High tea comes from a Victorian tradition, originating in Europe. It was first introduced in France, with the start of the English tea trade in the late 1670s. After gaining popularity, the preparation and service of high tea migrated to England two decades later. In its traditional form, guests were provided with a full meal. It served the nutritional requirements of both lunch and dinner. A more modern approach, however, is to serve high tea with light and refreshing snacks between meals.
Entertaining with high tea is a classic way to celebrate any occasion. Most of the preparation can be done ahead of time, allowing you to maximize time with friends. After selecting a convenient day and time for your party, choosing the right location will create the ambiance you desire. High tea should be served in the afternoon, between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00.
Once the logistics are confirmed with guests, you can be creative with the furnishings and table settings to be used. Smaller tables will encourage conversation between guests. Table tops can be covered with white linens, cloth napkins, silverware and china. You will need small plates, silverware, cups and saucers for each guest; in addition to teapots, a sugar container and a creamer.
Purchasing china can be expensive. You can purchase individual settings at second hand shops, flea markets or yard sales to reduce the out-of-pocket costs. Your event can become even more festive by using different china patterns that you've collected over time. Guests will have something extra to talk about when admiring your china collection. You can assign seating or allow your guests to be free to move around. The overall goal is to share a light snack and have fun.
Depending on your menu, you may want to line your serving plates with doilies for a cleaner presentation. Set up a serving table, with several pots of tea and all the food preparations for your service. This will ensure quality time with your guests, allowing them to view the food you will be serving.
High tea is a dainty, lady-like service. Your food should be light and refreshing, as well as the tea you are serving. You'll want to select a popular brand, like Earl Grey. It is a sweeter tea, with a light flavor, so it won't over-power the taste of your service.
In addition to tea, there are three parts of the high tea service. As hostess, you should offer each guest a cup of tea. You may want to offer sugar, lemon, honey or other flavorings. While filling their individual cups, you should add any requested condiments to their tea. They can then stir to blend these flavors with the silverware provided.
Once everyone has received tea, you can offer the first course. Using your decorative serving platters, you can present small sandwiches made with light and dark bread. You may also serve any prepared hors d'orves.
You can trim the crust from your sandwiches or use cookie cutters to create fancy shapes. Allow plenty of time for this part of the service and prepare enough food in case your guests want seconds.
The second course is bread. You might want to serve sweetened breads, muffins or scones. Depending on your choice, you can offer whipped cream, jam or some other item to be used as toppings.
The last course is dessert. The hostess usually produces a beautiful cake, in addition to a few small, tasty treats. Remember that tea is the focus of your party, so be sure to offer refills throughout the service.
Tea is rich in antioxidants and thought to help reduce the risk of serious health conditions, such as heart disease and cancer. By using it as the center of a social gathering, you can spend time with friends and enjoy better health.