Thursday, 9 September 2010

the higher the better

Heard someone mention high tea earlier today, and because the term is often confused with afternoon tea, I thought I'd quickly point out the difference.

Now if you're British, you can move on to the next post or another blog, because this will be more than obvious. Often my Scottish friends ask me what I had for 'tea'. In this context it means the evening meal. Tea is definitely included, but it means whatever meal one has when returning from a long day of work.

This is also called high tea.

An entirely different term is used for the tea that's served with small sandwiches or sweets. That's afternoon tea. To make a distinction, some even call this mid-afternoon treat low tea.

This used to confuse me to no end when I first heard people talking about having what I'd consider a heavy meal for their tea. 'Had roast beef and potatoes for my tea', I might overhear. For your tea? In place of your tea? You traded your tea for a good meal? Must've been some excellent tea.

I'm reminded of the mother, Barbara, in the television series The Royle Family when I think of this. No matter who came over to see them in the evening while they were watching their evening telly, she'd always start the conversation with, 'What'd you have for your tea?' She's talking about high tea there.


  1. Don't think you have that right at all.
    In country Australia I grew up with the Northern England meal names: Breakfast / Dinner / Tea for what I now call Breakfast / Lunch/ Dinner
    High Tea was invented as a later afternoon meal, as part of the cycle of : Breakfast / Lunch/ High Tea / Supper
    Afternoon Tea does blur the boundaries - To me, Afternoon tea is a cup of tea and a slice of cake or a sandwich, High tea is a two hour long meal of many, many cups of tea, with scones, small sandwiches, delicate cakes and such. really for special occasions. I'm hosting a High Tea for Charity in the next few weeks.

  2. But what if I want cucumber sandwiches & scones with clotted cream for my high tea? Is that a high afternoon tea?

    I'm glad you wrote about this important distinction because it will facilitate communication between Brits and others. Others being everyone else on the planet. Well, perhaps Australia talks about "tea" when they mean dinner. Yes, they might well still do that.

    Either way, I am not so terribly fond of the term "high tea". Don't tread on my tea territory, that's what I say. Tea is tea and never a meat with veg'.

    PS: Just read devotea's post. This is what I found on
    "In recent years, high tea has become a term for elaborate afternoon tea, though this is American usage and mainly unrecognised in Britain. This usage is disfavoured by etiquette advisors, such as Miss Manners."
    High tea in Britain is a light supper.
    Plenty of food for thought.
    Love to all,

  3. What Jackie said. There are still some people who refer to dinner as tea in Australia (usually an early dinner, in my experience) but it would not necessarily include tea the drink. Confused? You should be!

  4. In my opinion, 'tea' should refer only to the drink. Having 'tea' would mean having a session of tea, not a meal of meat, veggies, or the like. Several infusions of a delightful loose leaf. Yep.

  5. In my experience, if you were 'posh' the evening meal is always dinner, at whatever time it was taken. If you were not posh, midday meal was dinner and the evening meal tea! High tea was a meal of some substance, taken at around 5pm, a meal taken occasionally and unless you had a very large appetite, meant you didn't need your tea! All clear?

  6. Those English... I don't think anyone in Continental Europe will ever understand them. :P