Tea is part of the well-ordered routine at Manderley. It is served by Frith and a footman in "a stately little performance." It occurs at 4:30 in the afternoon. This is significant, because it is earlier than poorer people would have tea, indicating that a dinner will be served later. People not of the upper classes often had the meal called tea later in the day, merging it with dinner, as they could not afford both meals.
Tea is full of many delicacies, primarily baked goods that show off the wealth and abundance of Manderley life.
Although tea is an opportunity for the narrator, the second Mrs. de Winter, to be alone with Maxim, her sense of discomfort and uncertainty is expressed through the way she crumbles her crumpet and feels scalded as she swallows her too-hot tea. Tea is another ritual that threatens to overwhelm the narrator in a large and grand household that intimidates this young woman from poorer roots.