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Deciphering British Tea Time - How is High Tea Different from Afternoon Tea?

Updated: May 24

If you are an avid tea drinker, then you may have heard about British tea time. No one likes their tea as much as the British, and if you have visited local homes in the United Kingdom, you may have realised that conversation and laughter flow easily around the table when people are enjoying a planned tea party. If you are planning to host a British-like tea party, then it is important that you understand what Brits mean by High Tea and Afternoon tea.

While these terms are used interchangeably, they are actually quite different. Both High Tea and Afternoon Tea traditions are steeped British history, and the dissimilarities, are a consequence of their ancestries.



Keep on reading as we decipher British tea time and discuss the dissimilarities between High Tea and Afternoon Tea.


Is High Tea same as the Afternoon Tea?


Not at all! The majority of people confuse high tea and afternoon tea to be the same thing. However, according to the ancient British history, high tea was for the lower class, whereas afternoon tea was for the upper class.


What is Afternoon Tea?


Afternoon tea is a food tradition in the UK that contains light meal composed of three courses – tea, sandwiches, and savouries like cake, scones, biscuits, and sweet pastries. No crockery is used, as everything is bite-sized and consumed with fingers.


In the United Kingdom, 4 PM means afternoon tea. It is the time amid lunch and dinner. You can consider afternoon tea as snack time to keep yourself satiated before you take your dinner. It is not intended to replace your dinner, which Brits usually take around 8 PM.


It all started in the 1840s in England when Duchess of Bedford, Georgiana Russell, wanted to munch between lunch and dinner. In the beginning, it was just tea and some snacks. It gained popularity when the Duchess started inviting people over. As years passed, it became a sort of social get-together for the rich social class. New and delicious snacks were introduced that people loved over the cup of tea.



Afternoon tea is also known as ‘low tea’ since it is enjoyed on low tables with cushiony sofas and comfortable chairs in the drawing room.


The Duchess of Bedford never intended to skip her dinner by having tea and snacks in the afternoon, a couple of hours later lunch. She enjoyed it so much so that she started inviting her friends and dedicated an hour or two for gossips and meetings.


Today, however, with the change in lifestyle of people, afternoon tea has become more of a treat now, rather than a stop-gap between lunch and dinner.


It was meant for the wealthy upper class since the working class were still in the factories, fields, and offices doing their chores. They were not allowed the time to sit back, relax, and enjoy some tea and savoury scones.


In the present scenario, the busy lifestyle doesn’t allow people to enjoy afternoon tea with their friends and family. This is the reason it is not saved for special treat and holidays. But, the tradition is still quintessential to the British, as they take time to gather around a table and enjoy small conversations over a cup of tea with some savoury food items. But it is not practised on a daily basis as it used to be. While people do love hosting afternoon tea parties at their homes, they prefer hiring afternoon tea service in restaurants and hotels where everything is taken care of from the type of tea you want to sip to the snacks you want at the table.


If you have never experienced the afternoon tea party, you can consider visiting the Ritz in London. The place is famous for hosting afternoon tea parties. The bookings are in such high demand that if you don’t book early, you may not be able to find a seat. Moreover, Bettys Tea Rooms in Yorkshire is also popular for hosting afternoon tea parties. It was opened in 1919, and things have barely changed there. So, if you want to experience an afternoon tea party to its fullest, you can visit this place.


What is High Tea?


High tea was a working class family supper or evening meal that was consumed around 5-7 PM after they came home from work. High tea consisted of hearty dishes that were meant to give you energy and nourishment after a long day at work. Instead of soft scones and finger sandwiches, it consisted of meat dishes, beans, potatoes, and other heavy dishes.


High tea was not about living a life of luxury, and it was named this way people used to eat their supper on high and large dining tables. Workers in the newly industrialised Britain weren’t allowed the time during the odd hours to have snack time. And they needed sustenance after a hard day of labour. So, the meal they consumed after work was often hot and filling that was accompanied by a cup of strong tea.


In the present scenario, the evening meal in the working class families is still called high tea. However, with the working patterns changing and the change in lifestyle, people now refer to the evening meal as ‘supper.’



So, what’s your take on it? We can say that the word ‘high’ in the phrase ‘high tea’ is the primary differentiator between afternoon tea. However, the table on which both meals are served is also different. As you know, the table used for afternoon tea is quite low in height with enough space to accommodate teapot, cups, and savoury items. The table used in high tea is quite large and high (your traditional dining table that can easily accommodate big pots, pans, and other crockeries).


Both high tea and afternoon tea was just a way for people to enjoy a cup of tea over snacks and make daily life conversations. Today, it is practised less, afternoon tea, in particular. High tea can be considered your normal dinner accompanied by a cup of strong tea.

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