Several 19th century ladies and a gentleman, enjoying an outdoor afternoon, or “low tea.” “High tea” is a completely different meal in itself and does not connote any segment of society, wealth, ability to exhibit manners or the oft and incorrectly used term, “classy.”
Afternoon tea is traditionally known as “low tea” because it was served whilst sitting down on low sofas and chairs, whereas high tea is a completely different meal in itself. High tea does not have anything to do with the overused and misused phrase, “high class,” but instead got its name due to being eaten on high tables amongst the working classes.
After a long day’s hard labour, the working classes would gather together for their evening meal which usually consisted of meat, fish and other heavy foods. It is still common to hear people from various areas of the country refer to their dinner as “tea” and their lunch as “dinner.”
When presented correctly, afternoon or a “low tea” is actually a three course meal, hence the prettily decorated three-tier stand.
The tea when presented correctly is actually a three course meal, hence the prettily decorated three-tier cake stand. Quite apart from being purely aesthetic, the cake stand represents the three courses. When when having tea, you “work from the bottom up” when it comes to the stand.
The bottom tier represents your first course and is usually laden with finger sandwiches, the middle tier sports warm, succulent looking scones and the top tier finishes the meal off with various cakes, pastries and petit fours. It is incorrect for the three tier cake stand to be arranged in any other way.— Etiquipedia Contributor, Rachel North
Contributor Rachel North is an etiquette and afternoon tea enthusiast with a love for anything -ancient and historical.
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia