The idea of High Tea (a leisurely, delicate meal consisting of an array of treats and tea) came from England. Now, that’s just the idea of High Tea. High tea is actually not High tea at all, but is correctly called Low tea or Afternoon tea.
So how did Low tea become High? Low tea, or afternoon tea, was created in the early 19th century by the 7th Duchess of Bedford who, peckish between breakfast and supper, decided to invite her acquaintances for tea and finger foods. Since this event involved royalty and other ‘celebrities’, it was an occasion to dress up and be on one’s best (and most attractive) behavior. The food was, supposedly, served on little low tables, and this may the reason why this occasion was called Low tea.
Now, tea was such a hit in 19th century England that all classes of people would enjoy this brew. Those who drank tea after work were drinking “high tea” or “meat tea”. This tea was served with a savory meaty supper such as Steak and Ale Pie, sausage and potatoes and the like. This meal was served on a high table making food easily accessible to hungry mouths. Hence, this tea time was likely called High tea due to how it was presented. No fancy china needed; clay mugs were the popular drinkware for High tea.
Even today, the British call what we know as High tea, Afternoon tea. Yet, those of us from the States understand High Tea to be a fancy occasion where attendees dress up and enjoy delicate treats. This may be due to a knowledge of ‘high’ meaning ‘distinctive, such as ‘high fashion’, ‘high class society’ etc…Nevertheless, afternoon tea is it’s proper name. So if we wish to be proper when attending or creating this tea event, we should refer to it by it’s true name. Ahem-ahem !