The Difference Between Afternoon Tea and High Tea | Tea History


Afternoon Tea

What is the difference between Afternoon Tea and High Tea? Meredith Sweetpea finds that people often confuse the two and will attempt to clarify the difference here.

Essentially, the two are differentiated by the times they are served and by the meals themselves.

What is Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon tea was eaten about four o’clock, before the evening dinner, as a polite snack. It usually consisted of tea, cakes, bread and sweet butter, and biscuits.

It is said that afternoon tea was introduced in the late 18th century by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. During the 1700s, dinners had been gradually moved from about four o’clock in the afternoon until now seven or eight o’clock at night. And breakfast was at nine or ten in the morning, with a light lunch.  The Duchess became hungry about four o’clock, and found that a light meal served in her room would tide her over until dinner. She found the experience so pleasurable, that she began to invite friends to join her, and thus is the birth of the social afternoon tea.

It originally began with just a light snack of toast or bread with sweet butter, then over time, as the popularity of the ritual increased, began to include more elaborate offerings such as cakes, crumpets, scones, and perhaps some light sandwiches.

Ladies of any social standing should know how to brew and serve a proper cup of tea. She showed off her best tea tray and expensive tea sets that included a teapot and stand, teacups and saucers, a milk pitcher or jug, a sugar bowl, and a basin for holding discarded tea leaves.

There were three levels of afternoon tea:

  • Cream tea: serving tea, scones, jam and Devonshire or clotted cream
  • Light tea: serving tea, scones and sweets
  • Full tea: serving tea, savory items, scones, sweets and dessert

The menu has even evolved to today include three “courses” in the afternoon tea:

  • Savories: appetizers and tiny sandwiches
  • Scones: served with jam and Devonshire or clotted cream
  • Pastries: cookies, cakes, shortbread, and sweets

High Tea at Tea-Upon-Chatsworth

What is High Tea?

High tea was considered to be a main meal, and was generally served between five to six o’clock. It evolved from the 18th century dinner and replaced it among the fashionable. Dinner was then served at eight o’clock or later.

Another term for high tea is “meat tea” as meats were generally served. A typical menu might consist of roast pork, salmon, salad, trifle, white and brown bread, jellies, lemon-cheese tarts, sponge cake, walnut cake, chocolate roll, pound cake, current teacake, curd tart and cheeses. Although tea was the main beverage, hot cocoa and coffee her sometimes served as well.

What is Nursery Tea?

There was even one more type of tea: the nursery tea. It was served at four o’clock to the children and became their evening meal. It was served in the nursery, as children did not dine with the adults. Cake, bread and butter, and jam were usually served, with a sponge cake added for a special birthday celebration.

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