High Tea vs Afternoon Tea

17 Jul 2013


It’s 2012 and my sister and I are doing a High Tea tour of Paris and London. Our first stop was at the historic Fortnum and Mason in London. We were well prepared to add the fine teas of F&M to our list of High Tea experiences: both of us had worked at the Nieder Weisel homestead serving High Tea and taste tested the experience across Victoria. We thought we knew what we were in for.




We had booked for High Tea, were presented with menus and given a rundown of the procedure, and then we were asked if we wanted High Tea or Afternoon Tea. This question was a little confusing. Was there much of a difference? Yes. There was.


Afternoon Tea is confused regularly in Australia for High Tea. High Tea is quite trendy at the moment and every woman and her poodle seems to throw a High Tea fundraiser or invite her friends around to have a pot so they can dress up and use tea cups. It’s like a 5 year old tea party but all grown up and sophisticated (I do like tea party, that wasn’t a slander).  So what is Afternoon Tea?


This fantastic short video from Fortnum and Mason tea expert, Margot, will give a good idea.



Afternoon Tea, as Margot tells us, is renowned for loose leaf tea, good china, tiered cake stands, sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, pastries and cakes, and even a glass of bubbly.



At this point I hope you are all thinking what we were thinking; isn’t that High Tea? This is something that is marketed all over Australia as High Tea. When I began researching places to have High Tea in New York, I was surprised to be stumped for places to go. The Americans offer the same as above, but they call it Afternoon Tea, as it really is. Look for places to have Afternoon Tea in New York, and you’ll be swamped for choices (I’m excited to the try the Plaza).



Let’s look at the reasons people often think Afternoon Tea is High Tea. I’ve heard people (and venues) suggest that Afternoon Tea becomes High Tea when you add the glass of bubbles, also that the ‘high’ cake stand is what makes it High Tea. Actually, it’s neither of these things.


While Afternoon Tea was made popular in upper class society, High Tea was something that developed in middle and lower class society. High Tea has been suggested to have taken its name from either high noon or high tables used during the ceremony. Neither of these is really convincing in explaining the term. What is known is that lower class High Tea took upper class Afternoon Tea and added to it an early hot meal, pre-dinner (or supper).



Come back to Fortnum and Mason. The waitress turned us to the High Tea menu and invited us to look through the meals and make a selection. I opted for Eggs Benedict (see pictured) and my sister had Eggs Florentine. Afternoon Tea followed and it was delicious. We did the same at the Wolseley and in Paris at Laduree and the Four Seasons (you can thank these adventures for this round of pictures.


So next time you consider offering High Tea, ask yourself, is it actually Afternoon Tea?
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