High Tea or Afternoon Tea?
Our sister company, Local Catering, has seen an increased interest in tea parties at Selby Gardens. There was an intimate wedding last month. I hear the term “High Tea” used as a reference, when, in fact, “Afternoon Tea” is a more accurate description.
I will attempt to explain the differences between “High Tea” and “Afternoon Tea.” I will share a bit of history on how these very different meals got their specific titles.
“High Tea” does not refer to fancy sandwiches and small cakes served with elegant table settings. Rather, a meal served in working-class households as the main meal of the day, usually early evening.
Similarly, at the height of Victorian times, lower and middle-class families could only afford one meal per day. Served at the end of the working day, the meal typically consisted of bread and cheese, potatoes, vegetables, maybe cold meat and pickles, for the more affluent, fish. Black tea would be served along with the food. This is the meal most families would now refer to as dinner.
For instance, growing up, this was the main meal at the house and was called “tea.” Today, I still refer to our evening meal as tea. Often asking myself, “What are we having for tea today?” As I am more sensitive to caffeine, we will drink Rooibos or Honeybush or other herbal tea.
Why is this meal known as “High Tea”? Above all, the meal is served on a dining table, in contrast to the much lower table on which “Afternoon Tea” is served.
Anna, Duchess of Bedford
Credit goes to Anna, Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861) for creating “Afternoon Tea.” The evening meal was often served after 8 pm, and the Duchess would get a ‘sinking feeling’ (low blood sugar levels associated with hunger!) in the afternoon hours. She instructed her staff at Belvoir Castle to make up small sandwiches and cakes. Anna invited friends for tea and conversation. The meal was served on lower tables in the drawing-room, allowing for intimate conversation. The tradition of “Afternoon Tea” is still prevalent.
There are many variations of “Afternoon Tea” with small sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream. Typically, a huge variety of teas are available. “Tea” can be a sophisticated, dressy, and special occasion or a simple, casual, and relaxed meal at the end of the day.
In conclusion, whichever “Tea” you choose, the idea remains a wonderful way to spend quality time with friends or loved ones, enjoying some food and conversation. We should all do this more often!