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Afternoon tea - High, Low, and everything in between

Who doesn't love a fancy tea party? Tea pots, fancy tea cups, tiered trays of treats.... scones.... cream...Mmmm. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

You can all picture the scene. But what is it?

If you said Afternoon Tea or Low Tea, you'd be right. Afternoon tea, or Low tea, is traditionally taken between 3:30-5:00pm. It of course includes tea, as well as savory sandwiches, scones, and sweets. This tea time tradition was a way for the upper-class or wealthy to combat afternoon fatigue and provide sustenance until dinner (usually at 8pm). It was given the name Low Tea because it was served on a low table in a sitting room or parlor. Low tea was decadence for the social elite or upwardly mobile and is what current Afternoon Tea practices are based upon.

So, what then, is High Tea? High Tea was an evening meal enjoyed by the working class. This occurred anytime between 5:00 - 7:00pm and included hot foods that resembled a light supper. Often meat pies, potatoes, and of course tea. High Tea got its name from the high counter or table that people ate at, not because the event itself was "highbrow."

Over the years, traditional Low and High Teas were adapted to meet the needs of cultural shifts and societal changes.

Here’s the quick rundown on teas….

  1. Afternoon Tea is a traditional Low Tea with 3 courses: savories, scones, and sweets.

  2. Royal Tea is Low tea with champagne or sherry. It could also include a 4th course of strawberries are other fruit to enhance the luxury.

  3. Cream Tea is a lighter snack of tea and scones.

  4. Victorian Tea is an afternoon tea with 5 courses. This includes a soup and salad.

  5. Celebration Tea includes a special occasion cake that is shared among guests. It may or may not include the 3 course afternoon tea.

  6. Elevenses is a short break taken at around 11 a.m. on work days to take tea and have a light snack.

As Tea becomes more mainstream and accessible, education has also increased. Though you may still find a some tea rooms or hotels advertising “high tea” (incorrectly), “Afternoon Tea” has become the industries preferred term.

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