Life Beyond the Teabag

Diane Eddy

High tea – it’s an expression we hear frequently. But what does it actually mean? What is the history of the phrase? There does not appear to be a written record of when the first high tea was served in England. However, we do know that the term refers to a pot of tea served at an evening meal taken at a high dining table — thus the name high tea.

For high tea, a large pot of tea was served with cold meats, bacon, potatoes, cheese and breads. Typically, this hearty meal might also include fried eggs, cakes and stewed prunes, served at the end of the working day about 5:30-6:00 p.m. This filling high tea is also known as “meat tea,” a substantial supper for farmers and industrial workers after a long day of hard labor. For the very poor of England during the industrial age, tea and bread had to suffice as the late-in-the-day meal and was often termed, “cold supper tea.”

Although high tea was usually a lower to middle working class meal, the wealthy also served it often at picnics and on servants’ days off. Suggested menus included potted meats, buttered toast with bacon, beef fritters, grilled sausages, hard boiled eggs and cakes accompanied by a seemingly unending pot of tea. In wealthy Victorian homes, children were served high tea around 5:00 p.m. in the late afternoon. High chairs were pulled up to the dining table for a meal of sardine sandwiches, boiled eggs, cakes and biscuits.

In contrast to the heavy meat-laden evening meal known as high tea, afternoon tea came to prominence with royalty and the wealthy somewhere in the late 1830s. It was a light repast and social event whose invention is generally credited to Anna Maria, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. To ease her “sinking feelings” in the mid-afternoon, she requested that tea and small buttered pieces of bread be served in her chambers. She happily shared her tea activities with lady friends, often serving tea from her private kettle. A refreshing stroll in the gardens usually followed this light buffet. These early tea gatherings spread quickly and by the 1870s afternoon tea, often referred to as “low tea” because the tea was served on low tables, was firmly established as a delightful social ritual. These lovely little teas are very much in vogue today as a way to get together with friends, engage in civilized conversation and share confidences.

Come join us at our next tea tasting class as we explore the meaning of high tea and the wonderful teas that are a part of this enchanting ritual. Share a fun morning on January 17 from 10:00 a.m.-noon in the Sun Lakes Country Club’s Navajo Room. The cost of the class is $5 per person and reservations are necessary. Students, please bring a teacup and saucer for yourself.

Please call Diane at 480-219-6211 or email her at [email protected] for more information and to make your reservation.