Difference Between Afternoon Tea and High Tea

Tea drinking is very much part of our culture and features in stories, songs and even plays, with The Tiger Who Came to Tea being one of the most popular children’s shows of today. But do we always know the difference between tea parties? ‘Afternoon tea’ and ‘high tea’ are terms that are often used interchangeably - yet they’re distinctively different. Let’s take a look at what each means.


What is High Tea?

Contrary to popular belief, ‘high tea’ is not a fancy ceremony reserved for the upper class. In fact, it has working class origins. Served at a high table with high back chairs, it was traditionally served to men and women who had been working hard all day and built up an appetite. The meal would therefore be substantial, consisting of meat or fish, bread, vegetables, eggs, cheese, desserts and tea to drink. Variations of high tea could include the addition of pies, potatoes and crackers, depending on family budget and hunger levels.


High tea would usually be served somewhere between 5-7pm once the working day had come to an end, like the dinner we know today.


What is Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon tea is considerably more fancy than high tea. It would bridge the gap between meals for the upper class who usually wouldn’t have dinner until around 8pm. Unlike the working class returning home famished, the upper class could afford to top up their hunger levels with a mini meal at around three or four in the afternoon.


While a high tea serves substantial foods designed to fill the stomach quickly, afternoon tea is considerably lighter. It consists of small treats such as cakes, scones and sandwiches with the crusts cut off. And of course, all kinds of tea is served. Afternoon tea is quite the event, even in today’s modern world. Many cafés, hotels, spas and bakeries offer an afternoon tea that’s often served up on a three-tiered stand for effect, with a layer for each treat.


Afternoon tea was also referred to as a ‘low tea’ as it would usually be served on a low coffee table in a living room setting.


Are There Any Similarities?

High tea and afternoon tea have obvious differences. But, they both provide a great way to sit back, relax and enjoy good food. The type of tea you serve will very much depend on your tastes and appetite. You can also choose from a variety of different teas including green and herbal teas.

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