A Guide to High Tea

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Guide to High Tea

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Most people refer to afternoon tea as high tea because they think it sounds regal and lofty, when actually, high tea, or "meat tea" is traditionally part of a British dinner. There is a lot to know and love about sitting down for tea time with friends. Here we will take a look at past and present traditions surrounding the popular Brit pastime.

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Oh Hey, High Tea
Wouldn’t it be lovely to have two dinners every single night? The British are lucky enough to have a tradition that allows for this to be a reality. High tea, also known as “meat tea”, is an early evening meal that typically runs between 5pm and 7pm. Later in the evening, people enjoy a lighter, second meal. Talk about ending the day right!

Humble Beginnings
High tea was traditionally served to laborers and miners of the working class as an evening meal for when they returned home from a hard days work. The workers were served a hefty meal in the main dining area at the high table as opposed to a low table in the parlor where the afternoon tea was served.

Children’s Hour
The middle and upper class originally adopted the high tea for their children to enjoy in the early evening. Sandwiches and cakes were served in smaller portions rather than hefty meals. The adults would have a formal dinner later in the night once the children were settling down for bed. Eventually the parents took on the early meal for themselves, making the tradition common in all families across England.

Hearty to Dainty
The traditional high tea consisted of a hearty ensemble of hot dishes such as fish & chips, Shepherd’s pie, and macaroni & cheese. The laborers needed a full meal since they often worked without any food breaks. But as the tradition of high tea became more common, lighter foods were served such as sandwiches, cakes, bread, and various pastries. These petite-sized portions became more popular and are now the standard in most high tea gatherings. 

High vs. Low  
There is some debate as to the origin of naming high and low tea times. One side argues the height of the table that tea was served on is responsible whereas others argue the time of day determined the name. Either way, “high tea” was not originally associated with the upper class society as it is in modern times. Rather, the name “high” came along to differentiate it from Afternoon tea or “low tea” that is typically served between 3pm and 5pm. 

High Tea Today
High Tea has come a long way from being a worker’s meal to being a sophisticated social British pastime. Hotels and restaurants offer both afternoon tea and high tea to customers, serving tea or champagne with lighter dishes and desserts.  Families commonly have high tea around 4pm as an afterschool snack. High tea is also served at parties and events, with a great emphasis on the ambiance and presentation, making it a fanciful affair to attend.

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