The Origins of High Tea
Over the decades, the idea of High Tea has evolved significantly. As it spread across certain parts of the world, some cultures adapted and changed the concept of high tea in various ways. Some define it as a set of particular foods, and some see it as a certain time of day.
Because of this, there is often a lot of confusion as to what high tea, afternoon tea, and low tea are.
To make sense of all of this, we need to ask a few questions. How did high tea originate? What was its purpose? Why, unlike lunch and dinner, did it not spread globally as a popular standard meal?
In this article, we’re going to dive deep into the history of high tea and how it changed over time. Hopefully, we can answer the questions above and gain a better understanding of this long-standing tradition.
What Australians refer to as high tea actually originated in England in the 19th century as Afternoon Tea.
In 1840, it is said that Duchess Anna of Bedford started to feel hunger pangs in the period between lunch, which was served at around 12 pm, and dinner, which was served at around 8 pm. As a result of this, she began asking for a tray of food at 4 pm in the afternoon to satisfy her hunger before dinner later that evening.
Her tray of food included light snacks like sandwiches, scones and a variety of other cakes and pastries. Of course, a cup of tea was also served.
Eventually, the Duchess began inviting her friends to join her during this interval meal. This little social event then became prominent among upper-class women in England in the 1880s.
In the modern age, afternoon tea can be as modest as a couple of biscuits and a mug of tea. Additionally, the meal has become more popular for both upper and middle classes. That being said, some events can still be quite luxurious, often involving a variety of foods on tiered stands.
Nowadays, tea is also often served at many hotels and restaurants. In most cases, it doesn’t necessarily have to be served at 4 pm to be considered afternoon tea.
Other countries have adopted the idea of afternoon tea but have changed some aspects of it. In Australia, formal afternoon tea is often called high tea. On the other hand, in New Zealand, tea is often taken during mid-morning and is therefore called morning tea.
In England, high tea actually has a different meaning. What they called evening high tea was a popular meal for the working class. It was taken at around 5pm, which is typically when laborers got home from work and wanted a nice meal to enjoy.
At the risk of making matters more confusing, what people call low tea is often referred to as afternoon tea. It’s termed low tea since it was often served on lower tables.
Types of Food
Afternoon tea, as mentioned before, was only meant to stave hunger before the larger meal at 8 pm. Because of this, it only involved lighter snacks like cucumber and egg sandwiches, sponge cakes, creams, jams, crumpets, and muffins. Tea in such meals is also served with sugar and milk.
The evening high tea, on the other hand, was meant to be served to tired workers after a long day. Because of this, high tea often involved heavier foods. This includes meat pies, roasted meats, sausages, and fish.
That was just a brief outline of the history of high tea. Since it was exclusively taken by the upper class in its early days, it didn’t quite spread across cultures like other types of meals. That being said, it’s still an enjoyable event that is often treated as a special aesthetic experience by everyone around the world.