high tea, afternoon tea, what is the difference?

High tea is NOT the dainty meal of petit fours, finger sandwiches and scones served with clotted cream.  That is actually Afternoon Tea. Served generally at 4 or 5 pm in the afternoon, during the Victorian and Edwardian times, it became a welcome break between lunch and the late supper of those times. Afternoon tea was often served at a low table in a parlor or drawing room and thus called ‘low’ tea or ‘afternoon tea’.

In contrast, High Tea is what workers came home to after a hard day's work, especially in northern England, and was served in the early evening.  It was always accompanied by heavier selections such as meat dishes like Cornish pasties, baked beans, cold cuts and cheese.  There was nothing fancy about this meal.  Instead, it was a hearty working class family meal presented informally and often accompanied by a good strong tea. It was typically served at a higher dining table, thus acquiring the definition, 'high' tea.

With so many different types of teas to choose from, selecting a tea suitable for Afternoon Tea can be arduous. Here are our recommendations, fine-tuned by experience, and enjoyed by hundreds of our customers over the 18 years we operated our Tea Room in Tarrytown:

  • Darjeeling - a sure-fire medium strength winner! Not everyone enjoys a strong tea with milk and sugar.  Adds a touch of class to any Afternoon Tea menu.
  • Assams - for those looking for a rich and robust cup, hearty enough for a healthy splash of milk.
  • Ceylons - a good alternative for those who find Darjeelings too mild and Assams too strong.
  • Earl Greys - always a crowd pleaser.  This is a well-known blend, aromatic and elegant.

But lets not forget Oolong and Green Teas, as well as Herbal teas which are also popular. Our suggestions would be:

So, if you are visiting your neighborhood Tea Room or making a reservation at the Plaza or the Ritz for tea, it is Afternoon Tea that you will be enjoying, with the delicious combination of sandwiches, sweets and scones.  And of course, a great cup of Tea.

The confusion in terms and continued misunderstanding between 'Afternoon' and 'High' Tea is probably mingled with our incorrect association of other high-sounding words such as high-falutin, high society, highbrow, high-handed, highness, higher-than thou and similar terms.  But in the world of Tea, the well- known unforgettable collection of sandwiches, desserts and scones is always Afternoon Tea.  Now you know!

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