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What is High Tea? | The British Tradition Explained


As tea becomes more and more popular throughout the world, your options for how to best consume tea widens as well. From the more and more appreciated loose leaf teas to the herbal caffeine-free teas, tea consumption is on the rise. If you’re looking for a more sophisticated way to consume tea and a meal at the same time, afternoon tea and high tea are both excellent methods. Everyone knows afternoon tea, but what is high tea? Well, they both have a long history stemming from the European continent and are a lovely way to pass the afternoon period. High tea is not quite as well known as afternoon tea, nor is it as focused on the quality of the tea as in Chinese Gongfu tea, but it’s still a great way to enjoy a full meal along with a pot of tea. In this article, we’ll go into detail of exactly what is high tea, the difference between high tea and afternoon tea, and how to best enjoy high tea. 

What is High Tea?

High tea meal

If you think of high tea, most people don’t have a good idea of what to imagine. So what is high tea? High tea is similar to the more well known English afternoon tea in that it’s simply a meal with a pot of hot tea served later in the day. In Britain, you can also call this a light supper or a meat tea.  

  1. History of High Tea

    If high tea is so similar to afternoon tea, then you may ask why is it called high tea? It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason behind the name, but it’s commonly accepted that the name stems from the fact that high tea is served not on a coffee table, but on a regular higher dining table with higher backed seats. High tea is something that originated with the more common middle class rather than high echoes of society.

  2. High Tea Menu

    But if it’s not exactly the same as afternoon tea, then what is the high tea menu? High tea’s menu is much less complicated than that of afternoon tea in that there are less elements and more substantial food. The menu typically consists of a simple meal such as meat, sausages, fish, and sliced or baked vegetables all served with a steaming pot of tea. It is a hearty fare served with tea and then dessert such as chocolates or cheeses. 

  3. High Tea Etiquette

    Many people ask, if high tea is served similarly to a light supper, then what is high tea etiquette? It’s actually very simple, because this is a light supper and not a fancy event, there aren’t any required social etiquette rules to follow. Simply follow all the niceties required of a houseguest invited for a light meal and relax. 

High Tea vs. Afternoon Tea

There is a distinct difference between high tea and afternoon tea that you do not want to get mixed up. Both are famous traditions in Europe, but entail very different things.

Afternoon tea is typically served around 4PM and is considered an afternoon snack with a focus on scones, treats, cakes, and small light sandwiches. This is popular among the royals and the rich as it was a way to focus on high quality tea paired with light fare. It’s a fancy tea party meant to catch up with friends and family. 

High tea meal with meat pie

High tea on the other hand was born out of necessity. High tea originated from the working class, who also got peckish in the afternoon but could not take time off until their jobs finished up around 5PM. Then as they went home, they could finally enjoy a hot meal with a hot cup of tea. As such, it’s still common to refer to the evening meal as tea in some British households.

Be sure to not mix up the two if you are ever planning on hosting a tea party. 


It seems that almost everyone is aware of what afternoon tea entails, but what is high tea? High tea is similar to afternoon tea, but rather than a light fare, high tea is served with a full meal. High tea isn’t really an afternoon snack but more known as supper or dinner. It originated not as a tea party meant for high society, but rather as a comforting meal that the working class members look forward to after a hard day’s work. It’s important to be able to distinguish the two as the two terms are not interchangeable. 


  • What happens at high tea?

    At high tea, a substantial meal such as meat pies, fish, sausages, and vegetables are served with a pot of hot tea. You can also call it a simple dinner.

  • Why is it called high tea?

    It’s called high tea because historically it was served not at a low lying coffee table but a higher dining table with high backed chairs. 

  • What is served at high tea?

    A substantial meal, such as meat, fish, and sausages dishes along with vegetables are served. Desserts, such as chocolates or cheese may also be served after. 

  • What is the difference between tea and high tea?

    Tea is the act of simply enjoying the tea itself, possibly paired with light fare meant as a snack. High tea is dinner paired with a pot of hot tea. 

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