Afternoon Tea vs. High Tea (Thanks, Duchess Anna!)

Having tea with a small snack is a pastime almost everyone has indulged in, and in certain countries, it can be a very extravagant affair. So today, we're going to travel over to Britain and back in time for the next few minutes to learn a bit about the posh traditions of afternoon tea and high tea (yes, they are two different things!)

Some say that it’s history, others say it’s more of a legend...but it’s generally unanimously agreed on that one of the most famous traditions in the world started because a certain lady named Anna, Duchess of Bedford, kept finding herself famished in between meals.

In her defense, in the 1800s in Britain there were traditionally only two meals being served: breakfast and dinner. So right around 3 or 4 in the afternoon when she would feel fatigued from the long stretch of time after breakfast (coupled with the sinking realization that dinner was still at least 3 hours away), she began to order a pot of tea and some light refreshments to her room. But this good duchess wasn’t going to keep this new routine to herself, and so she started inviting friends to come over and join in her afternoon interlude. Soon, word spread among the ladies and traveled back to London, and before long, a new tradition of afternoon tea was started in Britain among the upper class!

This afternoon tea (or low tea, so named for the low tables it was said to have been served on) is where we find the ideal setting many have in mind today when they think about a midday tea: an Earl Grey or black-based tea; the scones and other dainty sweets like macarons, cream, fruit spreads; and maybe even finger sandwiches.

High tea, on the other hand, was a totally different occasion with a bit of a misleading name for modern minds. Many who aren’t familiar with the term today confuse afternoon tea and high tea as being the same thing, but these two couldn’t be more different!

Although it also started in the 1800s, high tea was adopted by the lower class of Britain who usually couldn’t afford the time or money to take a separate midday food break and tended to finish their workday later towards the evening. When they took their tea around 5, 6, or 7 in the evening, they needed a heartier meal since this was also right around dinner time. So instead of scones and other light delicacies, their high tea usually included breads, meat pies, fish, eggs, vegetables, and other heavier foods. If it was hearty, it was had at high tea!

In the same vein as low tea, high tea got its name from the tables that dinner would be served on, which were, you guessed it: high!

Each tea tradition is unique and offers its own experience, but it's safe to say that without a particularly hungry lady in Bedford, neither might have flourished. So today, we lift our cups to that lovely duchess! And we encourage you if you already haven’t, find a tea shop or restaurant who serves afternoon tea and experience this decades-old tradition for yourself. You won't be disappointed!


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