When people think of “high tea,” they often immediately imagine ladies in lovely tea dresses enjoying an afternoon of dainty cucumber sandwiches and fruit tarts. However, this is incorrect. High tea sounds like a regal affair and what is more elegant than afternoon tea? Afternoon tea is actually called “low tea” because during Victorian times, the tea party foods were served on a low tea table in the drawing room. If you’re looking for afternoon tea party ideas, visit the Victorian Tea Party page.
High tea is named for the high dining room table on which it was served. The tradition began with the English working class during the Industrial Revolution. After a long day laboring in the factories, workers came home to enjoy a large supper at the dining room table with a pot of tea. If you’re planning to serve a tea party dinner, then you can appropriately call it a “high tea” on your invitations. The meal is generally served at 6:00 or later in the evening.
The working class in the Industrial Revolution mainly enjoyed meals of breads, meats, and cheeses for their high teas. Homemade cakes or pies were on the menu for dessert. Plan to serve your favorite supper dish or choose a meal that is traditionally English like shepherd’s pie. Prepare a few appetizers like cheese and crackers or crab melts for guests to snack on while savoring a first cup of tea or a glass of wine. Serve hardy black teas with the meal such as English Breakfast which will stand up to the rich flavors in supper dishes.
The Table Setting
For illustrations on properly setting a tea table, take a look at the page on tea table setting. For place cards, look for antique picture frames at a flea market or antique shop and insert a piece of cardstock in each frame with the names of guests written in calligraphy. These place cards can also double as party favors for the guests to take home. Alternatively if you are serving wine at the party, you could use the corks as holders for the place cards.
To give the tea table a pop of color, use linen napkins, a table cloth, or a table runner in colors that suit your theme. Avoid using a very large flower arrangement for the table centerpiece because it can inhibit conversation as guests crane their necks around the flowers to make eye contact. A bowl of fruit is a simple and functional yet elegant centerpiece. Pears complement an earthy color scheme and pomegranates are always a lovely fruit to display. As it will be evening, you could use candles to create an elegant atmosphere. An arrangement of candles displayed in glass containers with various shapes and sizes, perhaps including some glasses filled with water, flower petals, and floating candles, offers a rich ambiance in exchange for only a small amount of work.