Anything involving delicious food and a warm cup of tea sounds delightful to us, But there are still many questions about high tea vs afternoon tea. Although they both stem from British traditions of sharing food and drink with good company, there is a big difference between high tea and afternoon tea.

What is Afternoon Tea?

Although afternoon tea may seem like a popular pastime for everyone, originally, this afternoon treat was secluded to the more affluent upper classes, it was an opportunity for Edwardian ladies to step out and catch up with friends over tea and sandwiches. This often occurred in sophisticated locations such as hotels, and afternoon tea included a mix of small, savoury and sweet treats.

Due to its growing popularity, afternoon tea has evolved over the years and is available in cafes, pubs, hotels, restaurants and even home delivery. Its menu has also developed with the inclusion of pastries and scones or tailoring to specific cuisines and themes. You can now switch the classic cup of tea to a glass of bubbles!

Traditionally, afternoon tea was served around 4 pm, in between lunch and supper. However, these days, it is seen more as an early afternoon treat, starting as early as midday.

What is served at Afternoon Tea?

For elegant ladies, small, delicate treats were more suited for their social gatherings. This made way for the dainty sandwiches and cakes we typically associate with afternoon tea. Previously, afternoon tea was always served with a cup of tea. This is still true today, but as we mentioned, it can sometimes be swapped out for another beverage.

For modern-day afternoon teas, you tend to experience finger sandwiches filled with egg and cress, salmon, cheese and ham, or cucumber. You often have one of each for variety. These will be accompanied by savoury pastries such as quiche and topped off with sweet cakes, brownies or scones covered with jam and cream (or cream and jam if you prefer!).

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What is High Tea?

During the early to mid 19th century, a ‘tea break’ didn’t really exist for working men and women. They wouldn’t have been allowed to gather around the kettle for a quick chat and cup of tea as we do and would have had to wait until they finished work and returned home before eating. By this time, understandably, they would want something substantial to fill their rumbling stomachs.

The name ‘High Tea’ has two references. The first is because this was usually the first cup of tea workers would have on returning home. Second, it would be served on a high table with high-backed chairs, earning the name ‘high’ in its title.

High tea is served at around 5pm when the workers arrive home. This is also why high tea is associated with the working classes. High tea essentially still exists, but with changes in modern working times, it has shifted to 6 or 7 pm and is now called ‘dinner’ or ‘supper’. But it holds the same tradition of a hearty meal after a long day’s work.

What is served at High Tea?

As high tea was aimed towards the working classes after several hours of little or no food, high tea was intended to fill them up! This involved warm, hearty, homemade meals such as meat, stews, potatoes, and vegetables, including carrots and parsnips, and always with a side of bread for dipping. These meals would always be accompanied by a strong cup of tea to relax them after a long day.

Modern high tea still consists of these wholesome meals, but whereas in the 1940s, where you had to cook with whatever ingredients you had available, we can now cook a variety of hearty dishes. Restaurants and hotels offering high tea often imply a more elegant and refined meal and include a wider variety of food with high-end meat or fish or a more adventurous combination of flavours. Most likely, the standard cup of tea will also be swapped out for a glass of wine or beer, too.

What’s the difference between High Tea and Afternoon Tea?

The names of high tea and afternoon tea are often (incorrectly) interchangeable. Yes, at their core lies the idea of sharing food and drink, but they do hold opposite purposes. We’ve listed six clear differences between high tea and afternoon tea below:

1. When they’re served

Afternoon Tea is eaten earlier in the day, with modern traditions preferring a lunchtime serving between 12 – 4 pm. High tea remains the late afternoon or supper time meal; anytime after 5 pm is considered ‘high tea’.

2. Where they’re served

Afternoon tea has remained true to its origins and tends to be consumed in restaurants, hotels and other hospitality places. High tea was traditionally served at home and still is if we link it to ‘dinner time’, but it can also be served in restaurants, hotels, etc.

3. What they serve

This is a big difference, as afternoon tea prefers the petite and dainty side of sweet and savoury snacks. Although accompanied by a cup of tea, this is sometimes switched out for prosecco or, in some cases, cocktails! High tea remains a wholesome meal, something hearty like meat and potatoes to fill you up.

4. Their meal sizes

Afternoon tea specialises in small finger foods, items that are easy to pick up and take small bites, slowly grazing through your selection. High tea involves a much larger and more substantial meal to feed hungry workers.

5. Their heritage

It’s important to note where each meal originated, as it is significant in how and what is served. Afternoon tea was very much suited to the upper classes and regarded as a formal, social gathering. High tea is linked to working classes with a humble, family feel.

6. The table type

As we mentioned, high tea earned the ‘high’ because these meals were served and eaten on high tables with high-backed chairs. Whereas afternoon tea, traditionally, would be served on a ‘low’ table, like a coffee table. These days, for ease and comfort, afternoon tea is served at a more convenient height.

Time for Afternoon Tea?

Continuing with tradition, our Afternoon Teas are intended to be shared with loved ones. Either as a gift or a get-together for a special occasion, we serve a decadent mix of sweet and savoury treats with tea or coffee and a picturesque view of our grounds.

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