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A Tale of Two Teas: Afternoon Tea and High Tea

When we hear the words 'High Tea' we automatically think of scones and finger sandwiches that are served on tiered dishes, surrounded by dainty linens. But this traditional style of luncheon is actually called Afternoon Tea. Afternoon Tea, or Low Tea, was served in the late afternoon and became the bridge meal between the mid-morning breakfast and a late dinner. It is interesting to know the history of Afternoon Tea. It has actually something to do with the invention of the kerosene lamp. In the mid 1800s the 'upper class' and wealthier homeowners began installing the new kerosene lamps into the rooms of their homes. Because of this, eating after 8:00 pm became possible, and therefore fashionable among the aristocrats. And with every invention comes social change. Legend has it that Anna the Duchess of Bedford in 1840 found herself with a 'sinking feeling' in the late afternoon. This was likely due to the huge gap between meals. She asked her servants to deliver to her a tray of bread and butter, cakes and some tea (a very fashionable drink at the time). She soon began sharing her delightful new ritual with her friends. It wasn’t long before 'Afternoon Tea’ spread throughout high society. In no time, it became a favourite pastime of ladies of leisure in the English aristocracy. By the 1920s, the Afternoon Tea craze was at its peak with a jam-packed guest lists, pageantry, servants, silver tea pots, fine linens, musicians, elegant teacups, and the best tea that money could buy. High Tea is another story altogether. High Tea was a 5 o’clock supper for the 'lower class' workers after a hard day of labor. It generally consisted of a heavy meal of meat dishes such as steak and kidney pie, a fish dish of pickled salmon, baked goods usually crumpets, vegetables such as potatoes and onion cakes, and other full-bodied foods such as baked beans. And of course, a mug of tea. The dinner was served usually at high wooden tables where everyone could easily gather. Thus, 'High Tea'! When the idea of Afternoon Tea became popular in other parts of the world, hotels referred to the Afternoon Tea as a “High Tea” because it sounded more sophisticated. Even the Ritz in London England advertises “High Tea” because so many of their customers are tourists. Whatever you like to call it, High Tea, Low Tea or Afternoon Tea, it is a delight not to be missed!

Jeannie Vaage, Etiquette Consultant, VIP Protocol
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