Emily Post and Tea
This is taken from Emily Post Etiquette book. Since it is in public domain, I can quote. I found the book among those available from Project Gutenberg, online, and for free.
=THE EVERY-DAY AFTERNOON TEA TABLE=
The every-day afternoon tea table is familiar to everyone; there is not
the slightest difference in its service whether in the tiny bandbox house
of the newest bride, or in the drawing-room of Mrs. Worldly of Great
Estates, except that in the little house the tray is brought in by a
woman--often a picture in appearance and appointment--instead of a butler
with one or two footmen in his wake. In either case a table is placed in
front of the hostess. A tea-table is usually of the drop-leaf variety
because it is more easily moved than a solid one. There are really no
"correct" dimensions; any small table is suitable. It ought not to be so
high that the hostess seems submerged behind it, nor so small as to be
overhung by the tea tray and easily knocked over. It is usually between 24
and 26 inches wide and from 27 to 36 inches long, or it may be oval or
oblong. A double-decked table that has its second deck above the main
table is not good because the tea tray perched on the upper deck is
neither graceful nor convenient. In proper serving, not only of tea but of
cold drinks of all sorts, even where a quantity of bottles, pitchers and
glasses need space, everything should be brought on a tray and not
trundled in on a tea-wagon!
A cloth must always be first placed on the table, before putting down the
tray. The tea cloth may be a yard, a yard and a half, or two yards square.
It may barely cover the table, or it may hang half a yard over each edge.
A yard and a quarter is the average size. A tea cloth can be colored, but
the conventional one is of white linen, with little or much white
needlework or lace, or both.
On this is put a tray big enough to hold everything except the plates of
food. The tray may be a massive silver one that requires a footman with
strong arms to lift it, or it may be of Sheffield or merely of effectively
lacquered tin. In any case, on it should be: a kettle which ought to be
already boiling, with a spirit lamp under it, an empty tea-pot, a caddy of
tea, a tea strainer and slop bowl, cream pitcher and sugar bowl, and, on a
glass dish, lemon in slices. A pile of cups and saucers and a stack of
little tea plates, all to match, with a napkin (about 12 inches square,
hemstitched or edged to match the tea cloth) folded on each of the plates,
like the filling of a layer cake, complete the paraphernalia. Each plate
is lifted off with its own napkin. Then on the tea-table, back of the
tray, or on the shelves of a separate "curate," a stand made of three
small shelves, each just big enough for one good-sized plate, are always
two, usually three, varieties of cake and hot breads.
=THINGS PEOPLE EAT AT TEA=
The top dish on the "curate" should be a covered one, and holds hot bread
of some sort; the two lower dishes may be covered or not, according to
whether the additional food is hot or cold; the second dish usually holds
sandwiches, and the third cake. Or perhaps all the dishes hold cake;
little fancy cakes for instance, and pastries and slices of layer cakes.
Many prefer a simpler diet, and have bread and butter, or toasted
crackers, supplemented by plain cookies. Others pile the "curate" until it
literally staggers, under pastries and cream cakes and sandwiches of pate
de foie gras or mayonnaise. Others, again, like marmalade, or jam, or
honey on bread and butter or on buttered toast or muffins. This
necessitates little butter knives and a dish of jam added to the already
overloaded tea tray.
Selection of afternoon tea food is entirely a matter of whim, and new
food-fads sweep through communities. For a few months at a time, everyone,
whether in a private house or a country club, will eat nothing but English
muffins and jam, then suddenly they like only toasted cheese crackers, or
Sally Lunn, or chocolate cake with whipped cream on top. The present fad
of a certain group in New York is bacon and toast sandwiches and fresh hot
gingerbread. Let it be hoped for the sake of the small household that it
will die out rather than become epidemic, since the gingerbread must be
baked every afternoon, and the toast and bacon are two other items that
come from a range.
Sandwiches for afternoon tea as well as for all collations, are made by
buttering the end of the loaf, spreading on the "filling" and then cutting
off the prepared slice as thin as possible. A second slice, unspread,
makes the other side of the sandwich. When it is put together, the crust
is either cut off leaving a square and the square again divided diagonally
into two triangular sandwiches, or the sandwich is cut into shape with a
regular cutter. In other words, a "party" sandwich is not the sort of
sandwich to eat--or order--when hungry!
The tea served to a lady who lives alone and cares for only one dish of
eatables would naturally eliminate the other two. But if a visitor is
"received," the servant on duty should, without being told, at once bring
in at least another dish and an additional cup, saucer, plate and napkin.
Afternoon tea at a very large house party or where especially invited
people are expected for tea, should include two plates of hot food such as
toast or hot biscuits split open and buttered, toasted and buttered
English muffins, or crumpets, corn muffins or hot gingerbread. Two cold
plates should contain cookies or fancy cakes, and perhaps a layer cake. In
hot weather, in place of one of the hot dishes, there should be pate or
lettuce sandwiches, and always a choice of hot or iced tea, or perhaps
iced coffee or chocolate frappe, but rarely if ever, anything else.
There is more about Tea serving and drinking. I bet she doesn't like
"saucering and blowing," don't you? But it is so charming. The lady is
long gone, but still her name denotes good manners and propriety.
I stopped on p. 125 of the online readable version, if you
wish to continue reading further. Hope you enjoy it.