3-Tiered Stand Demystified

3-Tiered Stand Demystified

February 15, 2015|Blog

 Next to an actual tea pot, cup and saucer, there is nothing more  identifiable with a proper tea than a three-tiered stand of savories,  scones and desserts. Most people think that this stand the epitome of a  proper tea experience.

The answer is “yes” …and “no.”

Like a hat and gloves on a woman, the three-tiered stand is an  optional part of the tea culture ritual. Like any ritual, there was a reason  why it was used. Originally, tea tables were not large, rectangular  dinner tables, but small circular tables. The diminutive tables were  meant to just serve as an informal “get-together” in between more formal  meals. Granted, “informal” didn’t mean schlepping over in one’s  camisole and yoga pants; it meant you dressed for visiting another  woman’s home and shared a lovely hour or so of tea/tisane, gentle snacks  and covert conversations. Marriages, employment, pertinent information  and the day’s events were shared during tea.

The three-tiered stand held the delicious snacks, but were not meant  to take over the table. The tiered tray was practical and provided room  for the cups, saucers, condiments and tea pot.

The levels of the tiered trays have their own significance. First, the number of tiers determines the type of tea service. Cream (or creme)  Tea is the lightest of the tea services. It’s simply tea with scones.  The cream in Cream Tea represents the Devonshire or Clotted Cream that  accompanies the scones. Depending in which part of the U.K. you lived,  determined the type of scone or bread. In Cornwall, a slightly sweet  bread replaced the scone. Cream Teas could include a one– or two-tiered stand to hold the scones, butter, clotted cream and jam.

  • Afternoon (or Low) Tea expanded to include scones (or other slightly sweet bread), savories tea sandwiches and dessert/fruit.
  • Royal Tea added champagne or sherry, and possibly a rather involved  salad. Royal Tea involves a three-tiered stand and standard larger plate  for the addition of a salad.
  • High Tea was closer to an American supper or dinner, meaning meat and  sides. There is rarely a need for a tiered plate for High Tea. You would serve the meal as you would a light supper, i.e., plates, and flatware already arranged at the table and courses served.

The three-tiered stand in Afternoon Tea is supposed to show the order  in which the meal is eaten, for example, sandwiches/savories first, the  scones second, and dessert last.

I’ve seen all combinations of the three-tiered stand and after this post, you may never look at one the same way again. The proper order of the three-tiered stand is: 

  1. Bottom Layer –  Sandwiches/savories and cheeses
  2. Middle Layer – Scones/muffins/breads and cream
  3. Top Layer – Desserts and/or Fruit.

I’ve seen stands in the reverse order (ex., sandwiches/savories on top) and a three-tiered stand crammed with desserts. (For the record, times have changed, and a tiered-stand is not  mandatory for a tea; however, if it is used, please organize it  properly.)

For those who follow American Royal Tea, you know that I am not a fan of taking tea as “performance art.” If one is at a tea, you don’t have to stress yourself about the  minutiae of the tea service, but please have a general idea of what is  acceptable tea behavior.
With that said, sandwiches/savories should always go on the bottom.  Regardless of how dainty a tea sandwich may be, it will inevitably drip,  ooze or drop. If it is on the bottom, you have a lesser chance of it dripping onto your chocolate covered strawberries, or shrimp salad from  dripping onto your scone!

Never over stuff a tiered tray. In the United States we like to see that we’re getting more. It’s not necessary at tea, and it’s definitely not proper etiquette.

Tea service is meant to serve as a “snack”; a simple light meal between meals. It’s not meant to be afternoon lunch or the only meal of the day.

If you’re planning your own tea service or tea event, please consider  the convenience of the tiered stand, but by no means feel tied to it.  You can also serve your tea snacks on individual trays.

And by the way, it’s not necessary to wear a hat and gloves at tea. Enjoy!

Need a Handy Guide? Right-click and save poster below (*.png)! 

(Compliments of American Royal Tea)

Click to read more about organizing your own tea social event.

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