You’ve been stirring your tea all wrong, according to a royal butler — here’s how to do it right

Former royal butler Grant Harrold.

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Former royal butler Grant Harrold.
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Miss Holland/BBC THREE

  • Drinking tea like a member of the royal family is a fraught affair, according to a former butler to Prince Charles.
  • Grant Harrold laid out a set of rules to follow to demonstrate upper-crust credentials.
  • He told Business Insider that a particular no-no is stirring tea with a circular motion: the correct way is back and forth, ‘to avoid a storm in a tea cup.’
  • He also shared a host of other points of etiquette for royal-style refreshment.

The debate on how to make a perfect cup of tea will never be over – but, according to former royal butler Grant Harrold, there’s a particular method to make a brew worthy of royalty.

Harrold was a member of the household of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and still lives on their Highgrove estate, so knows something about the royal way of life.

He revealed the four steps to the perfect royal cup in BBC Three comedy series Miss Holland – and there was one step in particular that caught our eye: the stirring instructions.

calum lewis 390146 unsplash

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Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash

Here’s Harrold’s method:

  1. Pour the tea into the cup from a teapot
  2. Add milk to the cup after the tea, never before
  3. Stir back and forth – never use a circular motion and never touch the sides
  4. Sip from the cup, do not slurp!

The tea-in-first tradition dates back to the 18th century, according to Harrold, when English potter Josiah Spode decided that china tea cups ought to be made from animal bone to prevent them cracking when hot tea was added.

From then on pouring the tea first became a status symbol among royals and the upper classes – as well as an opportunity to show off their fine china.

Meanwhile, the servants downstairs would have to add milk first to stop their clay crockery from cracking under the heat.

But why shouldn’t you stir the tea in a circle like most people do?

Harrold told Business Insider: “If we stir in a circular motion we can create a storm in a tea cup and see the tea coming over the sides which we should never allow.

“If the spoon touches the sides it makes a clinging sound and we don’t want that at the afternoon tea table.”

“I am sure the Queen enjoys her Assam or her Earl Grey the traditional way, made with tea leaves in a teapot and poured into a fine bone china teacup. She will also use a strainer,” he continued.

He added that it’s also a “myth” that members of the royal family stick out their pinky finger while drinking. “I have never seen that happen once,” he said.

And if you happen to be enjoying cakes and sandwiches with your tea, it’s worth knowing a few other etiquette rules.

Scones Devon-style — with cream on the bottom — which Harrold says is the royal way.

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Scones Devon-style — with cream on the bottom — which Harrold says is the royal way.
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Shutterstock/James Clarke

“The royal way to eat a scone is to either cut it with a knife or break it with your hands and put the cream on first and then the jam.

“If her majesty was visiting Cornwall she would spread the jam on first then the cream, or in Devon, it would be cream first then jam, because that is the way they do it and she is a very diplomatic lady.”