Created on: January 09, 2013 Last Updated: January 11, 2013
High tea and afternoon tea are British traditions that are often confused. The more commonly known afternoon tea is a light meal or snack traditionally served around 4pm in the afternoon. It began in the 1840s when tea became a popular drink amongst the upper classes and, when accompanied by finger food, it staved off hunger until the evening meal. Laborers, on the other hand, would return home from work hungry and in need of something quick and usually hot at around six o’clock, which became known as high tea. What you serve at high tea these days really depends on what you feel like and what you choose to eat — there really are no set rules about the menu. Generally, however, the following items may be served.
Although you don’t have to drink tea at high tea, most people would choose to do so. The variety of tea drunk is really down to preference; high tea at the Savoy, for example, will be along the lines of afternoon tea and involve a range of teas, whereas high tea at someone’s home is more likely to involve one of the cheaper brands. The tea is traditionally brewed in a teapot and more likely to be served in mugs, unlike the china cups and matching chinaware required for afternoon tea.
Bread and butter
The dainty finger food served at afternoon tea might have been acceptable for the upper classes, but for the lower classes, who were less likely to afford tea in the 1800s due to high taxation and monopolized trade, it was probably out of the question. In addition, the heavy professions of the working class would have meant that something more substantial was required. If hot food was not an option, then it would probably involve hunks of bread and butter or lard, possibly accompanied by cheese, meat and fruit and vegetables if available.
Fish and chips
Laborers in the coastal areas of the United Kingdom would have had ready access to seafood and are likely to have been served a meal of fish and chips, which could either be quickly prepared at home, or from a fish and chip shop. Nowadays, a fish and chip supper is far from a cheap option, but originally, it would have been relatively cheap, particularly for those who worked in the fishing industry.
Bangers and mash
Sausages were a cheap way for householders to serve meat in the past, and the tradition lingers on. They are often served with mashed potatoes, fried onions and, these days at least, some vegetables. The resulting meal is quick to prepare and, washed down with a mug or two of tea, is filling. More time-consuming meals, such as a Sunday roast, would have been saved for the weekends when householders had a little more time free.
These days, high tea is more likely to be called dinner or supper, but the basic premise remains the same — it is something quick and easy to prepare that will satisfy someone after a day at school or work. With the advent of convenience food, there are a wide range of meals available and, because of influences from overseas, dishes such as curry and spaghetti bolognaise make frequent appearances.
Despite the inclusion of the word "high," high tea is anything but aristocratic and shouldn’t be confused with afternoon tea. These days even British people are unsure of the difference as evident in the Guardian Newspaper. Perhaps both types of "tea" should be considered as traditions that are largely obsolete.
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