What Is on a Typical High Tea Menu?

Eugene P.

There actually are two versions of a high tea menu, depending largely on the exact interpretation of high tea. In England and some other countries, high tea is a very full meal at the end of the day that is basically a dinner consisting of different dishes — meats, stews, vegetables and savory side dishes, along with some dessert pastries or snacks. Outside England, many countries use the term "high tea" to indicate what is known as afternoon tea in England; this includes various small sandwiches, quiches and pastries such as scones. Both versions involve some proper etiquette, although an English high tea is really treated more like a dinner and is intended to be more functional than ceremonial. In some households, the menu might contain only light items such as pastries, cheese or cold cuts, mainly because these households have a larger, separate dinner afterward that is independent of the high tea.

Sugar cubes are used to sweeten tea.
Sugar cubes are used to sweeten tea.

A traditional English high tea, also sometimes called a meat tea, resembles a typical dinner menu that might be seen in many households. The meal consists of savory components, such as meat pies, fish, sausages, stews or even sliced roasted meats. Vegetable dishes such as baked potatoes, salad and boiled corn and green beans accompany the main savory offerings. Sweet items also are presented, including standards such as scones and lemon curd pies that go well with the actual tea being served. Desserts such as fruit tarts or chocolate cake also may be served.

Fruit tart served at high tea.
Fruit tart served at high tea.

In homes where a more traditional dinner meal serves as the main evening meal, the high tea can consist of lighter fare. This can be something very informal, such as a plate of sliced sausages or meats with fruit, bread and cheese. It also can be a late afternoon snack, with the high tea menu including mostly light, sweet snacks such as pieces of pound cake and custard.

A cup of black tea.
A cup of black tea.

When designed for an afternoon tea, the menu becomes much more of a collection of small appetizers and confections. Crustless tea sandwiches are a popular high tea menu item in the afternoon, with the different sandwiches being made from cucumbers, watercress or even ham and cheese. Petit fours and scones also are part of the traditional menu. Fruits, sliced cheeses, clotted cream and lemon curd usually round out a high tea menu. Unlike a meat tea, however, an afternoon tea is an event that can be very concerned with etiquette, proper appearances and other customs that have developed around the ceremony over the years.

Lemon curd.
Lemon curd.
Scones, clotted cream, and jam are often served at high tea.
Scones, clotted cream, and jam are often served at high tea.
A high tea held in the afternoon is usually formal.
A high tea held in the afternoon is usually formal.

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Discussion Comments

Rotergirl

I've thought about doing high tea for my cousin, who is getting married. I'd like to invite her and her mother, her bridesmaid and her two aunts and my sister. I think it would be a lovely way to honor her. I think I would want to do lemon bars as one of the sweets, certainly, and maybe curried chicken salad tea sandwiches. I'd also like to find an authentic recipe for scones. There has to be one on the net somewhere!

Pippinwhite

Having high tea at the Russian Tea Room in New York City is on my bucket list. It's expensive, but how often do ordinary people get to do it?

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