Today's post is really more of a Public Service Announcement. Here it is:
"High Tea" is not what you think it is.
I'll admit, this is a somewhat obscure pet peeve, but I cringe whenever I hear someone use the terms High Tea and Afternoon Tea interchangeably. They are actually very, very different. If you think that "high tea" means an elegant affair of scones, pretty sandwiches, and wee little pastries served on a three-tiered server - well, I'm sorry. That's not High Tea. That is Afternoon Tea. I think the confusion comes from the word "high" and many people assume that "high" means fancy. In this case, it doesn't.
This is AFTERNOON TEA, not HIGH TEA! (photo source)
So what is High Tea? It's a casual mini-meal eaten at the end of the day and often consists of a hearty meat pie and strong black tea. It was originally practiced by working men in the UK who would would come home hungry from work, but find that it wasn't quite time for supper. The name comes from the high-topped table that one would historically sit at to eat such a snack.
The term "Afternoon Tea" originates from the time of day that society ladies would gather in their parlors to sip tea from prim cups and eat dainty treats served on china. Since true High Tea is hardly a special occasion worth mentioning, it's safe to assume that when someone says "High Tea" they actually mean "Afternoon Tea".
Armed with your newfound knowledge, if you're in Chicago and are looking for a place to have Afternoon Tea, I highly recommend the Four Seasons. After years of intensive field research (a.k.a. excuse to chat over fancy food), my friend Andrea and I have decided it's the best.