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.
· 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