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What Is English High Tea?

Updated on September 27, 2013
The Perfect English Tea Set for High Tea
The Perfect English Tea Set for High Tea | Source

So What Is English High Tea?

The nearest comparison English High Tea would be what a coffee break or snack time are to Americans, but of course a much fancier version. English High Tea is also known as "meat tea" because during this time, you can actually serve heartier meals as opposed to the lighter offerings served at Afternoon Tea or "Low Tea".

High tea began in the 1600s and was a traditional daily meal for the working class. It was generally eaten between 5pm and 7pm; usually right after they got off from work.

Many considered it to be an early dinner. These days, High Tea has transitioned from being a working class meal to a quintessential English Social Gathering. Everyone, regardless of class or background, can take part and enjoy high tea.

Some people tend to confuse the terms Afternoon Tea and High Tea. They often get the two mixed up or refer to one as if it were the other. In reality, Afternoon Tea and High Tea are quite different. Afternoon Tea, which is another fancy English custom that Americans often imitate, is served between 2pm and 5pm. It consists of lighter dishes such as finger sandwiches and pastries. There are three types of Afternoon Tea:

  • Cream Tea, which includes jams, spreads, scones and tea.
  • Light Tea, which includes pastries, scones and tea.
  • Full Tea, which includes finger sandwiches, pastries, scones, other types of desserts and tea.

English High Tea serves more hearty meals between 5pm and 7pm. A High Tea spread can include dishes such as Shepherd's Pie, Welsh Rarebit, Fish and Chips and Meat Sandwiches. In addition to hot cooked food there's also crackers, cheeses, cold cuts, scones, pastries, desserts and of course, tea. With a more fulfilling selection, many people can consider High Tea to be an early dinner.

Choose The Perfect English Tea for Your High Tea

How to Serve English High Tea

Even though many people take part in this fun and social gathering, there is a right and a wrong way to serve high tea. There are many organizations that actually teach individuals the correct way to host a high tea party or gathering.

These lessons include how to set up the table, decorate the environment, what foods to serve, how to dress and how to serve the tea. If your idea of high tea was getting a bunch of old ladies together in their fancy hats and serving them a plate of cookies and a cup of tea in your living room, then you have plenty to learn about this refined and very well known tradition.

Here are a few tips and pointers on how to serve high tea the right way.

  • To be able to determine what you will serve at your high tea, you must first choose the time and place. This will help you to create a more sufficient menu. When choosing a time for high tea, the best times are between 4pm and 7 pm.
  • The later you set your time, the heavier you may want your meals to be just because it's cutting it close to dinner. Take into consideration; this may be dinnertime for some of your guests.
  • When it comes to choosing the location of your high tea, the best place to do it would be your home. The formal dining room would probably be ideal. But you can also choose an outdoor setting if you have a nice garden or deck where you can set up the tables and chairs.
  • Include comfy cushioned seats, fancy plates and tea cups, place settings or placemats, and a beautiful floral arrangement would bring a touch of elegance to the table. In addition, some soft gentle music playing in the background will help to continue the relaxed and soothing atmosphere.
  • Next is to choose your menu items. First and foremost you have to pick out the kind of tea that you will be serving. You can have one main tea or serve a variety of teas for your guests to choose from.
  • Serve the tea already seeped in a large teapot, or have if you're letting your guests choose their tea bags then you could just have boiling water in your teapot for everyone to pour into their cup. In addition to tea, you should also have some sugar, milk and lemon set out as an option for your guests to put into their tea.
  • Lastly, there are the dishes. For a lighter meal, serve things such as finger sandwiches, pastries, breads and jams, crackers and cheeses, and desserts along with the tea. For a heavier meal, you can serve items like stews, meat pies, warm sandwiches, or fish and chips.
  • You should have all the dishes set out and arranged nicely either on the main table or a buffet table where guests can serve themselves.

English Tea Tastes Best In An English Tea Set

The beautiful and delicate display of an English Tea Set really has the ability of transporting you back to a different era, or a different place in the world. It's something that you closely associate with women from elite social statuses or even with queens from centuries pass. They're so regal and very ornately decorated and truly the centerpiece of any afternoon or high tea.

Many people own English Tea Sets and not because they frequently host tea parties, but mainly just for the beauty that the tea sets possesses. They're usually set in fine China cabinets for display so that guests, family and friends can also take pleasure in their exquisiteness. Some even leave them out on their formal dining rooms as part of the table settings.

Whether you like tea or not, tea sets have an element of enchantment that can get even the coffee addicts to stop drinking their coffees from their mugs and take notice. English Tea Sets are mainly comprised of a teapot, two to four teacups, two to four saucers, a sugar and cream set, and sometimes a serving platter.

The majority of them are made from porcelain. They typically have a floral design hand painted on their exterior; the most popular flower used in the designs is a rose. There are also tea sets that display images of sceneries, gardens, trees and leaves and even fruits. So much attention to detail is put into every piece of the tea set; it takes patience, a steady hand and definitely talent to create artful d├ęcor on them.

Have You Ever Enjoyed English High Tea?

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Great explanation. Very informative.

    • Glenis Rix profile image


      3 years ago from UK

      In my family High Tea is a substantial meal usually eaten at around 5.30 p.m. on Sundays. It replaces a cooked evening dinner when a traditional Sunday lunch of roast meat and vegetables has been consumed. High tea is a cold meal, including cold cuts of meat, sometimes a pork pie, pickles, salad and bread, followed by English trifle and fruit cake.

    • pkmcr profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Cheshire UK

      @faythef It's lovely to be able to sit and enjoy Tea isn't it.

    • faythef profile image

      Faythe Payne 

      5 years ago from USA

      Oh I love going to teas...hardly get the chance..We have a local place here that I enjoy going to when time allows..Its called Tea and Sympathy

    • pkmcr profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Cheshire UK

      Hopefully one day you will try one of our teas Lisa as I am sure you will enjoy them :-)

    • lisa42 profile image


      5 years ago from Sacramento

      It's a shame that the only type of tea I like is Indian chai because both the Japanese and British have such elaborate ways of enjoying tea that I feel like I'm surely missing out. :-)


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