Through the years, tea time has become one of the most quintessential of English customs. Though the story of tea began in China in 2737 BC and became widely popularized throughout Chinese and Japanese culture, our versions of afternoon tea and high tea that we are familiar with today, came from a modernized tradition that began in Europe.
Legend has it, in the 1840s, Anna, the Duchess of Bedford ordered tea, bread and butter, and cake to battle late afternoon “hunger spells” during the time between lunch and the evening meal. After sharing her delightful habit with friends, afternoon tea evolved into a popularized social event among English aristocracy. By the 1920s, tea time had progressed to a whole new level complete with pageantry, musicians, elegant chinaware, and the best quality tea. Contrary to what many would believe, this posh tradition is not considered high tea.
While they are both steeped in British history, there is a difference between afternoon tea and high tea.
High tea is not a fancy as many assume, but rather, the main meal of the day for the working class. It originated during the Industrial Revolution when tired workers would return home looking forward to a hot, substantive meal that could include meat and fish dishes as well as breads and desserts. This was more like a light meal served with tea served at a high table, like a dining table or a high counter.
Hardly a humble affair, afternoon tea has historically been called ‘low tea,’ since it is most often taken at a low table, like a coffee table or armchair. It is served during mid afternoon around 4 pm and would serve selectable scones, tea sandwiches, and small cakes like petit fours.
You can see there are distinct differences in the history of afternoon tea and high tea. And high tea isn’t as sophisticated as you might have thought. Although the phrases ‘afternoon tea’ and ‘high tea’ are often used as synonyms, they are far from similar.
For those who would like to experience a taste of this tradition, Afternoon Tea is served at Oxford Exchange on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 3-5 pm. Tea is served from TeBella Tea Company, a local boutique tea retailer with one of their Tampa Bay area locations in Oxford Exchange. Choose from premium loose leaf tea from TeBella Tea Company. Choose from Traditional Tea, Champagne Tea, OE Children’s Tea, and Simply Scones & Tea. Each order comes with your choice of tea and a unique selection of sweet and savory bites, and is served in The Conservatory.