Distinction between High Tea and Afternoon Tea

It’s more to do with what’s served than it is about social classes

The May 16 edition of The Chemainus Valley Courier carries a front page photo and article about ‘High Tea’ .

However, the event referred to appears to me to have been Afternoon Tea. These two names are often confused, perhaps because people often link high tea with high class society. The word ‘high’ in fact refers to the height of the table rather than to the social class of the participants!

The wealthier classes usually ate a mid-morning meal and then a formal dinner later in the evening. Now some poor souls (I’m sure I would have been one of them), got a little peckish in the afternoon and it is the Duchess of Bedford, in the 1800s, who is normally credited with coming up with the idea of a light meal in the mid-afternoon to quell the sound of all those rumbling tummies.

Afternoon tea is when you bring out the dainty china and serve a variety of small crustless sandwiches, scones and assorted little cakes. This is all finger food and nobody needs to sit at a dining table to partake of it.

High tea is quite a different matter. This is a working class meal served later in the day when the workers get home. As they have been out all day it is a quite substantial cooked meal. It could include such items as meat pie with mashed potatoes and vegetables, fried eggs and chips or baked beans on toast, followed by pudding.

It would be eaten at the dining table – a high table compared to the lower tables used for afternoon tea, and hence the name High Tea, though many refer to the meal simply as Tea.

Hear endeth the lesson. No matter what you call it, it’s delicious. I used to love having afternoon tea at Twisted Sisters. Maybe some other local café will serve a lovely afternoon tea from time to time, I’m starting to feel hungry… cucumber sandwiches… scones and jam… cream cakes….

Bridget Bhattacharya,


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