High Tea vs. Low Tea

Published: 10th June 2008
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In the United States, the tradition of tea time was essentially wiped out with the Boston Tea Party. As you may recall, England taxed the tea more than the colonists wanted to pay, so they protested by unloading a bunch of tea into the Boston Harbor. Coffee became the choice of the colonial patriot, while tea remained the choice of England and her numerous colonies around the globe.

As time passed, however, tea did make a come back in the South. In the late 1700s, tea was actually grown in South Carolina, the only state that ever grew it. By the early 1800s, iced tea was immensely popular. The end of the 1800s saw a resurgence of fine tea. The rich began enjoying afternoon tea in fine hotels. Tea time was seen as extravagant and regal. Nevertheless, in the 20th century, tea time waned in the North. The South, however, continued the tradition with ladies' tea time. To this day, hotels like The Jefferson in Richmond, Virginia have a traditional Southern afternoon tea four days a week.

In the United Kingdom, tea has remained popular throughout the centuries. British tea time is the gold standard for those seeking traditional tea. Afternoon tea is enjoyed anywhere from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. It can be served a little later, but since it is intended as an afternoon snack, it shouldn't be served too close to dinner. While one often finds this tea referred to as high tea, it is actually called low tea. "High" is often thought incorrectly to mean royal or fancy. The high and low actually refers to table height. Low tea is served on low tables, like coffee tables while sitting in a parlor. High tea is served on high tables, like dining tables or bars.

High tea is served in the evening with dinner and is more of a working man's tea - nothing particularly regal or romantic about that. The regular working person didn't have time to enjoy low tea, so tea was pushed to dinner time. Thus, high tea is just strong tea with a solid dinner. In fact, rather than say dinner, many English families, will say tea.

In the United States, we like to focus on low tea, since that's where one finds all the good tea treats, like butter cookies, tea sandwiches, scones, and tarts. A favorite tea time snack is a toasted teacake with clotted cream and raspberry jam. Most stores carry clotted cream now. Teacakes are more difficult to find, but a sweet roll, like hot cross buns, will certainly fit the bill. Once you try this delicious combination, you'll crave it, so be careful!

For your own low tea, simply set aside half an hour to enjoy some fine tea with the cookies and jam. If you're feeling really adventurous, make your own scones or teacakes. Not a big baker? You can always use scone mixes to create your tea time treats. Whatever you choose, low tea is truly something to savour!

If you are interested in baking teacakes, try the following recipe. Teacakes are actually large yeast rolls filled with currants. Eat them the same day you make them as they tend to go stale quickly. Just split them, toast them, then cover them with jam and clotted cream.


2 pounds bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons butter or lard (lard is very traditional in English baking)

2 ounces dried black currants

1 ounce fresh yeast

1 cup of lukewarm milk

¼ cup of strong black tea, cooled

Sift together the flour and salt. Cut in the butter or lard until the flour looks like sand. Mix the yeast, sugar, tea, and milk until smooth. Mix with the flour mixture to make a soft dough. Knead for about 10 minutes. Cover and let rise for an hour. Lightly punch down the dough. Gently knead in the currants. Cover and let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Cut the dough into six pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Then flatten each ball into a ½ inch thick disc. Place on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let them rise until doubled in size, about ½ hour to 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Bake the teacakes for 15 to 20 minutes. They will be brown and sound hollow when done. Enjoy with your favorite tea!

Source: Prism Tea and Gifts

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