Formal afternoon tea, popularised during the Victorian era, has made a small resurgence in England. High tea, served later in the day, offers a wider array of culinary possibilities than just finger foods and tea.
High tea is often thought of in the United States as a formal affair enjoyed by the upper class. Actually, it began as an early evening meal for workers who might not have eaten all day, so hearty fare was served.
High Tea vs. Low Tea
High tea, named for the high dinner tables at which it was served, was also called "meat tea," since heavy meat-based dishes were served. Low tea was a social affair served at low drawing-room tables, with tea and sweets as the main attraction.
Modern High Tea in England
High tea is still observed in parts of England. Menus include meat pie, sandwiches, bread with butter and jam, eggs, cold meats like roast beef, and smoked herring, salmon, or other fish, followed by pastries, cakes, and other sweets.
The more formal afternoon tea usually comprises sweets and tea. Recently, "Devon Cream Tea" or "Cream Tea" has come into its own in England. Scones with Devonshire Cream, a rich, clotted cream, and jam are the norm, along with high-quality tea.
High Tea in the U.S.
Upscale American hotels sometimes mimic the "Devon Cream Tea," mistakenly calling the experience "High English Tea."