Saturday, April 12, 2014

Steeped in History: The Lowdown on Afternoon Tea!

I often hear the terms “Afternoon Tea” and “High Tea” being used interchangeably. Are they the same, and if so, why the different terms? Well, actually, they are two different things, though the lines have blurred over time. Also, what’s this “Low Tea” I sometimes hear about?

The British tradition of Afternoon Tea is an event usually occurring around 5 pm. This afternoon affair usually involves a cackle of ladies, lace doilies, and a spread of various tiny foods like dainty finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted-cream, confectioneries, and pots of tea.

Afternoon Tea was started in the mid-1800s by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. Back in Anna’s time, there were only two meals each day – a late morning meal, and a dinner held much later in the evening hours of 8 or 9 pm. The story goes that poor Anna had a “sinking feeling” of hunger pangs late in the afternoon. So what’s a girl to do? She decided to have an assortment of snacks alongside cups of tea in her boudoir. Later on, she began inviting her gal pals to join her and made it a social affair. Other bored ladies picked up on the idea and began having their own little parties, and soon, the practice spread across high society. Today, Afternoon Tea is enjoyed by all and out from the privacy of the bedrooms! Hey, who would want breadcrumbs in their beds anyway?

High Tea, on the other hand, was actually a substantial meal had by the working class after a long, hard day at work. It was eaten around 6 pm and consisted of meat dishes, cheese, bread, potatoes, beans, and pots of tea. The working class needed something far heartier to feel fulfilled after putting in hours of labour.

This isn't your grandma's tea party!

So, what’s the terminology difference between Afternoon Tea and High Tea? Apparently, it all has to do with the height of the table rather than the class one belonged to. High Tea was served at the dinner table with dining chairs. Afternoon Tea was enjoyed sitting in low, comfortable chairs like sofas or chaise lounges. Thus, Afternoon Tea was also referred to as “Low Tea”. As time passed, the upper class created a combined version of both High Tea and Afternoon Tea which included more substantial food items.

Apparently, High Tea is still practiced in some areas of the United Kingdom. However, in North America, the event is more similar to traditional Afternoon Tea though both terms are used interchangeably. 
There you have it.  The highs and lows of drinking tea.  Pinkies out now!

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