Did you ever stop to wonder why little kids have tea parties for all their dolls, friends, and any adults who will join them? The custom came over from England where tea time had already become popular in the 1800s.
There are actually two types of tea times in the UK:
- Low tea (also called afternoon tea)
- High tea (known as “meat tea”)
Low tea, with its elegant service, dainty finger foods, and carefully-prepared hot tea served in fancy bone china cups and saucers is what the children are playing at with their games:
“A traditional tea starts with finger sandwiches, a savory flan, followed by scones with butter, jam and or cream, then cakes and, of course, tea.”
High tea, a complete meal that includes meat, bread, sides, and dessert, is more like what Americans call dinner.
Low tea is a mid-afternoon snack that staves off starvation between lunch and dinner. Afternoon tea should be held between 3 and 5 in the afternoon. Tradition dictates tea time is at 4 p.m. rain or shine.
The rite and ritual of serving low tea are attributed to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who found herself a wee bit peckish (hungry) before the normal 8-9 p.m. dinnertime. The lady got in the habit of fighting that “sinking feeling” many of us know all too well by ordering tea, bread and butter, and little cakes to be served right there in her room.
Who needs a formal dining table to fight the midday munchies? Friends invited over to share afternoon tea with the Duchess agreed and the fad caught on big-time after she returned to London and presented her “At Home” tea idea.
Formal announcements about tea were sent to select relatives and friends who were advised at what hour the tea service would begin. The foods served were sweet, savory or a combination of both.
Low tea survived rationing during World Wars I and II and also lost favor to that upstart coffee drink but has revived in popularity as people on both sides of the Great Pond enjoy a bit of something with a nice cup of hot steaming tea.
Today, many fans adore the Devonshire Cream Tea menu, described as “simple but unforgettable: tea, scones, strawberry jam, and rich, luscious clotted cream.” To clot cream, thicken it by simmering in a water bath before cooling for several hours. Substitute the clotted cream for butter on the scones and cover with jam. Yum!
Many treats offered in a low tea are delicious, to be sure, but aren’t famous for weight loss or staying fit. Let’s face it: a jammy clotted cream scone is a heart attack on a gorgeous little plate.
Never fear, there are some ways to make afternoon tea healthier:
- Baked breads are generally better for you than cakes and biscuits.
- Use less butter or substitute with a nut butter such as almond or peanut.
- Snap cookies (such as ginger snaps) are a better dietary deal than crumbly sugar cookies.
If you don’t mind the occasional indulgence, check out these 50 Food Network low tea recipes. You can learn how to make scones – with lemon glaze!
For those who just can’t wait for 4 p.m. to have a nice cup of tea, there are elevenses, a late-morning work break featuring a light snack (muffins, scones or biscuits) with a cup of hot tea or coffee. Elevenses shall be served at – you guessed it – 11 in the morning.
Tea time is also an occasion when friends gather to relax, chat, and, yes, even gossip. Turn off the computers and cell phones and take a leisurely – if brief – time-out from the “thousand little things” that crowd the pleasure of companionship from our daily lives.
Many people find the act of making tea helps them calm and center. Foods prepared with love by hand taste better (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
If you need more convincing, a beautiful tea service is inspiring and uplifting. The world is full of abundance and that tiered silver platform groaning with goodies is proof positive of that. Why not slow down and sip the tea?