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The Difference Between Afternoon Tea and High Tea

April 09, 2018  |     |   0 Comment

Growing up in Newfoundland, sipping tea instead of coffee was more of “the norm.”  I remember my grandparents putting on the kettle and making pots of Red Rose or Tetley orange pekoe tea to sip on for the morning, or to have whenever anyone was around and we were spending some social time together.

The tradition of sipping tea made its way into our family through my mother, who was a huge fan of “afternoon tea.”  As a child, my mom enjoyed taking my sister and me to restaurants for  afternoon tea – our favourite part was the cakes and pastries!   As an adult, I remember accompanying my mom on a business trip to London, England where she treated me to a traditional afternoon tea service one day at an absolutely beautiful tea-house just across the street from Harrods.  It was such a beautiful and grown-up experience.  And the tradition continued when she hosted an “afternoon tea birthday party” for my sister and me when we each turned 40, at beautiful hotels that specialized in this service such as Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s, and the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa.

It is not uncommon to hear someone use the term “high tea” when they are actually referring to “afternoon tea.”  Though the terms are often used interchangeably, they are distinctly different from one another.  The “tea meals” originally started as social dining traditions in Britain and then spread to other English speaking countries in differing forms.  The main difference between the tea meals is the time of day it is served, the food that accompanies the tea, and the location of the meal.

Afternoon tea, also known as “low tea,” is traditionally served at a low table, such as a coffee table in a sitting room. It includes a light meal, typically eaten 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Loose tea is brewed and served in a teapot with milk and sugar. The most popular kinds of tea served during afternoon tea include black teas such as Earl Grey, Assam, Ceylon and Darjeeling. The tea is usually accompanied by a variety of fancy sandwiches such as cucumber, egg and watercress, tuna, ham or smoked salmon.  Scones with butter, clotted cream and jam along with bite-sized portions of cakes and pastries are also commonly served.  Afternoon Tea has become very popular at hotels and restaurants, so while it may be referred to as “low tea”, it can also be served at a dining table outside one’s home!

High tea, on the other hand, is an early evening “light” meal with tea served typically between 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.  This tea is a substitute for both afternoon tea and a more substantive evening meal.  The term comes from the meal being eaten at the “high” or main dining room table instead of a low table such as the coffee table.  A typical high tea meal includes more substantive fare such as meat, fish and egg dishes, along with bread, butter and desserts.

Some of my most pleasant memories are those that include sipping tea, eating scones piled high with clotted cream and homemade jam, and appreciating the company of those around me.   So whether you prefer to have afternoon tea or high tea, both teas are special ways to enjoy time with family and friends while savouring scrumptious fare and delicious soothing teas.


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