Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

Afternoon tea at the Palm Court in London's elegant Langham Hotel is a sight to behold! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Afternoon tea at the Palm Court in London’s elegant Langham Hotel is a sight to behold! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Next time you are traveling in the UK or elsewhere in the current or former British Empire and a friend or colleague invites you “to tea” will you know what he or she means?

“Tea” can refer to any of several different meals or mealtimes, depending on a country’s customs and its history of drinking tea.

“Afternoon tea” is likely the meal most Americans think of when they hear the term. Afternoon tea is taken between 4 and 6pm and involves tea, scones, clotted cream, finger sandwiches, stacked plates, sweets (see photo) and good manners. It’s the type of tea you’ve likely seen in grand London hotels like the Langham or The Ritz. It’s also what you get on an afternoon flight back from the UK on British Airways.

Related: The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Important: Afternoon tea is NOT “high tea.” High tea, or just “tea” is the typical hot, heavier evening meal served between 6-8 pm. (What most Americans think of as dinner or supper.) Americans tend to think of high tea as the fancy one…but it is not.

Of course, usage varies by class and location, so if confused by an invitation “to tea,” just be sure to clarify.

Here’s some more info on afternoon tea etiquette from The Langham Hotel’s Palm Court.

What do you think of the tradition of afternoon tea? Is it an appropriate venue for business discussion? Who does it best? 

Chris McGinnis

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