Have you ever wondered where the term “high tea” comes from? After some consecutive years now of having the pleasure of being treated to high tea around Christmas time at the Del, I found myself pondering the same thing. As it turns out, I would get an answer while looking up places in London to have tea last weekend. So readers, get ready for a lesson in tea!
Afternoon tea is actually what we Americans think of as being high tea. Afternoon tea began in Britain around the early to mid-19th century as a snack to hold people over until a later supper. Typically taken in gardens or an indoor parlor, it was primarily observed by upper class ladies until Queen Victoria popularized it with her large “tea receptions”. High tea, on the other hand, was a meal that would be consumed later in the afternoon or the early evening. High tea was eaten at the main table, which were higher than tables in the garden or couches in parlors. Thus the term “high tea”.
Traditionally, high tea entailed more substantial foods and became more popular among the working class of miners and factory workers. Their schedules differed from that of the upper class which is why high tea was later in the day and became an important meal during the time. Children who’s parents would host a social supper later in the evening would also take part in high tea. Foods included breads, cheese, vegetables, and cold cut meats or sandwiches, sometimes pies. Afternoon tea is usually a lighter meal of specialty sandwiches (often including eggs, fish paste/caviar, smoked salmon, and cucumbers), scones with clotted cream and jam, and an assortment of pastries. As is apparent, tea is served with both high and afternoon tea. It may be due to the high import of tea into Britain from the East India Company during this time that popularized these tea breaks.
Today high tea in America and the equivalent afternoon tea in Britain are primarily attended to celebrate a special occasion, as most people don’t have the time for such a tea break anymore. For our part, we went to afternoon tea at the Levin Hotel in Knightsbridge on Basil Street. It was a very lovely little hotel and we took our afternoon tea in their small bistro area, Le Metro. It was very reasonably priced (we can’t go blowing all of our money on fancy tea breaks, unfortunately), and so not at the standard of high tea at the Hotel Del of my own experiences (which of course, is also for a special occasion as it’s the holidays). But I didn’t expect it to be, and all the same it was very nice!
We ordered tea first. Betsey and Iris both had English Breakfast tea while Amanda and I had some mint tea on the recommendation of our server. The mint tea was warm, refreshing, and especially nice whenever I glanced out the window into the rainy street! Soon after our two tiered platters arrived with our sandwiches on the bottom and desserts and scone on the top. The sandwiches included a vegetarian lettuce, cheese, and cream cheese sandwich, a ham, cheese, and tomato sandwich, and an excellent smoked salmon with cucumbers and cream cheese sandwich. Then there was the raisin scone with clotted cream and jam, which is always so good! Our desserts consisted of a lemon pound cake slice, a lemon macaron, and a slice of chocolate cake. Our reservation was for 4:30, we got there a little early, and we enjoyed our afternoon tea until 6pm.
Afternoon tea also gave me the perfect opportunity to wear my new dress for the first time! You’ll be able to see from the pictures – I know, nice, right? (Ironically, I matched the interior of the front room of the hotel) It’s always nice to get dressed up once in a while, too. That added confidence that one gains from looking their best was a plus, especially for walking around Knightsbridge and Harrods that day. All in all, if you’ve never enjoyed afternoon or high tea, I would highly recommend it for a nice change of pace or special occasion. Go with some good friends, loved ones, or someone you’ve been wanting to reconnect with! You really can’t go wrong with good tea, delightful finger foods, and most importantly, good company.
Here’s a link to the website which answered my afternoon tea or high tea question: http://www.afternoontea.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=840&Itemid=35. Check out some of the other pages as well, especially the ones about the different types of tea and what distinguishes them. It’s fascinating! I knew tea was good for you, but I didn’t know just how good a cup of tea a day can actually be. There are heart, digestive, sleeping, blood pressure, relaxing, and even teeth related benefits to drinking tea! And so, I’ll end this post with another sip of my herbal tea and a reminder to be on the lookout for a similar post on The Phantom of the Opera (which will include pictures from Friday nights outing!). Thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…