When we imagine British people having tea, this is what we usually think of:
An afternoon garden party among ladies in elaborate gowns, discussing the Queen and the weather while sipping tea in delicate white china and munching on cakes and crustless sandwiches. Everyone in the party, of course, speaks in an unnaturally formal British manner.
But that image is actually only half of the (albeit stereotypical) picture. There are two main types of teatime in England: low tea or afternoon tea and high tea or meat tea.
Types of Teatime in England
Because of the names, one might assume that low tea pertains to a lower status of sorts while high tea is the higher kind of teatime in England. In fact, it’s quite the opposite!
The teatime described above is of course the low tea. Low tea is typically served between 4 and 5 pm and is paired with scones, crustless sandwiches, crumpets, and sponge cakes.
Afternoon tea was a meal taken only by the local aristocrats from the mid-19th century - those who had the luxury to have something to eat between lunch and dinner. It eventually turned into a tradition where aristocratic ladies would dress in fine gowns and visit each other’s houses to have tea.
Today, afternoon teatime in England is no longer the glamorous formal occasion it used to be - even for those among the aristocrats. Though it doesn’t mean that British people stopped having some form of afternoon tea altogether — they just ditched the formal gowns.
High tea on the other hand is the teatime of Britain’s economic lower class. At the height of the industrial revolution, Britain’s working class no longer had the luxury to come home for lunch. That meant that the main meal of their day was dinner. And dinner was served typically in the late afternoon or early evening - the same time as the afternoon tea of the aristocrats.
The working class, who also equally loved tea, had tea with their dinner; so their meal eventually came to be known as teatime as well.
So what’s in a High Tea meal? It’s high tea if you have tea with hot and filling foods like stew, meats, and eggs. There’s no rigid or formal qualification for what comprises High Tea. As long as your main meal included tea as the drink, then it’s very likely High Tea.
How about you, when do you like to take your tea? And what do you love to pair it with? Let us know in the comment section!