“High Teas” are popping up here, there, and everywhere it seems. Once reserved for retirees and characters of an inaccurate depiction of British high society, high tea is now a fashionable way to spend an afternoon, hen’s party, baby shower or any not quite real celebration. At least, these things are labelled high tea.
Most establishments offering high tea have only the vaguest handle on what high tea actually is. Most people zipping off a mass Facebook invitation don’t even have that. Thus, a quick education is in order.
Historically, afternoon tea or ‘low tea’ was exclusively an upper class affair. It was the mini-meal designed to tide people over from lunch to supper, which often wasn’t served until 8pm. It was served while seated in low, comfortable chairs (hence ‘low tea’) and consisted of an offering of multiple black teas, scones and finger sandwiches.
High tea was the purview of the working class. Tea was expensive and wasn’t splashed around all afternoon long. High tea was eaten at a table, or even a kitchen bench top (hence ‘high’) and the meal was hearty to satisfy the hungry worker. It often consisted of vegetables, bread, cheese, a mug of tea, and occasionally meat as well. Eventually, the upper class also developed a version of ‘high tea’. It was a meal taken at the table and was simple to prepare in the absence of servants. This is where the 3-tiered afternoon tea tray came into its own.
So, what are we to do with this information? Before I answer this question, I’ll take you on a whirlwind trip of some ‘high teas’ I’ve been invited to, and we’ll see if you can spot the primary issue.
Mum’s Afternoon High Tea
The Mum’s group I belonged to when I lived in the city had a child-free ‘high tea’. I was the only one who brought tea leaves. I brewed one 4-cup pot and personally drank 2 cups from it. One other mum drank a cup of tea.
Engagement Part High Tea
We all had to bring a plate and a gift from an obnoxiously long (and expensive) registry. They served traditional lemonade.
Swanky Hotel High Tea
Champagne and coffee were brought to the table. Tea was self-serve, from tea bags.
The astute among you will have realised the primary problem with the modern high tea is that there is a distinct lack of tea involved. Call me crazy, but if you wish to resurrect the practice of tea in the afternoon, it should involve some actual tea. Also, in sticking with tradition, I’d expect to see some savouries, scones and sweets served on a 3-tier tray. Chalk that up to preference if you like, but a selection of tea at a high tea is a must!
“But lots of people don’t like tea,” I can hear the ‘macchiato in a syringe’ crowd grumble. Well then, maybe lots of people need to come up with a different term for their afternoon nibbles and non-tea beverages.
Alternatively, tiny minded coffee drinkers could expand their palates by trying today’s T2 sampling: Good Afternoon.
What surprised me most about this tea was the amount of expectation I had placed on it. I expected something dark, with deep tannins. Good Afternoon was not like this at all. It had very little tannin and was overwhelmingly smooth. For a straight black, it wasn’t as bold as Keemun (which I’ve discovered is now my black tea benchmark), but it was kind of bright. It was a tricky little brew to pigeonhole.
I drank it in the middle of the day and was surprised at how well it paired with late morning sunshine. I would recommend drinking this black any time before 4pm, due to how smooth is tastes. Good Afternoon is the friend to milk of any ilk, but tread cautiously with sweetener (as I always say, I know). It seems like its flavour could easily be washed out by some over zealous honey squeezing (or agave, or coconut sugar, or maple syrup, or whatever it is people are pretending isn’t sugar this week).
The main advantage of Good Afternoon is how inoffensive it is. This is definitely a worthy introduction tea if someone you know and love (yourself included) is seeking to dip their toe into the wide world of tea drinking, or simply attempting to broaden their selection and aren’t too confident of where to begin. That being said, it’s a bit boring, because it’s just a standard black.
What we all need to remember though, is that high tea is a real thing, with a real definition, and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. And above all, it must include some tea. Otherwise, it’s time to call it something else entirely.
Good Afternoon: 4/5
Enjoy with: a high tea, because then it’s a Good Afternoon on every level.