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Tea – High Tea and Afternoon Tea – What’s the Difference?

Tea the Drink

There are two forms of tea that often cause confusion in the tea world: tea the drink and tea the meal. Tea the drink is made from the Camellia Sinensis plant and from the processing of the plant white, green, oolong, and black teas are produced. The basic teas are also often blended with other plants like vanilla, mint and melon as well as flavors like Oil of Bergamot to make Earl Grey Tea,

The beverage is made by steeping processed leaves, buds, or twigs of the tea bush in hot water for a few minutes. The processing can include oxidation, heating, drying, and the addition of other herbs, flowers, spices, and fruits.

The term “herbal tea” usually refers to infusions of fruit or of herbs (such as rosehip, chamomile, or jiaogulan) that contain no Camellia Sinensis.

Tea the Meal

Tea the meal on the other hand involves tea the drink as an vital part but really is directed toward social and family gatherings where tea and food are often consumed together.

Generally speaking , the tea meal became most well loved and refined in England but spread to English speaking countries or former English colonies as well. Tea meals are also celebrated in other countries in differing forms.

The key distinction between differing tea meals is the time of day, type of food served and the location of serving.

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea (or Low tea) is a light meal typically eaten at 4:00 pm. It originated in Britain, though various places in the former British Empire also have such a meal. But, most Britons no longer eat such a meal.

Traditionally, loose tea would be served in a teapot with milk and sugar. This would be accompanied by various sandwiches (customarily cucumber, egg and cress, tuna, ham, and smoked salmon), scones (with butter, clotted cream and jam) and usually cakes and pastries. Traditionally the tea and food would be served on a lounge (or low) table.

While afternoon tea used to be an everyday event, nowadays it is more likely to be a treat in a hotel, café, or tea shop, although many Britons still have a cup of tea and slice of cake or chocolate at teatime. Accordingly, many hotels now market and promote afternoon teas.

High tea

To the uninitiated, High tea may be a confusing term.

High tea is an early evening meal, typically eaten between 5:00 and 6:00 pm. It would be eaten as a substitute for both afternoon tea and the evening meal. The term comes from the meal being eaten at the ‘high’ (main) table, instead of the smaller lounge (low) table. It is now largely replaced by the later meal tea.

It would usually consist of cold meats, eggs and/or fish, cakes and sandwiches. In a family, it tended to be less formal and is an informal snack (featuring sandwiches, cookies, pastry, fruit and the like) or else it is the main evening meal.

On farms, rural areas or other working class environments, high tea would be the traditional, substantial meal eaten by workers immediately after nightfall, and would combine afternoon tea with the main evening meal.

In recent years, High tea somehow became a word for exquisite afternoon tea. Such usage is incorrect. High Tea is not, in traditional terms, afternoon tea.

Main evening meal

Tea is the main evening meal, even if the diners are not drinking tea. It is traditionally eaten at 5:00 pm, though often it is later, as late as 9:00 pm.

In many rural parts of the United Kingdom tea as a meal is synonymous with dinner in Standard English. Under such usage, the midday meal is sometimes termed dinner, rather than lunch.

The United States

The term high tea is sometimes used in the United States to refer to afternoon tea or the tea party, a very formal, ritualized gathering in which tea, thin sandwiches and small cakes are served in an exquisite setting. This usage comes from misunderstanding the term high to mean formal. Most tea drinkers know that such usage is incorrect;

This form of tea is increasingly served in high-end U.S. hotels, often during the winter holidays and other tourist seasons, and many huge-city teahouses, where it is usually correctly described as Afternoon tea

Social Implications

The tea party is still occasionally given in the U.S., usually for a special occasion. This occasion is a formal one, but otherwise afternoon tea is an informal gathering of friends. The tea party often became a place of intimate conversation and social intercourse.

Tea is a very vital part of many people’s lives and it is vital for those who drink tea or participate in tea meals to know the right terminology.

Jon M. Stout is Chairman of the Golden Moon Tea Company. For more information about tea, goldenmoontea.com/greentea green tea and goldenmoontea.com/blacktea black tea go to goldenmoontea.com goldenmoontea.com



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