Tea time has always been a custom associated with the English. However, not many know that this practice started in France more than two decades before tea found its way to England where it was introduced by King Charles II as a tradition to the elite and wealthy section of the society. Then, his successor, Queen Anne, made it a standard practice among the general masses when she chose tea as the preferred drink to start the day over the more commonly drunk ale. Soon, tea also came to be drunk as an accompaniment to the evening meal during the Industrial Revolution.
The practice that we recognize as high tea today was introduced to England in the 18th century but it was very different from the manner in which it is practiced now. In English households only two meals were eaten – breakfast and dinner. However, workers coming home from a day of hard labor in the industries needed additional fortification that would last them until dinner.
This was how the practice of high tea started where a full serving of meat, cheeses, and bread were served along with tea. The fanciful pastries and delicate sandwiches that form a part of high tea in most hotels and restaurants would have had no place in a traditional high tea, since they wouldn’t have been considered filling enough by the hungry working class.
The practice of afternoon teatime is credited to the Duchess of Bedford, Anna Maria Stanhope. As lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, the less than adequate meals served at noon time began to leave her feeling weak and she started suffering from a “sinking feeling” in her stomach. To help her get through the day and last until the late formal dinner, Anne asked for a pot of tea accompanied by bread to be served to her at around 4 o’clock.
Initially, these meals were sneaked into her room, but very soon, she became comfortable enough to invite her friends over to Belvoir Castle to share the late afternoon meal. Tea was served along with a selection of butter sandwiches, sweets, and small cakes. On her return to London, the Duchess continued to invite her friends over for, what she called, “tea and a walk in the fields” – a custom she had grown immensely fond of.
The practice soon became a rage among the other noblewomen of the society and soon enough late teas came to be hugely popular. Since the affair was slightly more casual than the high tea that was enjoyed by the workers, it was termed as ‘low tea’. Another reason why it was christened in this fashion was that low tea was served from low tables, such as the coffee table or the end table, whereas its more elaborate counterpart for the working class was served at the high dining table.
So, when restaurants serve high tea in a quaint and charming manner, you are in fact, enjoying authentic low tea. Remember to thank Anna Maria Stanhope the next time you are sitting with your girlfriends enjoying a refreshing cup of tea with delicious finger sandwiches and yummy cakes.
You must be logged in to post a comment.