What Is High Tea?

Across various cultures, the act of drinking tea in a sophisticated way became an important social event for the upper class and even changed the time when tea was consumed.

Over time Afternoon Tea and High Tea have become confused with each other. 

What Is High Tea

With many upper class families having the luxury of afternoon leisure, the term afternoon tea was born. But what makes these terms different?

Below we explain the difference between high tea and afternoon tea. We also discuss what makes them so special throughout the world and why so many people are eager to try the iconic English High Tea. 

Afternoon Tea VS High Tea 

As mentioned above, there are a few key differences between afternoon tea and high tea. Some of which may be rather surprising. 

Afternoon Tea 

During the nineteenth century, it was common for people to only have two main meals a day. Breakfast and dinner were the meals of choice and were often served in the morning and in the evening. 

The 7th Duchess of Bedford discovered that the solution to her daily hunger was a pot of tea and a light snack during the afternoon, and so the term ‘Afternoon Tea’ was born.

As the upper class began indulging in the act of having an extra snack throughout the day and it was quickly a trend which would stick. 

The Afternoon Tea Menu 

An afternoon tea menu was rather simple, yet for those in the nineteenth century, they were luxurious. It often included a range of simple sandwiches:

  • Egg mayonnaise with cress
  • Smoke salmon with cream cheese
  • Ham and mustard
  • Coronation chicken
  • Cucumber 

A selection of sandwiches would be served as a light afternoon snack to be enjoyed while socializing with friends and family. 

As the craze continued other items were added to the menu such as:

  • Scones with jam and clotted cream 
  • Pastries 
  • Cakes

For special occasions and for those that could afford it, a glass of champagne would even be served alongside tea and sandwiches. 

Not to mention a short selection of teas would be offered for guests including:

  • Earl Grey 
  • Assam 
  • Darjeeling 
  • Lapsang Souchong 

With different flavors, guests could select something new or enjoy their favorite flavors while enjoying sandwiches, cakes, and sweet treats. 

High Tea 

With the elite enjoying their afternoon tea of sandwiches, flavorsome teas, and champagne, lower-class families were becoming envious.

However, with a much smaller budget, and many men and some women having to work long hours throughout the day, enjoying afternoon tea was out of the question. 

What Is High Tea (1)

Many men would not arrive home until 6 or 7 in the evening and would not be served their dinner until 8 pm. Enjoying a small meal with a cup of tea quickly became named ‘High Tea’. 

A mug of tea, bread, veggies, cheese, and occasionally meat was typically included in an English High Tea. Pies, potatoes, and crackers could be included in high tea variations.

This all depended on the budget of the household and more often than not was simple in its creation. 

Why Is It Called High Tea?

The fact that this meal was had at a table may be the reason why it was known as high tea. On the other hand, afternoon tea was consumed while seated on low, cozy chairs or sofas. 

Naturally, the upper classes quickly created their own variety and gave it the name “high tea.” Being so simple to prepare, it was a supper that could be consumed even when their attendants were absent or unavailable. 

Afternoon tea and high tea were combined for the higher class “high tea,” which also included pigeons, veal, fish, and fruit.

Afternoon tea was traditionally served during the late afternoon, around 4 o’clock, while high tea was served much later in the evening.

This soon evolved into being ‘supper’ for those on the lower end of the class scale. Eating after dinner was rare and would be a small snack such as a slice of bread or a small portion of leftovers from dinner. 

High Tea Today 

Today, the word “tea” is used as another term for dinner in the working class areas of the UK. However, afternoon tea is still a special commodity for locals, tourists, upper class, and lower class to enjoy.

The term “high tea” is no longer used in everyday conversations. 

Afternoon tea is often promoted by hotels looking to offer a traditional British experience for their guests.

During today’s version of afternoon tea, a hot pot of tea is served along with an array of sandwiches, a selection of fruit and plain scones, fresh jam, clotted cream, and a small selection of pastries and cakes. 

Many people book afternoon tea for special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.

With the option to have a glass of champagne, it is an excellent experience which still has some of the classic sophistication which was experienced during the early nineteenth century. 

Dress Code For High Tea 

When high tea was popular and families were making more of an effort for a special occasion, they would often find their best clothing. However, today, as afternoon tea is more popular the dress code is slightly more relaxed. 

‘Smart casual’ is the common dress code for such an event meaning This means no trainers, t-shirts, shorts, or sportswear. Women often wear a blouse or dress while men are asked to wear a collared shirt and slacks. 

Final Thoughts

So, what is high tea? High tea is no longer a common event throughout the UK. However, in the early 19th century it was popularized by lower-class families envious of the upper class. 

Today, the Brits take part in afternoon tea. With small sandwiches, cakes, and a pot of tea. Many tourists enjoy the rather relaxed atmosphere at the modern-day afternoon tea and even enjoy a glass of champagne with their treats. 

No matter your social class, you can enjoy a small slice of luxury through a hot pot of tea, sandwiches, and pastries. 

Remember, keep yourself looking smart and you will always be welcomed to an afternoon tea in Britain. 

Joanne Baltimore
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