Difference between high tea and afternoon tea

High Tea and Afternoon Tea are often misunderstood from one another. Although both are of British descent, they’re not the same in the slightest.

In fact, one is more formal and favors manners while the other is a filling meal after a long day.

In this blog post, I’ll discuss the differences between High Tea and Afternoon Tea.         

What is High Tea?

Although misleading, High Tea was not a fancy affair. It was for the lower class and served at a “high table” setting like a dinnertable or countertop. It was informal and more of a filling meal served with tea after working a long day.

High Tea does not include finger foods like Afternoon Tea. However, it’s common to mix these meals up because of their names. High Tea made up for the lack of lunch break and was served immediately when people got home around 5 to 7 pm. Due to how savory and late High Tea was, I would consider it supper.

High Tea includes items such as:

  • Cold cuts of meats
  • Cheeses
  • Meat dishes like steak
  • Fish dishes like salmon
  • Savory pies
  • Bread
  • Vegetables such as potatoes or onion cakes
  • And other hot dishes like baked beans

What is Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon Tea is a light meal served between 3 and 4 pm to fill the gap between lunch and dinner. It consists of tea and small bites of food like finger sandwiches (no crust!) as well as sweets like scones.

Sometimes Afternoon Tea is called “Low Tea” because it is served while sitting at a low table setting. Just because cakes and macarons are served, doesn’t mean to ignore mannerisms! It was an affair to be enjoyed. Upper-class women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea.

Whenever I think of a fancy tea party with all the beautiful china and elegant dishes, this takes the cake. (See what I did there?) Tea drinking became popularized by King Charles II in 1600, but it wasn’t until 1840 that Afternoon Tea was introduced.

The Duchess of Bedford was feeling hungry before dinner and needed a snack with some tea. This tradition continued and eventually her friends joined her as well, and it spread throughout the aristocracy.

Types of Afternoon Tea

afternoon tea with snacks
Afternoon tea with dessert outside

There are many different types of Afternoon Tea that are enjoyed today. While many think there is a set menu for this affair, there are lighter, sweeter, or even fancier options. Whenever I treat myself to Afternoon Tea at a local fancy hotel, champagne is even offered for an even more luxury experience (Champagne Tea).

Cream Tea

The most simplest form of Afternoon Tea is referred to as Cream Tea. Like all forms of Afternoon Tea it can be dressed up or down. Cream Tea traditionally has tea, clotted cream, and scones. In Cornwall, traditionally the jam is spread on the scone first, then the cream. In Devon, it’s the opposite: cream first, then jam.

Light Tea

Light Tea is an altered version of Cream Tea, although they’re similar in the sense that neither are considered meals. I have always thought of Light Tea as Cream Tea with extra sweets added. Light Tea can include cakes, cookies, and even fruit – however there is no savory aspect included.

Full Tea

Full Tea is the most common Afternoon Tea type of meal. It’s a more savory and slightly heavier version of Light Tea. Full Tea is served with finger sandwiches, sweets, tea, and may even include quiches or nuts.

Full Tea is often served on a three tiered tray. The savory components are served near the bottom, while the sweeter components are on the higher tiers. It’s recommended that you start at the bottom and work up, but I like to mix and match between bites.

Royal Tea

Royal Tea is a fancier version of Afternoon or Full Tea. It’s often served with an alcoholic beverage like champagne, so it’s also referred to as Champagne Tea. Sometimes Royal Tea is served with iced tea, but is always includes both the savory and sweet aspects of Full Tea.

Conclusion on the Difference Between High Tea and Afternoon Tea

Well, I hope you now understand the difference between High Tea and Afternoon Tea. As you can see, these two meal times differ significantly.

Afternoon tea is more formal and favors manners, while High Tea is a filling meal after a long day.

I hope you can enjoy these two tea experiences!

Let me know if you have any questions or comments below.

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