The “tea meals” referred to as high tea and afternoon tea originally started as social dining traditions in England and then spread to other English speaking countries in differing forms. The primary distinction between differing tea meals is the time of day, food served, and the location of the tea meal.
An early evening meal with tea served typically eaten between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., this tea serves as a substitute for both afternoon tea and the more substantial evening meal. The term comes from the meal being eaten at the “high” or main dining table, instead of the smaller lounge or low table. Cold meats, eggs and/or fish, cakes and sandwiches are integral to the meal. Though in a family setting, it is less formal and may include small sandwiches, cookies, pastry, and fruit.
Afternoon tea, which is also referred to as low tea, includes a light meal typically eaten around 4:00 p.m. Traditionally, the tea and food are served on a lounge (or low) table, which is where it gets its name. Loose tea is brewed and served in a teapot with milk and sugar. The tea is usually accompanied by a variety of sandwiches that may include cucumber, egg and cress, tuna, ham, and/or smoked salmon. Scones (with butter, clotted cream and jam), cakes and pastries are typically served, as well. While afternoon tea used to be an everyday event in certain cultures, in current times it is more likely to be a treat in a hotel, café, or tea shop.
Hosting British Style Tea Parties
Treat your guests to a British style tea gathering. Tea parties are great ways to entertain friends and meet new neighbors. While hosting a tea does not need to be elaborate, one way to create a special experience is to throw a party with a British tea theme. The English have tea at 4 p.m., so that is the time to schedule your tea gathering. Be sure invitations state the hours, from 4 pm to 6 pm, to avoid anticipation of dinner.
Decorating for this theme is easy. Use lace handkerchiefs, books or jewelry for a British Victorian look. Add flowers for elegance – try yellow roses to symbolize friendship – a white lace tablecloth, and your silver tea service for a decorative table.
Serve tea with well-adorned pastries or light sandwiches such as cucumber or watercress finger sandwiches. Scones should be served with whipping cream and jam.
Award the honor of pouring tea to a special guest; this person will be the only one who pours. Whole milk, not skim, is added to the cup before the tea for flavor. Add sugar to taste, if desired.
In addition to your tea equipage, each guest will require a matching teacup and saucer, spoon and fork, small plate, and cloth napkin. You also will need a plate of lemon wedges, a container full of packets of sweeteners, and servers for whole milk. Lumps of sugar instead of regular refined sugar add an extra something that will delight guests.
Your invitations should reflect the theme. For a British tea party, hand address and mail 10 to 14 days before your party date. Ask guests to RSVP 5 days before your event so you will have enough time to plan. While not a necessity, it is a nice gesture to offer small gifts or party favors to your guests. Try for special chocolates or other candies, notebooks or other mementos that will remind your guests of your special time together.
You’ll want to brew a number of different teas for your guests to enjoy. Suggestions include an Earl Grey blend, English Breakfast tea, herbal and a decaffeinated offering.