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Afternoon Tea or High Tea?

Elvis Elvis

The Highs and The Lows
Of Tea Time

Are Afternoon Tea and High Tea one and the same?

The answer is a resounding “No!“. There is a difference. But a lot of us (and even some tea rooms) confuse the two.

Before we make the distinction, let me tell you a short story about how tea time came to be (…in England, anyway!).
Afternoon Tea or High Tea?

The Duchess and Her Afternoon Delight

Once upon a time (actually, in the 1800′s), the English had only two big meals. One in the morning and one late in the evening. That’s a looong stretchbetween meals! So an extra meal called luncheon was created to fill the midday gap.

But this light meal still left Anna Maria, the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861), feeling a tad hungry! So, she decided that something must be done about the demands of her stomach by 5 o’clock in the afternoon!

She had her maid sneak in her favorite tea and a small meal of bread and butter to her boudoir late every afternoon. And it seemed to do the trick! She quickly realized that she was on to a great thing!

Determined to hang on to her vice, she began inviting her lady friends to her room for elegant late afternoon socials! Tea was served accompanied by plates of dainty sandwiches, scones (with jam and clotted cream), dainty cakes and sweets… topped with a hefty serving of gossip!

This splendid affair became such a big hit! All of fashionable society began holding their own afternoon tea parties…

And so the English Afternoon Tea tradition was born!

(Note: Of course, she was not the only one to advance the practice of tea time! That evolved over time.)

Which brings us back to the question…

What’s The Difference
Between Afternoon Tea and High Tea?

Well, the elegant social gathering of English tea with plates of savories, scones and pastries I just described in my tea story is what Afternoon Tea (or Low Tea) is about. This tea time experience (and variations of it) is what you find at most tea houses and hotels.

High Tea (also called Meal Tea)on the other hand, is more of a full meal consisting of cold meats, eggs, cheese, cakes and sandwiches eaten at around 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening. And yes, tea is also served. By the way, this is for the common people. On the farms in the United Kingdom, high tea is afternoon tea and the main evening meal rolled into one!

And where did the terms High Tea and Low Tea come from? Simple. High Tea is a meal eaten at the high table (main dining table). Low Tea is a meal eaten on the low table (like coffee tables commonly found in living rooms). Explanation done!

Whew! Talking about tea time made me hungry. How about you? Ready to go for some Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel? Or how about sampling other Victoria, BC tea rooms? Let’s go…