Home Tea Facts What is High Tea?

What is High Tea?

by The Tea Haus

It turns out there’s a big misconception about High Tea. When people hear High Tea, they imagine a spread of finger foods, dainty buttery scones, and a collection of tinkling china teacups and kettles. The fancy tradition we have come to imagine as High Tea is in fact, Low Tea. High Tea was a meal that the working class would eat after a long day and consisted of primarily meat dishes, potatoes, baked beans, and other heavy dishes. Learn more about the difference between Afternoon Tea — or “Low Tea” — and High Tea.

What’s the Difference Between High Tea and Afternoon Tea or Low Tea?

Back in the day, Afternoon Tea was a meal reserved for the upper class and High Tea was enjoyed by the lower class. The meals took place at different times and involved completely different rituals and foods. There are stark differences between the origins of High Tea and Low Tea that may clarify the common mix up.

What is Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon Tea is a light meal composed of tea sandwiches and savouries, followed by scones and ending with sweet pastries. Afternoon tea time starts at around 4 PM,  between lunch and dinner. The light meal was introduced to satiate the upper class before their 8 PM supper.

In the early 19th-century tea consumption started to become more prominent. Afternoon Tea can be traced back to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford. The cultural norm around meals was to have only two meals a day; breakfast and a late dinner at 8:00 PM. Duchess Anna complained about her low energy and other negative feelings she experienced in the late afternoon and decided to create her own afternoon ritual and enjoy a pot of tea with a snack in the privacy of her room.

Soon Anna became a hostess of these afternoon tea gatherings. She invited friends and relocated to the public quarters of the home. It wasn’t long before the ritual was a social trend. The wealthy and elite socialites could be found enjoying tea and sandwiches or biscuits in the late afternoon. In upper-class society, these Afternoon Tea gatherings were served at low dinner tables. Hotels began to catch on and started to serve light snacks and tea to emulate the emerging trend.

What is High Tea?

High tea, on the other hand, was less of a party and more of a functional family dinner. The working class would come home and prepare heavy dishes for supper. At around 5 PM, or as late at 7 PM, the family would eat their filling meals before bed. What was on the menu? One could expect meat, potatoes and baked beans. These meals took place at high tables, which were less formal than the low rise dining tables where the upper class would partake in their three-course Afternoon Tea.

Why Do People Mistake Low Tea for High Tea?

If you thought High Tea was a fancy three-course finger food frenzy and not a 5 PM helping of baked beans, you’re not alone. Many hotels, restaurants and hosts continue to mistake Low Tea for High Tea. This is because without context around the high tables High Tea originated on, one would assume High Tea pointed at luxury and simply sounded fancier than its counterpart, Low Tea.

How to Host Afternoon Tea at Home

After learning more about High Tea, we assume you want to trade in those potatoes for a golden brown buttery raspberry scone with a sweet cup of tea. If you want to host your own Afternoon Tea party, it’s pretty simple. Invite friends over at half past three, and make sure you have the following:

  • Small teapots or one large teapot
  • Loose-leaf tea steepers
  • Teacups and saucers
  • Small appetizer dishes and small forks
  • Sugar pot and creamer
  • Selection of loose leaf tea
  • Pastries, sandwiches and scones

Suggested Pastries, Sandwiches and Scones

If you’re playing host for Afternoon Tea, you better come prepared with a wide selection of loose leaf teas, however, don’t underestimate the importance of offering snacks like finger foods and sweets for your guests to munch on. Canadian Living Magazine offers a number of great recipes that are easy-to-make and ideal for picky crowds.

Savoury Snacks

Open-Face Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

Thin crisp slices of cucumber on top of delicious herb-butter bites.

Waldorf Chicken Salad

This salad combines yogurt, apple, celery, grapes, chives, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper and can be easily made into a creamy open sandwich.

Asparagus Smoked Salmon Pinwheels

These crunchy and creamy little pinwheels are easy to make but hard to share.

Sweets and Scones

Mini Lemon Scones With Strawberries and Cream

You can’t go wrong with strawberries, lemon and cream. Make these mini scones to impress your guests.

Whole-Wheat Blueberry Scones

These buttery, fruity scones are perfect for Afternoon Tea and great for breakfast if you end up having leftovers (but you probably won’t).

Chocolate Cranberry Buttermilk Scones

Cranberry and chocolate scones are a crowd-pleaser for friends with a sweet tooth.

Raspberry Cream Scones

Bake these until they’re a deep golden brown colour and brush them with cream. These can easily be made from frozen raspberries and no one will know!

Join Us at The Tea Haus for Afternoon Tea

You don’t need to catch a flight to the UK or orchestrate a fancy gathering at home to experience Afternoon Tea. In fact, many Canadian hotels and restaurants offer Afternoon Tea parties that draw on the British tradition. Join us for London Ontario Afternoon Tea in a relaxed atmosphere at The Tea Haus. Enjoy tea from our selection of over 200 teas with delicate pastries from Petit Paris.

What’s on the Menu at Afternoon Tea?

Note: This menu is subject to change without notice.

  • 1/2 size lemon cranberry scone with 1 butter pot and 1 strawberry jam package per person
  • 1 mini biscotti per person
  • 1 mini fresh fruit tart per person
  • 1 mini cherry cheesecake per person
  • 1 mini brownie chocolate baton per person
  • 1 macaroon per person
  • Egg salad (half sandwich each, 2 triangles)
  • Chicken salad (half sandwich, 2 triangles)
  • Pesto, brie, and roasted red pepper (half sandwich, 2 triangles)

Click here for Afternoon Tea details >>


  1. https://www.canadianliving.com/food/food-tips/article/how-to-host-an-afternoon-tea
  2. https://afternoontea.co.uk/information/history-of-afternoon-tea/
  3. https://www.ohhowcivilized.com/afternoon-tea-101-afternoon-tea-and-high-tea-definitions/

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