Low Tea (Cream Tea) vs. High Tea (Meat Tea) – Which is it!?

Miss Party is at your service to right the wrongs and straighten out the misaligned and ill-informed! What IS the difference between Low Tea and High Tea? Pencils ready? Prepare to brush up on your tea vocabulary and history on the two very different Tea’s in British culture. Read on loyal subjects…

In English tea history, the Duchess of Bedford first began the habit of taking tea and biscuits on a low side table to help stave off her hunger as she ‘rested’ in the late afternoon before dressing for a late supper. Eventually, her personal ritual evolved into the widely-practiced ‘Low Tea’ (or Cream Tea). Wealthy commoners continued the practice, imitating the formality of the ‘upper crust’ when serving lady friends for tea with biscuits and dainty sandwiches, bringing out their best china and serving in their Sitting Parlors on low tea tables. Low Tea was served from 2-4 o’clock.

For peasant workers and laborers, Low Tea wasn’t possible. When they arrived home, wives would serve “High Tea” or “Meat Tea” at the taller dining table. High Tea was actually in place of a formal Supper. Meat and vegetable dishes (if meat was available), bread and simple dessert were served casually all at once, not by courses.

Eventually, the High Tea worked it’s way back to the British aristocracy who adopted the practice by offering a more lavish and varied version of this meal after hunting parties at their country homes, and eventually bringing it to their city palaces. It was proper to invite guests to High Tea between 5-7 o’clock. The gathering was not intended to go late and guests did not expect the hosts to entertain them all night.

American’s understanding of British Tea somehow got fuzzy after the Victorian era and derailed sometime in the 50s-60s as many Homemaker’s went to work. Today, most people think “High Tea” means a formal afternoon tea (most likely taken in a formal, traditional hotel Tearoom) which more resembles the Low Tea. It’s just one more thing that amuses the British about Americans as High Tea is actually quite the opposite and a casual daily break, and today would be just as likely to be served in a British pub as a Tearoom. Miss Party also finds it interesting that commoners made the Low Tea all the rage imitating royalty and the royalty made the High Tea all the rage imitating the commoners. Just goes to show the grass is always greener on the other side!

Miss Party would like to suggest that you be the first in your world to serve a proper Low Tea or High Tea. You may have to assist with educating the misinformed souls but this is a small price to pay for a lovely event.


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