High Time for High Tea

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Aug 07, 2013 - 01:38 PM

Photo: A High Tea favorite: crumpets with tea and jam. The crumpets were created by The Cake Man bakery in Mathews. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

A High Tea favorite: crumpets with tea and jam. The crumpets were created by The Cake Man bakery in Mathews. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

What is High Tea? We’ve learned all about Afternoon Tea, but what brought about High Tea, which is often a misnomer? Most people refer to afternoon teas as High Tea because they think it sounds regal and lofty, when in actuality, High Tea or "Meat Tea" is dinner.

Of course it is well known that Anna the Duchess of Bedford is given credit for introducing Afternoon Teas to high society. An event of light eating with tea is also called Low Tea because it was usually taken in a sitting room or withdrawing room where low tables (like coffee tables) were placed near sofas and chairs.

During the second half of the Victorian period known as the Industrial Revolution, working families would return home exhausted as they usually worked the day without a break. The table would be set with any number of meats, bread, butter, pickles, cheese and of course tea. Because it was eaten at a high dining table rather than the low tea table and sometimes taken standing up or sitting on high stools, it was termed High Tea. It is considered a full meal, served around 5-6 p.m. The term was usually associated with members of the working class.

In fact, High Tea had a low enough reputation that many people of wealth took a meal that was remarkably similar to High Tea but referred to it as "supper and tea" and other euphemisms to avoid association with the working classes.