I will never forget a message my mom, Meg, sent me when she was planning her trip to visit me in London. For her trip, she had a bucket list of everything that she wanted to try and see and do while in the city. Her list was like most, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, changing of the guards, anything Harry Potter related, and afternoon tea. Simple. Easy. Then I got this message… “Okay, so afternoon tea…or high tea? What’s high tea? What’s the difference between afternoon tea, high tea, and low tea? How many teas are there??” My first reaction was to burst out laughing. But that initial reaction was immediately followed by, “Is low tea a real thing?” on Google. The answer was no. But it turns out that Meg was not so far off, and English tea has a longer history and is much more complicated than finger sandwiches and champagne.
Afternoon tea is a British food tradition of sitting down for an afternoon meal of tea, scones, sandwiched, and cake. It is typically served around 4:00 P.M. It originated in the 19th century when Anna, the Duchess of Bedford used it to fill in the gap between lunch and dinner. While may people still have a proper afternoon tea daily, the tradition is mostly saved for holiday and special occasions.
Although the name could fool you, historically, high tea actually was associated with a lower class. The term “high” was used to refer to the high chairs that the working class members of society would sit on when served their tea, as opposed to the low, more comfortable, parlor chairs used by high society members during their tea hours (so I guess you cold say that afternoon tea is technically low tea?) High tea was generally served with heavier dishes, and strong teas as the workers needed it after their shifts. While many households still have “tea” regularly, many households now just have supper.
What is Tea?
Good question… tea is an aromatic beverage, served either hot or cold, and commonly prepared by pouring boiling water over leaves. Tea originated in China, where it was used as a medicinal drink. It quickly spread to Korea and Japan, and eventually to the United Kingdom when the Portuguese Queen Consort introduced in to King Charles II. Different types of tea include (but are certainly not limited to…) white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and black tea, and the type of tea is dependent on the processing it undergoes.
Okay…tea sounds pretty good…so where can I get some?
Another great question. If you follow the link HERE you’ll find a more detailed explanation of the best teas to go to for all of your varying needs. When my mom came to visit, we went to afternoon tea at the Savoy and it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. But don’t worry, I understand that you can’t always fit in a proper afternoon tea whenever you want tea. Don’t worry! In the United Kingdom, tea is sold at almost every single store, in tea bags, so you are in no sort supply of tea.