Last weekend I had the opportunity to tour a new boutique hotel in New York (I'll not mention the name) which was exquisite in every way and detail. Except I was taken aback by a small poster in the lobby that announced "High Tea at 4:00".
It's unclear who could have made such an error, the Maitre D' or the hotel manager, but this confusion over nomenclature is peculiar to America and took me back to my childhood. Being a dumb American as opposed to a sophisticated Brit, I grew up thinking that afternoon tea was simply a cup of tea or coffee with some left-over snacks to tide one over between the lunch and dinner hours.
High Tea to me was something much more elaborate involving fine china, sterling-silver platters and linen napkins - with snacks like scones, cucumber sandwiches and other tempting delicacies of the finger-food nature being presented by house servants or restaurant waiters. In my mind this was the sort of thing you see at a ladies tea in a fine home, or the lobby of a luxury hotel.
While I eventually outgrew my ignorance, I guess I'm not alone in my American confusion where Happy Hour replaced tea time a long time ago. In addition to that poster in the elegant hotel in New York, I once saw a printed invitation to my employer's former wife (whom I adored and miss, by the way) inviting her to High Tea!
This all comes up again thanks to my Twitter buddy Nikki Glenn who posted a great article about the difference between Afternoon Tea and High Tea.
It seems High Tea in England is something the servants take in late afternoon after the Master and/or Mistress of the house have finished Afternoon Tea upstairs. Along with the tea, this break for the servants includes meats and vegetables like a full dinner, not just scones and finger food, before they must prepare for their employers' evening dinner. Since the servants sit at their usual dinning table (below stairs or in the kitchen) it's a normal high table compared to the small low tables in the sitting parlors upstairs, where Afternoon Tea is served.
The article Nikki posted explains it all, and get ready for some really great laughs! The writer, etiquette expert William Hanson, suggests that our entire breeding and background can be deciphered from the way we take tea! Here's a link to his hysterical article in the Daily Mail.
But for a more in-depth look at the history and etiquette of Afternoon Tea, here's a link to an article by Grant Harrold, widely known in England and Europe as The Royal Butler. Here's a link to his fascinating article: The Etiquette of Afternoon Tea.
I expect this is more than you ever wanted to know about Afternoon Tea, especially since most Americans drink coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up or skip it altogether, as previously mentioned, and go straight for Happy Hour! But if you're sending out invitations or managing a boutique hotel, it behooves us to get the name right, don't you think?
As always, thanks for stopping by this evening, It's Happy Hour as we speak!