Low Tea? Cream Tea?
A Primer for American Readers
Americans often refer to the British tradition of Afternoon Tea as a High Tea.
But the British do not.
“Some places that cater to tourists call it High Tea,” explains Barbara Glauser,
a longtime Shaker resident and owner of the Rolling Tea Cart. “But most of the
time, you’ll see it advertised in Britain as Afternoon Tea. And, in fact, a lot of
British will get angry if you ask for a High Tea.”
That’s because High Tea is actually something else entirely. “In Britain, High
Tea was what the people who worked in factories, the laborers, would have around
6 o’clock and it was almost like dinner,” explains Glauser. It included tea, yes, but
also meat pies, cold cuts, and other hearty fare. It was called High Tea because it
was served at a high table, usually the dining table.
“But somehow or other, because Afternoon Tea is a fancy event, in the United
States, they call it High Tea.”
In Britain, Low Tea is the correct term for an Afternoon Tea. That’s because it
was typically served at low tables in the drawing rooms of the British upper crust.
“It was a tradition for people who had money,” says Glauser.
And Cream Tea? That’s a variant on Afternoon Tea (or Low Tea) in which tea is
served with only scones with clotted cream and jam. Cream tea is a particular tradition
in Devon and Cornwall, two English counties prized for their clotted cream. SL