Is Afternoon Tea the Same as High Tea?

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There is so much confusion between all the different terms used for tea, including high tea, afternoon tea, royal tea and cream tea. Is afternoon tea the same as high tea? What’s the best time for afternoon tea? and how does one pronounce the word scone? I’m here to shed a bit of light on the ins and outs of tea time…

Afternoon Tea vs High Tea: What’s the Difference?

Discover everything about afternoon tea in this ultimate guide!


History of Afternoon Tea

First introduced by Anna the Duchess of Bedford in 1840, afternoon tea is known as a very British affair, because we all know that Brits drink a lot of tea! But afternoon tea is commonly enjoyed all over the world nowadays not just in England.

It all started almost two hundred years ago with the idea to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner. Anna, the Duchess of Bedford wanted to keep hunger at bay with the fabulous idea to enjoy dainty sandwiches, pastries, cakes and cups of comforting tea. It was no surprise that afternoon tea became a huge hit with the Duchess and her friends. News quickly spread amongst the high society and by the 1880’s, afternoon tea was an extremely fashionable thing to participate in.


What’s the Difference? 

Often, high tea (sometimes called hi tea) and afternoon tea are confused with the same meaning as they sound similar, however, they are very different.

  • Afternoon tea introduced by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford was intended as a very upper-class affair to enjoy tea, cakes and to exchange desired gossip amongst the high classes. Afternoon tea, sometimes called low tea is served in a lounge setting at low tables in comfy seating.

  • High tea is referred as such because it is served at the dinner table and consists of hearty savoury foods with a large mug of hot tea for the working class. Those that enjoyed high tea never had the time for afternoons of relaxing and gossip exchange. High tea is a lower class affair also called supper, dinner or sometimes just called ‘tea’.



The Difference Between Afternoon Tea and High Tea Explained

Is there really a difference? What about cream tea, Royal tea and elevenses too?

Cream Tea, Royal Tea & Elevenses: What’s the Difference?

All these different tea time variations is so very confusing! Here’s the difference between cream, royal and elevenses:

  • Cream Tea: Cream tea is also known as Cornish cream tea or Devon cream tea and is generally served in the afternoon much like afternoon tea. British cream tea traditionally consists of warm fresh scones with or without sultanas, indulgently thick clotted cream, sweet jam/preserves or lemon curd and served with refreshing hot milk tea. It is called cream tea because cream (clotted cream) is always expected.

  • Royal Tea: A ‘Royal Tea’ is another name for afternoon tea served with champagne, sometimes this is referred to as champagne tea. A Royal tea is served just as afternoon tea is served, with sandwiches, scones, sweet treats, hot traditional cups of tea and glasses or champagne or sparkling alternatives such as prosecco. Sometimes afternoon tea is served with iced tea, cocktails or tea infused cocktails.

  • Elevenses: Elevenses is a simple snack mid-way between breakfast time and lunch time, usually around 11am. Common snacks include biscuits, a piece of cake, a muffin or chocolate and it almost always accompanies a lovely cuppa tea, coffee or hot chocolate. It’s a way to get through the morning slump.

Afternoon Tea Etiquette

Afternoon tea is a very proper affair and comes with some traditional tea etiquette such as not stirring your tea too much and always leaving the saucer on the table. Also, the teacup handle points to either 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock depending on whether you are left or right handed. The bottom savoury layer is enjoyed first, next is the scones (while they are still warm) with thick clotted cream and jam. Lastly, the petit fours are enjoyed. It is expected that you take each item with utensils to place on your smaller plate. The sandwiches and scones are to be eaten without cutlery.

How is Afternoon Tea Served?

Afternoon tea, or ‘tea’ as the Queen would call it, is served mid afternoon and consists of sandwiches and sweet treats. Traditionally, afternoon tea is a mini three course meal enjoyed in layers. The first layer (the bottom layer) is a selection of crustless dainty finger sandwiches and pastries. The second layer is the fresh warm scones or sometimes less-traditionally tea cakes, Cornish clotted cream and preserves. The final top layer is the dessert course, the individual cakes, petit fours, biscuits and other sweet treats. Oh and lots of fine tea is served throughout the courses.

How are Scones Enjoyed at Tea Time?

This is quite controversial and personal choice but how do you enjoy your scones? What goes first, cream or jam? This is quite the debate but if you are enjoying afternoon tea at Buckingham Palace the proper way is to spread the jam on first and then add a dollop of clotted cream on top, this is known as a ‘Cornish scone’. If you prefer to spread the cream first followed by a dollop of jam, this is known as a ‘Devon scone’

Also, it is the etiquette that scones are never to be sandwiched back together. The proper way is to layer them up with jam and cream and devour the two halves separately. Some people add butter, but this is also a debatable question and I’m not sure the Queen would approve of butter with cream and jam!

What is the Best Time for Afternoon Tea?

Afternoon tea, just as the name suggests, is best served in the afternoon. It is designed to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner. The time that afternoon tea is traditionally served is between 3 and 5 pm. Many tea rooms, restaurants and hotels offer afternoon tea from midday until dinner time because many prefer to enjoy a very filling afternoon tea as an alternative for lunch or as an alternative for dinner.

What is the Proper way to Serve Tea?

The proper etiquette is for the host to serve the tea by way of pouring out the tea out from the teapot. The teapot should be placed on the left hand side of the table. Tea is served in tea cups with saucers and the saucers are expected to remain on the table while the tea is enjoyed and no noisy slurping!

Is it Considered Rude to Hold Your Pinky up While Drinking Tea?

Some say pinky up or out whilst drinking tea is elegant, others say that this is considered extremely rude to do so. Pinkies out comes from centuries ago when the higher classes wanted to use as little fingers as possible to touch items that their unclean servants had touched! Nowadays, the term ‘pinkies out’ means trying to be fancy and a bit silly. However, some people regard it as rude and a elitism attitude, a very outdated thing to do.

What Does the Queen Have for Tea?

It’s a closely guarded secret what the Queen enjoys with her afternoon tea, however, rumours suggest that the Queen prefers cucumber or smoked salmon sandwiches. For tea, apparently the Queen often opts for Earl grey. For scones, it’s always jam first then cream and it’s a sin to sandwich the two halves back together, a scone is to be eaten in two!

How Does the Queen Pronounce the Word ‘Scone’?

How does one pronounce the word scone? On top of the cream or jam first debate and the debate as to whether to add butter, there is also the question of how to pronounce the word ‘scone’. The proper Queen’s English way to pronounce the word scone is to rhyme it with ‘gone’ and not with ‘bone’ as most common folk do!

The proper way to pronounce the word scone is to rhyme it with ‘gone’

and not ‘bone’ as common folk do!


Making Afternoon Tea at Home

Making afternoon tea at home can be as fun and fancy or as simple as you want it to be. Afternoon tea can be a slice of cake and a hot cuppa for one, or it can be a full afternoon of miniature desserts and fine teas with friends. There are no rules these days but if you would like to stick to a more traditional afternoon tea, serve yours with three courses, a dainty sandwich course, a warm scone course and a sweet treats course. And serve lots of hot tea from china tea pots into pretty china tea cups.

To serve a satisfyingly filling afternoon tea, allow 4-6 finger sandwiches per person, 2 scones with ample cream and a selection of jams. For the top layer, allow 3 petit fours per person. For the tea, allow one pot per person so that each person can have 2-3 cups of tea over the afternoon.

A light black tea blend is traditionally served at afternoon tea time, however, any tea can be enjoyed. Black tea is the perfect tea for pairing with cakes and scones. Tea can be paired with foods just like wine can be, read more about tea and food pairing ideas.


What to Serve

Crustless dainty finger sandwiches are served as the first course with afternoon tea. Here are some traditional sandwich ideas:

Smoked Salmon with Cream Cheese and Dill - Egg Mayonnaise and Cress - Cucumber with Butter or Cream Cheese - Cheese with Branston Pickle - Ham or Beef with English Mustard or Horseradish - Coronation Chicken - Prawns with Mayonnaise

Here are some traditional sweet treats and petit fours ideas:

Mini Fruit Tarts with Fresh Cream - Mini Victoria Sponge Cakes - Chocolate Eclairs - Mini Frangipane Tarts - French Madeleines - Caramel Financiers - Rich Chocolate Truffles - Cheesecake Pots - French Fancies - Miniature Apple Pies




Common Tea Time Questions

Here are some other commonly asked questions about tea, tea cups and serving tea at tea time:


What is in English Afternoon Tea?

English afternoon tea is a blended black tea that is lighter than that of English Breakfast tea and is designed to delightfully complement the flavours of a cream tea. It is traditionally a blend of black teas from Sri Lanka, Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri.

To make a proper cup of afternoon tea, use 1 heaped teaspoon of loose leaf tea per one cup of freshly boiled water and allow to steep for 3-5 minutes before pouring into tea cups through a fine tea strainer. Serve with milk and sugar, honey and lemon slices.


What is the Point of a Tea Saucer?

A lovely cup of hot tea is traditionally served in a dainty tea cup with a saucer at afternoon tea. But the tea cup and saucer has a very interesting history and actually does have a point to it! Not only is the saucer a handy place to perch your mini sweet treats and hob knobs (and it does save from tea spillage too), it was originally invented with the intention to be used as the drinking vessel - to be sipped from!

When tea was first introduced to Europe during the 17th century, tea cups and saucers were used in a different way to how they are used today. The hot tea would be poured into the tea cup and then poured into the saucer to cool a little before drinking. The tea cools down much quicker over a larger surface area than leaving it in the tea cup. Some people still enjoy their tea this way!

Another great British invention is the wonderfully cute tea cosy (often spelt ‘cozy’)! Many British kitchen’s wouldn’t be without a tea cozy for their teapot! It’s the most charming way to keep your brew warmer for longer.

Does Bone China Make the Tea Taste Better?

Drinking tea from bone china is actually believed to make the tea taste better for many reasons. Bone china doesn’t absorb any tea aromas like other ceramics do. Bone china is thinner and lighter than other materials making it feel more classy and dainty. The creamy-white translucent colour compliments the hue of the tea liquor. So this very British belief does have some truth to it!


Do you enjoy afternoon tea? Let me know in the comments below!



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