High Tea is Not What You Think

There seems to be a bit of confusion surrounding the concept of high tea.I’ve seen hotels, parties and tea rooms list their afternoon tea  service as high tea only to see the site as a scene from Sofia  Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette –pastel pink satin ribbons, ruffles,  bouquets and enough petits fours to feed an army.
Some think that the word “high” must translate to aristocracy,  royalty or extravagance; therefore, “high tea” must equate to an  extravagant tea service.
It does not. It’s actually quite working class in origin.

The Industrial Age

The late-1800’s brought incredible advancements in transportation,  machinery and mass production and ushered in the Industrial Age. The  Industrial Age produced a new wealthy class of industrialists who  enjoyed the fruits of the Gilded Age.
This era also created a new work day that was different from the  previous agrarian work day. No longer were people exclusively tied to  farms or working as farm hands on neighboring land. They were lured to  factories that required everyone to be on a regimented schedule where  they arrived at the same time, ate at the same time and left the factory  at the same time.
Since factories were a destination job, their arrival was often  preceded by traveling some distance to their respective factory. The  same held for their return home. A factory worker could arrive home as  late as six or seven o’clock in the evening.

Tea for Two Classes

On the other hand, the English aristocracy had no schedule other  than the one they created. They ate in the morning and evening. The lag  between formalized meal times was too much for some in the aristocracy.  As early as the 1840s, Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, in England,  began to serve strong tea with little cakes and sandwiches to stave off  the hours between meal times. She found it so appealing that she then  invited fellow aristocrats –primarily other women who were languishing  until the evening meal.
The official “taking of tea” in the afternoon became Afternoon Tea.  Afternoon Tea occurs anywhere between two o’clock to five o’clock.
The official taking of tea in the evening became High Tea or “Meat”  Tea because the tea accompanied a hearty meal of meats and heavier  savory items that fed the famished working class who returned home in  the evening. High Tea occurs from five o’clock to eight o’clock.
So the next time someone invites you to High Tea, be sure to double-check the time and their definition.

References: 

· American Royal Tea – http://www.AmericanRoyalTea.com 

· Food Timeline – http://www.foodtimeline.org/teatime.html 

· Afternoon Tea (U.K.) – http://www.afternoontea.co.uk/information/what-is-high-tea/ 

· TeaMuse – http://www.teamuse.com  

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