It’s common to hear people refer to Afternoon Tea as High Tea . . . it just sounds more posh, I guess. Sounds. But in fact, the two are different meals. Yes, tea is a meal. Just ask the British and Kenyans and Indians haha. And High Tea is actually not the posh nosh between the two. I can hear several people gasp. So let me give you the tea on these two teas and how they differ from each other.
Afternoon Tea is also referred to as Low Tea. Afternoon Tea is so named because it is served in the afternoon at around 4 p.m. It was created by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford one afternoon when she was feeling particularly peckish during the long wait between a light lunch and a late supper (to be served between 8 – 9 p.m.) So Anna asked for some tea at around 4 O’Clock in the afternoon and hence the title of the meal. The Low part of Low Tea (same meal) came about because she used to have it in her garden on plush low chairs and tables for comfort and leisure. High Tea on the other hand was usually partaken in on normal high tables and chairs in the kitchen or at the counter and hence the name.
As I’ve mentioned above, Afternoon Tea was created by a Duchess. Soon she started inviting some of her Aristocratic friends over to join her for a spot of tea and it evolved into a high society indulgence that has gained popularity over the centuries. It was a welcome social activity to fill in the gap between main meals. High Tea, in stark contrast was a major meal of the day adopted by the working class/labourers during the Industrial Revolution. They’d be out all day working hard and so needed a good feeding when they got home at around 6 p.m. and the meal included tea. So while Afternoon Tea was more aristocratic, High Tea was for the masses. A family time meal.
Afternoon Tea was not an essential – issa snack, yeah? So it’s mostly comprised of light teas, scones, pastries, finger sandwiches and maybe some bubbly. Quite dainty and not too filling so as to make room for supper later. The tea itself is “properly” served in small, chic bone-china cups. High Tea was a necessity. For sustenance. So it is traditionally a more robust meal that typically includes stronger, richer brews of tea, scones, bread, eggs, cold and hot meats – possibly a hog involved and followed later on by sandwiches sometimes. A proper hearty meal to nourish people who have been toiling all day and worked up an appetite. The tea was usually served in big clay or ceramic mugs.
So Afternoon Tea was established as more of a social event for ladies and a rather bougie affair while High Tea was a proper essential meal for the working class and mostly men. Over the years while Afternoon Tea became more popular, High Tea has kind of collapsed into supper and is no longer a “thing.” But the lines have blurred and Afternoon Tea has been called High Tea again and again over the years. Although this is not traditionally correct, it is widely overlooked. So whether you wanna call it High Tea or Afternoon Tea or Low Tea, just take some time and enjoy this centuries old tradition with friends or family. If you’re looking for somewhere to have some, I am currently doing a slow Afternoon Tea tour of Nairobi and you can read my reviews so far here for Hemigways, here for Nook Cafe and here for The Lord Erroll. My next stop will be coming up soon and I cannot wait for that one. Stay tuned and have a fantastic week ahead! Cheerio.