High Tea: A History


My loyal followers (Hi Mum) may remember that I hosted a High Tea over the weekend to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. It went splendidly and many traditional and non-traditional tasty treats were devoured by all. You will see that I have included some pictures in this post – all taken by The Lovely Katie.

I promised that I would accompany the event with a post on the history of High Tea, and here it is!

Your Humble Host

Today, High Tea is considered to be something one indulges in as a treat, or for a special occasion. At roughly $45 a pop, this is hardly surprising. Despite its current extravagant status, High Tea has a far more humble beginning.

The British tradition of High Tea began in the mid 1700s as an afternoon meal, usually served between 3 and 4 o’clock. It was designed for the working man and was taken standing or sitting on a tall stool, thus the term ‘high’. The meal would generally consist of tea served with cakes, scones, and even cheese on toast.

Gradually, this afternoon meal transformed into an important event on the social calendars of Ladies and Gentlemen.

Anna, the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861) is credited as the creator of the official ‘teatime’ for the upper classes. During the middle of the eighteenth century, dinner changed from midday to what was considered a more fashionable evening meal. Due to the change in dining habits, the Duchess, and I expect many other ladies, became rather peckish in the afternoon. It should be noted that during this period only two main meals were eaten each day.

Scones by Beth!

Initially, the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few “breadstuffs” when she became hungry. Clearly the Duchess tired of this and decided to adopt the European tea service format. So she wouldn’t have to eat alone, she invited friends to join her for afternoon tea at her castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea.

This practice proved so popular that the Duchess continued it when she went to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for “tea and a walking in the fields.” The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other society hostesses.

Fancy finger sandwiches served on my Nan’s silverware.

It was around this time that our old friend, and previously discussed, John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, had the idea of placing meat and other fillings between two slices of bread. Thus, the High Tea sandwich was created.

For the Leisure Classes, High Tea served a practical purpose, allowing Ladies and Gentleman the opportunity of a meal before attending the theatre, or playing cards.

As for now, well – it’s nice to at least pretend we’re classy every once and awhile, isn’t it?

Macarons by Aaron and Teabag Biscuits by Sally. Both were AMAZING.

In closing, here is a nifty little list on Tea Etiquette:

  • Pick up your cup and saucer together, holding the saucer in one hand and the cup in the other. Despite popular belief, it is not polite, nor traditional to raise your pinky
  • When stirring your tea, avoid making noises by touching the sides of the cup.
  • Never leave your spoon in the cup, and avoid sipping tea from your spoon.
  • Milk should be poured into the cup after the tea.
  • Lemon slices should be neatly placed in the teacup after tea has been poured.
  • Never add lemon with milk, as the citric acid will cause the milk to curdle
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11 thoughts on “High Tea: A History

  1. I need to link my Mum to this, she refuses to deviate from Milk In First.
    (although I can’t claim I adhere to..well…*any* of the other rules!)

  2. It wasn’t until I saw the photos that I realised how nifty that folding silverware is! My attention was devoted more to the sandwiches on the day…

    • I agree, it’s very nifty! I’m so glad that I was able to use something that belonged to my nan.

      Heh, thank you for the sandwich appreciation. I still maintain that your macarons and muffins were far more impressive though. So delicious!

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