High Tea has little to do with the consumption of tea itself but more to do with a mealtime referred to as Tea and the manner in which it was consumed. Although often attributed to the British, it originated in France.
It all started with the Afternoon Tea. And, it was a certain Madame de Signe from Paris, a notorious socialite, gossipmonger and letter writer, who popularised the custom of taking her tea in the afternoons in the 17th century when tea was still a novelty drink and where ale was the preferred breakfast beverage.
Afternoon Tea: This is typically a social affair intended to fill the gap between lunch and dinner and is served between 15:00 and 16:00. One dresses for the occasion. It includes something for the sweet tooth such as cakes, scones and sweets and may be served with clotted cream.
High Tea: This is typically a little more substantial and taken after work and before an event where the main meal of the day might be delayed due to the engagement. It is typically served at 14:00 to 17:00. It is customary to include heartier dishes in addition to the cakes and therefore the menu comprises a mix of sweet and savoury.
Invitations should be extended a minimum of one week in advance face-to-face with handwritten invitations.
It is customary to host a High Tea for a Guest of Honour and make it known who that guest is. It is the host’s duty to introduce each attendee to the Guest of Honour on arrival. Etiquette dictates that guests should not leave before the Guest of Honour.
Besides an assortment of teas and your best fine china and fabric serviettes, it is customary to serve finger sandwiches (known as savones), scones (pronounced properly as scons), an assortment of pastries, and mini-baked cakes such as bite sized petit fours.
It is customary to serve scones with clotted cream, a variety of preserves and ripe cheddar cheeses. The scones should be halved and clotted cream is placed onto the scone before being topped by cheese and preserves.
It is not the host or hostesses job to pour the tea. Ensure that a tea pourer is appointed and that pots as well as servers remain well stocked.
It is customary to first pour the tea and then add either milk or a slice lemon to the tea and not the other way around. Don’t forget to provide lemon forks. Cream is never poured into tea at a High Tea, this is why clotted cream is provided for scones.
High Tea also calls for high fashion. Smart casual is also quite acceptable today.
By Chef Deon Roets, Academic and Quality Manager at Capsicum Culinary Studio.