High Tea versus Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea, which is also referred to as low tea, includes a light meal typically eaten around 4:00 p.m. Traditionally, the tea and food are served on a lounge (or low) table, which is where it gets its name.

Loose tea is brewed and served in a teapot with milk and sugar. The tea is usually accompanied by a variety of sandwiches that may include cucumber, egg and cress, tuna, ham, and/or smoked salmon.

Scones (with butter, clotted cream and jam), cakes and pastries are typically served, as well.

While afternoon tea used to be an everyday event in certain cultures, in current times it is more likely to be a treat in a hotel, café, or tea shop. Although, some individuals still have a cup of tea and slice of cake or chocolate at tea time. Accordingly, many hotels now market and promote afternoon teas.

Afternoon tea featuring scones with clotted cream and jam, center, and a Victoria sponge at left to complement the tea in a fine china cup. Credit: J. M. Hunter

High Tea

As an early evening meal with tea served typically eaten between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., this tea serves as a substitute for both afternoon tea and the more substantial evening meal.

The term comes from the meal being eaten at the “high” or main dining table, instead of the smaller lounge or low table.

Cold meats, eggs and/or fish, cakes and sandwiches are integral to the meal. Though in a family setting, it is less formal and may include small sandwiches, cookies, pastry, and fruit.

High Tea in Heerhugowaard? Dat doet u natuurlijk bij 'De Mediaan'

High tea is often associated with northern areas of England, where it is called “meat tea,” and Scotland, where it is simply called “tea.” “Tea” meant the same thing in Australia and New Zealand. This could cause misunderstandings when guests were invited to (afternoon) tea but turned up several hours late, expecting a more substantial meal.

A glance at the table will quickly show which type of tea is being served. Even the china is different. Afternoon tea uses fine china cups and saucers, usually filled with fine tea, while high tea uses mugs and a large brown teapot, usually filled with a stronger brew of tea.


Strictly speaking, afternoon tea fills the gap between lunch and dinner, but it’s rarely vital to one’s survival. High tea, on the other hand, is a necessary meal, eaten when typically artisan workers return. Nowadays the divisions are blurred, with food such as scones and sponge cakes appearing at both meals. The very adaptability of tea has caused this confusion, but whatever we call the meal, it is one that we  believe we would be much poorer without.

Growing up with Scottish Grandparents, we had Morning Tea at 11 a.m. and Afternoon Tea at around 3 p.m. or so. The workers would come in from the fields or we would take it to them. Either way it was wonderful! My Grandmother had special cups and saucers for all of us children and tiny cubes of sugar. In the afternoon teas, there would be sandwiches that were a bit more substantial than the treats we had for just a regular tea time.


It can be as simple or as fancy as you like, but it’s always a Time Out. Time to sit and sip and chat and just be in the moment. Give yourself the gift of Tea Time every day, you will never regret it!

Happy Sunday!blog2Photo courtesy of Pinterest

9 thoughts on “High Tea versus Afternoon Tea

  1. Caitlynn Didlick says:

    Thank you for the distinction 🙂 Tea is such an important part of one’s day. It’s what gets me up and going on my early 6 am shift days and what settles me in the evening. I have never known the details that distinguish the two types of tea, so it was nice to read them!

    Liked by 1 person

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