British Tea Traditions: High Tea & Afternoon Tea—What to Know
If you want a pleasant and successful gathering for your friends, it’s important that you first know which type of tea party to host. By now, you may have come across the terms “afternoon tea” and “high tea,” which are both good choices for your upcoming party.
However, these terms are often used interchangeably, and many believe that they are the same thing. The truth is that aside from both being British tea traditions, they’re not actually the same—they have key distinctions to differentiate when either apply. One is more formal, while the other is a filling meal after a long day.
In this article, we will be going through the key differences between the two tea traditions, and provide you with some ideas to give you inspiration for your next tea party.
Because of its name, it is commonly associated with the upper class. Moreover, the first things that come to people’s minds when hearing it are fine china and fancy finger foods—but actually, it’s far from it!
In reality, the name “high tea” came around because it used to be served at higher dinner tables and countertops. Furthermore, this was usually for the lower class, who worked manual jobs in mines or fields, rather than the upper class!
This was served after a laborious day, usually between 6 pm to 7 pm, so the tea was accompanied by a substantial savory meal instead of finger foods. You will not find scones in high tea menus—instead, you will find filling dishes, such as meat and fish, along with some bread.
Because of its slightly misleading name, people often misuse the term “high tea” when they are actually referring to afternoon tea!
Opposite to high tea, this kind of service is what was actually for the upper class. Moreover, it is also referred to as “low tea” because it is often served at low tables, unlike the first kind.
There is an interesting story behind afternoon teas. It is believed to have started as a social gathering in England during the 1840s. According to tales, the Duchess of Bedford began the habit of having snacks accompanied with some tea, after feeling hungry between a breakfast feast and late dinner. After some time, she started having guests come over to join her “snacking.”
With this, it became a tradition to fill the gap between lunch and dinner. Afternoon tea is usually served between 3 pm to 4 pm, and unlike high tea, the menu here consists of lighter, bite-sized food. There is a savory course as well as a sweet course, where you can enjoy scones generously covered with cream and jam.
Although it started as a tea service in the late afternoon and served in low table heights, afternoon tea today can be enjoyed earlier in the afternoon at normal dining tables.
There are many misconceptions around high tea and afternoon tea. That said, knowing what they really are and how different they are to each other will help you plan and host a great tea party that your guests will surely enjoy.
Moreover, to keep the gathering pleasant and full of laughter, another step you can take is to examine the food items that you will be preparing. The tea you serve, in particular, is the highlight of the event, so it’s best to settle only with natural, high-quality, and responsibly sourced products.
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