Our sister company, Local Catering has seen an increased interest in tea parties at Selby Gardens including an intimate wedding last month. I hear the term “High Tea” used as a reference, when in actual fact; “Afternoon Tea” is a more accurate description.
I will attempt to explain the differences between “High Tea” and “Afternoon Tea”, as well as 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, but rather a meal served in working class households as the main meal of the day, usually early evening.
At the height of Victorian times lower and middle class families were only able to 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 or 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.
Growing up, this was the main meal at house and was called “tea”. Today, I still refer to our evening meal as tea and often ask myself “What are we having for tea today?” As I am more sensitive to caffeine, we now will drink Rooibos or Honeybush or another herbal tea.
Why is this meal known as “High Tea”? Very simply, 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 (1788-1861) is credited with creating “Afternoon Tea”. The evening meal was often served after 8pm, 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, and 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 very popular.
There are many variations of “Afternoon Tea” with small sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream and a huge variety of teas to choose from. “Tea” can be a sophisticated, dressy and special occasion or a simple, casual and relaxed meal at the end of the day.
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!