One question we are often asked at TeBella Tea is, “Aren’t afternoon tea and high tea the same thing?”
The short answer? Nope! They are two very different experiences.
The long answer:
As a collective, Americans have confused afternoon tea with high tea seemingly for generations. Perhaps it is because we associate the word “high” with formality, elegance or rank – think “high court,” “your Highness,” “high command.” It is natural to presume that high tea would represent the more formal of the two offerings, but that is actually incorrect!
The term “high” is actually a reference to the height of the tables upon which this rather rugged, informal evening meal is often served. Whereas afternoon tea was often served at low tables with low parlor chairs, high tea was served at a traditional table with high backed chairs.
High tea constitutes something more closely resembling dinner, heavy with meats and cheeses, pot pies, and other dinner-type foods – and nary a scone in sight. Historically in England, high tea was a working class meal that arose around the time of the Industrial Revolution.
Afternoon tea, on the other hand, is a more formal afternoon affair consisting of savories, scones, and sweets, often served on three-tiered trays. Anna, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford, and one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, is credited with beginning the tradition of Afternoon Tea in England in the 1840s. Supper was often served quite late in mid-19th century London and the fashionable Duchess began requesting tea and cake in her rooms to stave off hunger during the afternoon. She began inviting her friends to join her and the trend quickly caught on among the English aristocracy.
So now that we’ve done a brief overview of high tea, what is served at afternoon tea, exactly?
Afternoon tea traditionally consists of a three-tiered tray service, and you start eating from the bottom tier upwards. The bottom tier consists of finger sandwiches, or some kind of savory mini food: tarts, crostinis…depending on where you take tea, more and more fine dining restaurants like to experiment with their savory tea options. The middle tier is traditionally two types of scones. It is most common to see a combination of plain scones + some kind of flavored scones. Scones are served with clotted cream and jam, and let’s be real: the scones are there to act as a vehicle for piling on as much clotted cream and jam as gravity will permit.
The top tier is an array of miniature desserts. Desserts served will vary depending on the pastry chef, but opera cakes, French macarons, and chocolate truffles are common afternoon tea accoutrements.
One of my favorite aspects of afternoon tea? In many restaurants, scones will be served separate from the rest of the tier, and they brought out when you’re done with the first tier of sandwiches. They’re still warm from the oven, and is there anything better than a cup of tea and a piping hot scone? Truly, that is my idea of bliss.
If you are local to Tampa, you can have afternoon tea with us at Oxford Exchange! Oxford Exchange’s restaurant hosts afternoon tea on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 3-5pm, and we provide the tea for the occasion. Reservations are encouraged.
Have you done afternoon tea somewhere in the world? Where was your favorite tea experience?
If you are interested in exploring other aspects of tea culture, history, or current events, let us know! Email us at email@example.com to suggest a blog post topic. – Cassie