The Origins of High Tea
Every year thousands of kiwis flock to England and they all share one desire, to have a quintessential High Tea experience. And it’s no wonder, the English have been perfecting the art of the High Tea since the mid 1700’s when it was a simple, light afternoon meal that was served between three and four pm.
The exact origins of the High Tea tradition are murky; one theory suggests that High Tea originates as a light meal for labourers who struggled with the lengthy days and hard labour while another suggests it has a much refined origin. A much nobler theory is that High Tea, as we imagine it today, was first introduced by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford in the 1840’s. Dinner in England is usually served fashionably later than in New Zealand, with most evening meals taken around eight or nine pm and no midday meal served. Anna would often struggle with the length of time between meals and would ask her servants to prepare her a light snack of tea, bread and butter and cake and bring it to her room at precisely every day at four pm. Soon Anna would invite her friends to join her and thus High Tea as we know it today was born.
To be invited to a High Tea was seen as an important social event for the Ladies and Gentleman of upper class. Often depicted in popular culture and paintings, the High Tea of the 1880’s upper class would see high society woman dressing in long gowns, gloves and hats and whiling away an hour or two sipping tea and gossiping. For those Ladies and Gentlemen who would attend the theatre or play cards well into the evening, High Tea served a more practical purpose of sustaining them until their evening meal. Although it has two very distinct origin stories the source of the name is simple, High Tea is named so for the high tables that it is served on, be it the stools of the labourers or the dining tables of the gentry.
But High Tea is not all about eating and gossiping, there is a firm etiquette that is strictly observed while attending High Tea. For men and woman alike it is still expected that you will dress in a relaxed ‘smart casual’ manner, with no sportswear or sneakers and it is expected that woman will dress in a lady like fashion.
But perhaps the most important rule of all is the correct stirring of your tea. To correctly stir your tea place the spoon in the 6 o’clock position and fold the tea towards the 12 o’clock position all the while making sure that your spoon does not clink on the side of the cup. High Tea is still served in a traditional manner with pot leaf tea rather than tea bags, and each ingredient and condiment will be served on individual platters and serving bowls.
There is no experience quite like the High Tea experience and there are plenty of places that one can go to experience such a tradition. If you happen to be in London I can personally recommend The Ritz, Claridges and The Savoy as the perfect place to sample a traditional High Tea. For those of us back home, Wooree Tea offers an exceptional Auckland High Tea Group where you can mingle and sample some of the world’s finest teas with like minded friends.