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High Tea – it’s a great way to spend time catching up with friends or even spending Mother’s Day with mum, but where did the tradition of High Tea originate from? We did some research and learned all about the delicious origins of this unique tradition. Next time you drink tea and bite into a freshly baked scone, considered that the first person to do just that, did it over 150 years ago!
The origins of High Tea
While in Australia we call it High Tea, in England (where the tradition originated), it is known as Afternoon Tea. Afternoon tea is typically a light meal, served between the hours of 4pm and 6pm. It originated among the wealthy classes of England during the 1840s, but it was only during the latter part of the 19th century that the tradition was observed by both the upper and middle classes.
During a session of Afternoon Tea, tea was traditionally brewed in a tea pot and served with sugar and milk – this provided additional energy for the working class who generally consumed less calorie-dense meals but held more physically demanding jobs. The labourer’s experience of Afternoon Tea was far more modest than that of the upper class and commonly consisted of a small sandwich or a baked snack (such as a scone) that had been pre-packed for them in the morning.
For the more privileged, Afternoon Tea was far more luxurious. Sandwiches were customarily filled with ingredients such as cucumber, egg, cress, fish paste, ham, and smoked salmon. The dessert portion of afternoon tea often featured scones with whipped cream and jam, as well as cakes and pastries such as Battenberg cake, fruit cake or Victoria sponge.
Afternoon Tea is now often referred to as old-fashioned tea, the at-home tea, the family tea and high tea. These days, to experience a true Afternoon Tea or High Tea, there are many hotels and tea shops that specialise in just that.
Image via China World Hotel, Beijing
High Tea Culinary Delights
Today, High Tea is a very formal affair. Beverages on offer include not only tea, but sometimes also champagne. When it comes to the fare on offer, the traditional scones with fresh cream and jam are commonly served alongside savoury plates such as sandwiches, mini quiches and tarts.
While cakes are still served at High Tea, the cakes have become even more luxurious, often featuring items such as mini dessert tarts, mini pannacottas, crème caramels, crepes and sometimes even fondue. In hotels and tea shops, the beautifully decorated food is often served on an ornate tiered stand to show it off in all its glory.