The actual time of tea time varies significantly depending upon your location in the world. We often think of taking tea, especially with a light to heavy snack, as uniquely British. Yet there are plenty of countries that practice some form of tea, though times may be informal or aren’t consistently observed
In the UK, tea time typically refers to the time at which afternoon tea is served. This time is usually given as 4:00 PM, but individuals may be earlier or later depending upon work schedules and breaks. Not everyone takes tea every day, and it may simply be an afternoon snack or can be an elaborate feast depending upon the occasion. Some people observe a slightly later tea called meat tea, which is usually heavier and is similar to the American dinner.
While tea time in the UK may be the general name for this afternoon snack or meal, Americans, especially those with kids, may think of this mid afternoon time as snack time. It’s about this time of day that children are returning from school, and are usually hungry for a snack that will hold them over until the evening meal. Afternoon daycares and after care programs may offer a snack to kids at this time of day, and adults may find themselves quite willing to join in because it can be several hours until supper/dinner.
Interestingly, Germany has an afternoon Kaffee or Coffee time that tends to correspond with American snacks and UK tea time. Typical snacks include coffee and cake and the snacks are most often sweet instead of savory. Other countries that like snacks and may have some sort of an informal tea include Mexico and several countries in South America, and Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s tea time occurs anywhere between 2-6:00 PM.
Occasionally, tea time refers to morning breaks or coffee breaks that would occur at about 10:00 AM. This reference may be used in the UK, Canada and the US. In the UK, tea normally happens in the late afternoon, though in New Zealand, “tea” may refer to the light meal taken at about 5:00 pm. The term may also simply be used to not refer to any set time but just an indication that it’s time for snack at any time of day. Americans may refer to this as coffee time instead or may call their morning break a coffee break.