Proper Scone Etiquette

February 14, 2017 by Bruce Richardson

When eating an English scone, what goes on first? The clotted cream or the jam?

This is one of life’s most pressing questions for students of tea traveling for the first time through the tearoom-filled villages of Southwest England and The Cotswolds, or taking tea at a stylish London hotel like Claridge’s or Browns.

You certainly don’t want to appear to be a tourist!

That beautiful baked “biscuit” found across Britain is hard to find here in America where pastry chefs often opt for short or triangle scones. A traditional scone rises tall and splits in the middle – perfect for easy opening at the tea table.

British pastry chefs bake their scones early each morning so that they will be at room temperature by teatime.  No leftover or reheated frozen scones allowed here. New scones are made daily.

Scone Etiquette

I encourage diners to split the scone into two pieces. A well-made scone can be pulled apart with the fingers. Dense scones will need to be sliced with a knife.

Larger saucer-sized scones found in the Southwest counties of England might need to be broken again into quarters – just so you won’t look too hungry at teatime.

Your scone accompaniments most likely will be clotted cream and strawberry preserves. Clotted cream is the Crème de la Crème of the dairy world. It is 56% butterfat and as rich as butter – and sometimes just as yellow. (The term clotted is used to describe what this gooey dessert does to your arteries upon entry.)

This decadent concoction is sometimes called Devonshire Cream or Cornish Cream.

Warning! Never call it Devonshire Cream while dining in County Cornwall, or Cornish Cream when dining in County Devon. There is a great deal of pride found in the dairy products unique to each county. If in doubt as to where you are, simply call it clotted cream.

Remember to spoon the clotted cream from the serving dish to your bread plate first before moving it onto your scone. Never dress your scone directly from the serving dish. This is true for the jam as well.

Cream or Jam First?

The answer to this question depends on where you are having tea. Are you in the country or in London?

I suggest that, when dining in the countryside, you place the jam on the scone first and proudly place a generous dollop of clotted cream on top so that all might see the yellow crustiness of the butterfat produced by the herds of cattle grazing on the neighboring hillsides.

But, if dining in the gentile confines of a London hotel lobby or restaurant, respectable diners should place the clotted cream on the scone first. The strawberry preserves should then go on second in order to hide your decadence!

By the way, did the citizens of Boston enjoy scones with their tea?

No. Scones would not become a staple of teatime ritual until a century later.

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Author: Bruce Richardson
Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum

MSN calls Bruce Richardson "A leading tea expert involved in tea's American renaissance for over 25 years." The native Kentuckian is a writer, photographer, tea blender, and frequent guest speaker at tea events across the globe. He can often be found appearing on television and radio talk shows, or as a guest speaker at professional seminars such as World Tea Expo and China Global Tea Fair. He is the author of over a dozen books on the subject of tea. Mr. Richardson serves as Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.