Whether it’s an argument over the best way to say it – scone (sounds like tone) versus scone (sounds like gone) – or disdainful looks across the tea table depending on whether you reach for the cream or jam first, the cream tea is a contentious topic.

Cream or Jam – which is first?

As it’s National Cream Tea Day, when it comes to the ‘right’ way of scoffing yours, here’s what to know.


English Cream tea with scones jam and clotted cream and cup of tea

In Devon, the rule is to slather on the cream first

A war has long raged between Devon and Cornwall over the correct way to construct a cream tea. The South-West of England is where the traditional cream tea first emerged, kick-starting the afternoon tradition of eating scones smothered in clotted cream and jam, alongside a cup of tea.

It’s in what order you layer up your scone that things become controversial. The Devon way is to split a warm scone in half before spreading on a thick layer of clotted cream, which is then crowned by a spoonful of strawberry jam (and it’s always strawberry).

But in Cornwall, it’s always jam, and then cream on the top

In Cornwall, the rule is warm scone, then jam, then clotted cream (preferably Rodda’s Cornish clotted cream) – however, it’s not wholly unusual to be offered butter as well . In which case, it goes: scone, then butter, then cream, then jam (fresh strawberries optional).

The etiquette experts at Debrett’s argue for practicality, but also recommend using your hands

“Scones are broken by hand, not cut with a knife. As with bread rolls, the jam and cream is spooned on to the plate first, not directly on to the scone (unless the cream is runny, in which case it can be put straight on to the scone),” Debrett’s notes in its guide to table manners.

“County differences aside, it is generally considered that the most practical and neatest method is to spread the cream first, before the jam.”

The Cream Tea Society meanwhile follow Debrett’s to the letter

However, they also have strong views on the cream you use. Apparently, it must be the thick, clotted type. “Never use whipped cream. It’s utterly improper.”

When it comes down to it though, it’s up to you. Be a rebel, use raspberry jam instead of strawberry; if whipped cream is all you have in the fridge, chuck it on and be improper; prefer cranberries to raisins in your dough? Swap ’em!

However, we would draw a line at putting Nutella or peanut butter on your scones… they’re not crumpets after all.

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