Wednesday 16 March 2011

Tea v. Tea v. High Tea v. Afternoon Tea

Tea (the meal): Some people in England, mostly in the North of the country it seems, refer to their evening meal as 'tea' and tend to eat it earlier than those of us who eat dinner (or supper or whatever you want to call it). I don't get it and will probably say something insulting about it, so I'll stop there. 

Tea (the drink):  I've shared my feeling for this drink here and we all know I don't like it, don't drink it, and certainly dont put milk in it (ew!) so if anyone else wants to write a guest post about why the tea is great or what kind of tea is best, do let me know.  We'll revisit tea (the drink) then...

High Tea: Here's where the confusion begins... When most non-British people think of high tea, they probably imagine a gathering of fancy victorian people drinking out of their best china tea cups eating dainty sandwiches. Maybe you're picturing something like this...
Get that image out of your head!  High tea is actually mostly the same as tea (the meal) listed above - a substantial early evening meal sometimes followed by a later lighter meal.  The word high refers to the height of the table, distinguising it from low tea or afternoon tea (see below) which is often served in a sitting room at a lower table such as a coffee table.

Afternoon Tea:  Not exactly as pictured above, but similar. Afternoon Tea is generally held around 3- 4pm and includes the stereotypical finger sandwiches, scones and pastries served on those fancy tiered cake stands.  Rumour has it that back in the day, (mid 1800s) the Duchess of Bedford started having a tray of tea with bread and butter served to her in the afternoon to stave of hunger until the tradtional dinner time of 8 or 9pm.  The hungry Duchess then began to invite her other high-society friends to join her and soon  Afternoon Tea became the 'in-thing' for the upper-class women (and was served in a sitting room on a low table, like a coffee table, setting it apart from high tea. Get it now?)

In modern times, Afternoon Tea is generally served at hotels, restaurants or tea rooms rather than in someone home and is really not as pretentious as it sounds (or maybe I am just more pretentious than I think...).  You don't have to dress in victorian garb, you dont have a fake a plummy accent, you don't have to hold your tea cup with your pinkie out and you don't even need to drink tea (I drink coffee when I do afternoon tea). 

My advice? Skip the drink and the meals and get thee to Afternoon Tea.  Excellent places include The Ritz London, Pennyhill Park Hotel, and The Langham (the winner of Tea Guild's ‘Top London Afternoon Tea' award in 2010).


  1. Oh, I loved living in London when I was there. I was hooked on tea which was better than being hooked on coffee... What great memories!!

  2. I was in Sweden recently and whenever I ordered tea it didn't come with milk. If I asked for milk I got the oddest looks. In fact, even my breakfast cereal didn't come with milk (yoghurt and cottage cheese, yes. Milk, no).

    The only tea that does not need milk is herbal. PG tips without milk is like eating bread without butter!

  3. Brilliant post although I must say that I am devoted tea drinker and I must have it with milk. Joe and Harry summed it up beautifully for me!

    I found your blog via the Happy Homemaker-I love your writing style and will be back again soon!

    Best wishes,

  4. The Orangery at Kinsington Palace is also a great place for afternoon tea. I had tea there and the tea and food was amazing!

  5. Tea (the meal) isn't just a northern thing. It's a class thing. Us workin' class kids in the Sarf [South] 'ad our tea when we got 'ome from school. Our Dad had his when he got home from work (sorry, I can't keep up these dropped aitches.)

    Come the 1980s and Mrs Thatcher, we all became middle-class and started calling it dinner and eating at seven o'clock instead of half-past five.

  6. Hi,
    Interesting blog you have here. Its always fascinating to see how others view us!
    All this high tea, afternoon tea, tea the meal is a mystery to me too and I'm 37 and lived here since the day I was born! You know why? It's because, apart from 0.1% of the population it simply doesn't exist (I made that stat up). We don't stop what we are doing and have high tea or afternoon tea. We have breakfast, lunch (northerners like me refer to this as dinner usually but we often use the term lunch as well), tea (southerners say dinner) and most people have some sort of supper if they are hungry enough. Anything else outside of this is a snack.
    Hope this helps!

  7. Thanks for touching on the class thing. I kept typing and deleting and couldn't decide on a way to assign tea (the meal) to the "working class" without offending. Now you've done it for me and saved me the lashings from those who partake in tea(the meal). Many thanks!

  8. Thanks Duncan, but does a thing not exist simple b/c you don't partake in it? Afternoon tea absolutely does exist even if its a special occasion thing for some and a never-happens thing for another. I am headed to Afternoon tea on Friday (but then again I do live in Surrey and I'm a bit stuck up)

    Thanks for reading. xx

  9. Also to point out, that quite often the meal for children is called "tea", and I live in Holyport (Windsor & Maidenhead). I've heard it referred to this way with both the posher private school parents as well as the working class state school parents that my kids have been in school with. I also made a total stupid American mistake shortly after moving here: went into Greggs for a tea- when the girl asked if I wanted white or black, I thought she meant like "white tea", so I said black. She did give me a strange look then when I asked her if I could have some milk ;)