The presentation of “high tea” takes place today all over the world, but where did it all begin?
Today you will see hotels and other establishments serving “high tea”, but traditionally what we know today as high tea; was known as “low” or “afternoon tea”, and was served to the upper classes around four o’clock. Afternoon tea consisted of sandwiches with their crusts cut off, scones with jams and clotted cream, and a variety of homemade cakes and pasties, all served with a selection of teas. High tea, on the other hand, was a substantial meal served in middle and working class households around 5:00pm. These terms were derived from the height of the table at which the tea was served.
Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford is immortalised as being the creator of the afternoon tea; while residing at her country residence, Woburn Abbey, England. Anna struggled with having only two meals per day:- a large breakfast in the morning and an even larger dinner in the evening around 8:00pm, as was the fashion in 1840’s Britain. She solved the problem by instructing her servants to bring her plates of cakes, biscuits and other favoured fancies, to be served secretly in her private rooms – away from disapproving eyes. Eventually, she was forced to confess to her wicked ways, after gossip circulated about her afternoon nibbles. Anna was surely not the only Lady to suffer these afternoon pangs, because once her secret was exposed, other society ladies seized the moment, and announced they would follow the trendsetting Duchess.
These afternoon teas became a private social event where ladies of society could engage and climb the social ladder. It wasn’t until later when Queen Victoria took up the ritual that these occasions became more of an event. The less elite in society, weren’t to be out done and more modest forms of the afternoon tea were created including “cream teas” or “Devonshire teas”, where tea was accompanied by only scones with jams and clotted cream.
The term “high tea” seems to have evolved outside of the UK and may have come about by a simple misunderstanding of the phrase. High tea sounds slightly more elite than the correct term of afternoon tea. However it came about, we now accept it as a term for a social gathering where you are served tea with small savouries, sandwiches, cakes, scones and pastries. Today we can attend high tea at numerous famous hotels, tearooms, and cafes around the world; we can participate in high tea parties, high tea buffets, and we can even take a high tea tour on a double-decker bus.
High tea is served in just about every part of the world today, from At.mosphere lounge at over 440 metres high on the 122nd floor of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai….. I suppose that’s taking ‘high tea’ to a different level! To the Tiffin Room at the iconic Raffles Hotel, Singapore; or in the corridors of power in Washington at the Park Hyatt, Washington DC, where they boast one of the most expensive tea collections in the US. Even in England, the hotels today refer to high tea, and where should one go when in London, for one’s high tea, where else but The Ritz, in their extravagant Palm Court!
Pomp and ceremony is all part of the high tea fashion. It offers the opportunity to step out in style, feel a little posh and maybe slightly regal. Remember, after all it was the British aristocracy that started it all off.
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