While it has become common to refer to afternoon tea as “high tea,” especially in the US, the two are not synonymous and they actually refer to two very different meals. Afternoon tea started off as a light snack between lunch and dinner before it turned into a fashionable social event, which you can read about here. While Americans mistook the phrase "high tea" to mean something more high society, the only thing "high" about high tea are the tables. So what is the difference between afternoon tea and high tea?
Afternoon tea is exactly what you imagine. It's tea with scones, tea sandwiches, and oft now a whole culinary affair. It can also be less of an event and simply an afternoon pick me up of tea and biscuits, because the average person probably isn't preparing themselves scones and miniature sandwiches every day. If you read my blog post on the history of afternoon tea, you'll know that afternoon tea became a fashionable social affair in the 19th century, and was started by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. Once Queen Victoria took up the practice, well, that was that. This fashionable social affair, was also known as "low tea." It was called "low tea" because it was served on low tables.
I know, mind-blowing. So what was "high tea"? High tea was the working class's dinner time, served usually between 5-7pm when the work day was over. It took place at the dinner table, which are higher tables than the low tables afternoon tea was served on, and hence "high tea." And there were no dainty sandwiches at these meals. High tea was a hearty meal with pies, meats, breads, and other heavy foods. After a hard day's work you'll need more than a crust-less cucumber sandwich! Fun fact, in northern England and the Midlands, dinner is oft still referred to as "tea."
So there you go folks! That's the tea on "high tea!" Be sure to subscribe to our email list to stay up to date on all things tea and positivi-tea!