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Teatime, High Tea, Low Tea and Afternoon Tea – Know the Difference

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Picture Credit Wikmedia Commons: China World Hotel Beijing

Although the discovery of tea is attributed to China, Britain has achieved worldwide fame for its tea traditions and the different types can be somewhat confusing. If you don’t know your high from your low or your pies from your petit fours, there is no need to fret. Read on and we will reveal the highs and lows of taking tea in Britain.

Let us begin with High Tea. Contrary to popular belief and despite its aristocratic sounding name, High Tea did not originate amongst upper classes. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Initially, high tea was a working class meal, taken upon arrival home from work, at around 5-6pm. Workers did not have the luxury to stop in the middle of the afternoon for a snack and so this was virtually their main meal of the day, including both meat and vegetables. It was simply named ‘high tea’ because it was enjoyed at a high table – the dining table.

This tradition is why ‘Tea’ became a popular name for the evening meal. Teatime is usually associated with the North of England, Wales, The Midlands and Scotland. People in these areas traditionally call their midday meal dinner and their evening meal tea, whereas the upper social classes and people in the South of England would call the midday meal lunch or luncheon and the evening meal dinner (if formal) or supper (if informal). This differentiation in usage is one of the classic social markers of English and a critical cause for dispute and confusion between Northerners, Southerners even today.

However, Low Tea is a different matter altogether. As we explained in our blog, The History and Etiquette of Afternoon Tea, in the mid-1830’s it was believed that the Duchess of Bedfordshire was suffering from some minor hunger pangs due to the long stretch of time between lunch and the evening meal. To remedy this affliction, The Duchess requested tea, bread and butter and cake during the late afternoon, which was served at a coffee table in her room. When she began inviting friends to join her the practice soon spread to the rest of the country as a popular social affair.

This high class and quintessentially British tradition inherited its name due to the coffee tables of the upper classes. It could not have sustained a working class labourer, but was enough to tide over the leisurely ladies of the upper classes until dinner.

Nowadays, low tea is more commonly referred to as Afternoon Tea. With mostly indulgent fare such as cakes, scones, small sandwiches and the like served with delicate tea ware, afternoon tea is considered a luxurious opportunity to stop, sit, sip and muse on some light conversation. The beauty of it being that anyone can enjoy afternoon tea at anytime, regardless of who they are or the height of their table.

There are a wide selection of venues nationwide offering the traditional afternoon tea experience so search for a venue and book your next afternoon tea party today!

Picture Credit Wikmedia Commons: China World Hotel Beijing

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