The tradition of Tea Time
While the majority of people associate tea with England, the habit of having a cup of tea began in France in 1638, nearly twenty–two years before tea was even introduced in England. The ruler of England in the 17th century, King Charles II, brought a Portuguese bride and a strong tea tradition. When the King and the queen were tea drinkers, drinking tea inevitably became popular among the wealthy.
Tea replaced ale ( beer brewed using a warm fermentation method) as the official beverage in England in concise order. When Queen Anne, a follower of King Charles II, chose tea over ale as her morning drink, she set a new standard in England. Also, tea was commonly used to satisfy the workers’ hunger after an evening meal during the Industrial Revolution.
High tea was introduced to England in the eighteenth century. Most households were typically served only two meals – breakfast and dinner. When workers came home, they were more than ready for a whole serving of bread, meats, cheese, etc. These were served on a high table along with tea, much like dinner. Thus, the late afternoon meals were called high tea. Today, high tea is mistakenly identified as a formal tea in the afternoon, along with pastries. Still, those delicacies would never have been found in an authentic high tea – they wouldn’t be hearty enough.
Anna–Maria Stanhope, the Duchess of Bedford, is known for the beginning of afternoon “tea time.” Once a lady waiting for Queen Victoria, Anne began to feel hunger around four o’clock in the afternoon as the noon meal had become skimpier. To help her to be satisfied from the noon meal to the late formal dinner, Anne first asked servants to serve a pot of tea and bread.
Later, when Anne became more comfortable with her late afternoon meal, Anne began to invite friends to join her in her rooms at Belvoir Castle around five o’clock in the afternoon. She followed the traditional European tea service format and served a variety of small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, and of course tea.
When she returned to London, the Duchess enjoyed her treat so much that she continued the practice with the tea and the sweets by inviting friends to visit for “tea and a walk in the fields”. Another noblewoman kept the tradition of serving a light afternoon meal, and teatime was born.
Because the teatime of nobles was a more casual event than the high tea of the workers, it was termed “low tea.” This is because tea and sweets were served on low tables, while coffee and such were served on a high dining table. Low tea was often enjoyed by the wealthy for centuries. Dinner was served late in the evening and was a genuinely formal affair. Today many of the fine tea Houses in Europe and North America serving “high tea” are doing in the authentic style of “low tea.”