History of High Tea - History English Afternoon Tea
High Tea is often a misnomer. Most people refer to afternoon tea as high
tea because they think it sounds regal and lofty, when in all actuality,
high tea, or "meat tea" is dinner. High tea, in Britain, at any rate,
tends to be on the heavier side. American hotels and tea rooms, on the
other hand, continue to misunderstand and offer tidbits of fancy
pastries and cakes on delicate china when they offer a "high tea."
(because it was usually taken in the late afternoon) is also called "low
tea" because it was usually taken in a sitting room or withdrawing room
where low tables (like a coffee table) were placed near sofas or chairs
generally in a large withdrawing room. There are three basic types of
Afternoon, or Low Tea:
- Tea, scones, jam and cream
- Tea, scones and sweets
- Tea, savories, scones, sweets and
In England, the
traditional time for tea was four or five o'clock and no one stayed after
seven o'clock. Most tea rooms today serve tea from three to five o'clock.
The menu has also changed from tea, bread, butter and cakes, to include
three particular courses served specifically in this order:
Tiny sandwiches or appetizers
- Served with jam and Devonshire or
- Cakes, cookies, shortbread and
History of Tea Time
Prior to the introduction of tea
into Britain, the English had two main meals, breakfast and dinner.
Breakfast was ale, bread, and beef. During the middle of the
eighteenth century, dinner for the upper and middle classes had shifted
from noontime to an evening meal that was served at a fashionable late
hour. Dinner was a long, massive meal at the end of the day.
Afternoon tea may have been started by the
French. According to the monthly newsletter called TeaMuse, in the
writings of Madame de Sévigné (1626 to 1696), one
of history's greatest letter writers on life in 17th Century France:
little known fact, but after its introduction to Europe in the 17th
century tea was tremendously popular in France. It first arrived in
Paris in 1636 (22 years before it appeared in England!) and quickly
became popular among the aristocracy. . . Tea was so popular in
Paris that Madame de Sévigné, who chronicled the doings of the Sun
King and his cronies in a famous series of gossipy letters to her
daughter, often found herself mentioning tea. "Saw the Princesse de
Tarente [de Sévigné wrote]... who takes 12 cups of tea every day...
which, she says, cures all her ills. She assured me that Monsieur de
Landgrave drank 40 cups every morning. 'But Madame, perhaps it is
really only 30 or so.' 'No, 40. He was dying, and it brought him
back to life before our eyes.' . . . Madame de Sévigné also reported
that it was a Frenchwoman, the Marquise de la Sablière, who
initiated the fashion of adding milk to tea. "Madame de la Sablière
took her tea with milk, as she told me the other day, because it was
to her taste." (By the way, the English delighted in this "French
touch" and immediately adopted it.)
- Queen Elizabeth l (1533-1603)
granted permission for the charter of the British East India Company (1600-1858), also known as the John Company, on
December 31, 1600 to establish trade routes, ports, and trading relationships with the Far
East, Southeast Asia, and India Trade in spices was its original focus, but later traded in cottons, silks, indigo, saltpeter, and tea.
Due to political and other factors, the tea trade
didn’t begin until the late 1670s.
- King Charles II
(1630-1685) while in exile, married the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de
Braganza (1638–1705). Catherine's dowry was the largest ever
registered in world history. Portugal gave to England two million golden
crusados, Tangier and Morocco in North Africa, Bombay in India, and also
permission for the British to use all the ports in the Portuguese
colonies in Africa, Asia and the Americas thus giving England their first direct trading rights to tea.
As Charles had grown up
in the Dutch capital, both he and his Portuguese bride were confirmed
tea drinkers. When the monarchy was re-established, they brought this
foreign tea tradition to England with them. Her influence made tea more
popular amongst the wealthier classes of society, as whatever the royals
did, everyone else wanted to copy. Soon tea mania spread swept across
England, and it became the beverage of choice in English high society,
replacing ale as the national drink.
The reign of Charles II
was crucial in laying the foundations for the growth of the British tea
trade. The East India Company was highly favored by Charles II. Charles
confirmed its monopoly, and also extended it to give the Company
unprecedented powers to occupy by military force places with which they
wished to trade (so long as the people there were not Christians).
- The poet and politician Edmund Waller (1606-1687) wrote a poem in
honor of Queen Catherine for her birthday crediting her with making tea
a fashionable drink amongst courtiers:
Venus her Myrtle, Phoebus has his bays;
Tea both excels, which she vouchsafes to praise.
The best of Queens, the best of herbs, we owe
To that bold nation which the way did show
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.
The Muse's friend, tea does our fancy aid,
Regress those vapours which the head invade,
And keep the palace of the soul serene,
Fit on her birthday to salute the Queen
By 1700, tea was on sale by
more than 500 coffee houses in London. Tea drinking became even more
popular when Queen Anne (1665–1714) chose tea over ale as her regular breakfast drink. Anne's character was
once portrayed as a tea-drinking, social nonentity with lesbian
second half of the Victorian Period, known as the Industrial Revolution,
working families would return home tired and exhausted. The table would
be set with any manner of meats, bread, butter, pickles, cheese and of
course tea. None of the dainty finger sandwiches, scones and pastries of
afternoon tea would have been on the menu. Because it was eaten at a
high, dining table rather than the low tea tables, it was termed "high"
According to legend, one of Queen Victoria's (1819-1901) ladies-in-waiting, Anna Maria
Stanhope (1783-1857), known as the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the creator of
afternoon teatime. Because the noon meal had become skimpier, the Duchess suffered
from "a sinking feeling" at about four o'clock in the afternoon.
first the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few
breadstuffs. Adopting the European tea service format, she invited
friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o'clock in
her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread
and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea. This summer
practice proved so popular, the Duchess continued it when she returned
to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea
and a walking the fields." The practice of inviting friends to come for
tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other social hostesses.
For a more detailed Tea Etiquette, check out
Etiquette Faux Pas and Other Misconceptions About Afternoon Tea
Holding a Tea Cup:
In order for one not to spill the hot liquid onto oneself, the
proper way to hold the vessel of a cup with no handle is to place
one’s thumb at the six o'clock position and one’s index and middle
fingers at the twelve o'clock position, while gently raising one’s
pinkie up for balance.
Tea cups with a handle are held by placing
one’s fingers to the front and back of the handle with one’s pinkie
up again allows balance.
or hold your tea cup in the air. When not in use, place the tea cup
back in the tea saucer.
If you are at a buffet tea hold the tea
saucer in your lap with your left hand and hold the tea cup in your
right hand. When not in use, place the tea cup back in the tea
saucer and hold in your lap. The only time a saucer is raised
together with the teacup is when one is at a standing reception.
porcelain teacups were made in China, starting around 620 A.D.
These small cups had no handles. In order for one not to spill the
hot liquid onto oneself, the proper way to hold the vessel was to
place one's thumb at the six o'clock position and one's index and
middle fingers at the twelve o'clock position, while gently raising
one's pinkie up for balance.
Pinkie up does mean straight up in the air,
but slightly tilted. It is not an affectation, but a graceful way to
avoid spills. Never loop your fingers through the handle, nor grasp
the vessel bowl with the palm of your hand.
Do not stir your tea, with your teaspoon, in sweeping circular
Place your tea spoon at the six o'clock position and softly
fold the liquid towards the twelve o'clock position two or three
Either place the iced teaspoon on the side of another plate or ask the server or
hostess to remove the spoon from the table. Never leave the spoon in the glass
especially when actually drinking your tea.
Milk is served with tea,
not cream. Cream is too heavy and masks the taste of the tea.
Although some pour their milk in the cup first, it is probably
better to pour the milk in the tea after it is in the cup in order
to get the correct amount.
Remove the tea bag from the cup and place it on a side saucer or in a slop bowl.
Do not use the string to wrap around or squeeze the tea bag.
When serving lemon with
tea, lemon slices are preferable, not wedges. Either provide a small fork or
lemon fork for your guests, or have the tea server can neatly place
a slice in the tea cup after the tea has been poured. Be sure
never to add lemon with milk since the lemon's citric acid will
cause the proteins in the milk to curdle.
Do not use your tea to wash down food. Sip, don’t slurp, your tea and swallow
Lots of recipes for your
Afternoon Tea or High Tea
Afternoon Tea Renaissance - The Plaza's Palm Court
- Ellen Easton's interesting article on tea time at the newly renovated
Plaza Hotel in New York city.
A Rose Garden Tea with the Queen - Maintaining a tradition that began in 1860 with Queen Victoria, every year
Queen Elizabeth II opens the private gardens at Buckingham Palace to host
three afternoon tea parties, each attended by 8,000 guests respectively.
Etiquette Faux Pas and Other Misconceptions About Afternoon Tea
- Due to the new popularity of Afternoon Tea, many people have jumped on the
bandwagon, including hotels, caterers, party planners, and protocol
and etiquette “experts.” While their enthusiasm is well
intended, unfortunately a great deal of misinformation is being
perpetuated by these “experts”.
Tea Sandwich Recipes
Also learn how to make tea sandwich ahead of time and hints and tip on making tea sandwiches.
The Afternoon Tea Gowns of the La Belle Epoque (1880-1914), known as "The Beautiful Era."
Understanding Tea Time Service - Afternoon Tea is one of the most special times of the day. An occasion
one looks forward to with great anticipation and high expectations for a perfect experience. But have you ever
considered what your perfect experience entails to produce?
Check out more of Ellen Easton's tea articles and tea recipes called