look for weekly sales and quarterly catalogue auctions!

  28. Dear Shannon,

    I love all your posts! I save them for reading when I can relax and take my time to enjoy your beautiful writing and photographs without rushing. Thank you for spending so much time producing thoughtful, special posts. And congratulations on your decision to work fulltime on your blog and related writing projects. I know you have been so dedicated to your students over the years, I’m sure this was a difficult decision, but one that ultimately was right for you. I have found so much inspiration and wisdom as well as joy and beauty in your posts, and I am sure many others have as well. Take good care!

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