Hot tea being poured from an exquisite silver teapot into dainty china cups.
Finger sandwiches and lavish desserts served from a 3-tiered platter.
Nothing could be more quintessentially English than High Tea.
Just ask a Yank, right? Au contraire! Just ask a Brit.
High Tea is nothing of the sort.
In England High Tea has always been associated with members of the lower classes, not the elite.
In 1838 "a tempest in a teapot" came into use as an idiom indicating a major fuss over a trivial matter.
Some might find this expression apropos when applied to what Yanks and Brits consider High Tea.
Lest the topic becomes a source of contention between two allies, a lesson in history would be in order.
The truth is that High Tea (both the name and the time served) has nothing to do with grandeur, status, or formality.
In fact, those descriptions would more aptly depict afternoon, or Low Tea (more to come on that later).
The difference in the names given each was quite simple.
One was a full evening meal taken on a table in the dining room.
This table was much higher than the low table on which afternoon tea was served in the sitting room, or parlor.
In the following paragraphs, a look back at history will illustrate other distinctions between High Tea and Low Tea.
In the England of yore before the "dawn" of artificial lighting, most people went to bed early in keeping with their biological clocks.
During this period two main meals were prepared.
The first was early in the morning to break the long fast.
Hence, it came to be known as breakfast.
The other main meal prepared at the noon hour was called dinner.
After their dinner meal, the poor, working class pocketed leftover cheese and bread scraps.
Naturally they returned home rather hungry by the end of the day.
Unable to afford otherwise, these scraps became their final meal of the day.
As English social order progressed during the time of the Industrial Revolution, a middle class emerged.
Along with it, High Tea evolved from its modest beginnings of table scraps.
Foods such as cheese, eggs, potatoes, and meat began to appear on the working man's dining table.
Traditional steak and kidney pie or a Shepherd's pie might have been served at High Tea.
This hearty, early evening fare also became known as "Meat Tea.
" A change in meal times also came about for the upper classes.
When kerosene oil came to Europe in the early 1800's, poor lighting was no longer a reason for those of the leisure class to retire to bed early.
The later they stayed up at night, the later they slept in the next morning.
This change in the time breakfast was served inevitably led to other changes.
The preparation of a large dinner at noon was no longer required, so the meal became skimpier.
The most substantial meal of the day was not served until as late as nine in the evening.
The time lapse between the two was quite long.
Suddenly "jolly ole England" wasn't so jolly anymore.
In fact, by the time four o'clock rolled around, one of the ladies in Queen Victoria's inner circle began to feel quite faint! With that Anna, Duchess of Bedford, took matters into her own hands.
History now credits the Duchess with introducing afternoon tea to the high society of her day in the early 1840's.
It became her habit to invite friends over in the mid-afternoons for tea with butter and bread.
Guests were served on low tea tables placed by the sofas and chairs in the sitting room.
Afternoon tea, or Low Tea, became a social occasion.
As the trend caught on, each hostess tried to outdo the next.
Polite conversations were carried on around tables covered in fine linens.
Bone china, a silver tea service, and cake plates on tall pedestals were must-haves.
The "tea party" fare expanded to include dainty sandwiches and pastries which were eaten with three fingers.
This necessitated the rinsing of one's fingers.
Bowls of water containing lemon peels or flower petals were placed on the low tables for one's guests.
By the early 1880's, Britain's aristocracy were not the only ones serving Low Tea.
Ladies of leisure all across Great Britain began to have 'At Home' teas.
Eventually tea shops became fashionable, as well.
The latter would eventually lead to the formal afternoon tea which Americans mistakenly think of as High Tea.
In a teacup, Low Tea was created by a member of the upper class and was a high-class affair.
High Tea owes its beginnings to the lower class.