How well do you know your High Tea?

High Tea is a luxurious affair, perfect for a special occasion, birthday celebration, a treat with family and friends, or just a chance to spoil yourself.  Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney has long been known for its delicious Traditional High Tea, and was the first 5-star hotel in Sydney to launch an all-vegan High Tea menu, but how much do you know about the history of this traditional afternoon treat?

 High tea at Radisson Blu Plaza

The history of High Tea fashion.

Afternoon Tea, or High Tea, first came into fashion in England in the 1840s, an idea sprung from the mind of Anna Maria, Duchess of Bedford, who wanted to fill the long gap between luncheon and the fashionably late 8 pm dinner meal, and ordered tea, bread and jam to her bedroom during the afternoon. She began to invite friends to join her and the trend quickly spread among aristocratic society. Anna continued her tradition when visiting London, inviting her great friend the Queen to join her. Queen Victoria enjoyed the afternoon tea so much she began to have her own afternoon tea, with her favourite delight being a light sponge cake with fresh raspberries, famously becoming known as the Victoria Sponge. 

Victoria Sponge High tea

As the tradition spread and afternoon tea gatherings became more popular, ladies began dressing in finery to attend, and the affair was moved into the drawing-room, where tea was served with silver teapots and bone china cups, around relaxing low tables and parlour chairs.  In summer the tradition moved to the large immaculate gardens of aristocratic homes, and by then had become an upper-class tradition.  Drinking tea was also seen as a ‘coming of age’ for young ladies, drinking tea was a sign of maturity for a young woman showing they could behave appropriately amongst society. 

The working class had their own version of High Tea which was a very different affair. In the Industrial Revolution, and with the invention of artificial lighting working hours became longer, and dinner was served later in the evening.  They too needed something to keep them going through the long afternoon hours and began to take a short break standing or sitting on tall stools, the beginning of the expression ‘High’ Tea.  As years have passed and the social gap between working-class and high society has reduced, Afternoon Tea or High Tea has become one and the same, and something to be enjoyed by all.

Ever wondered how tea became the national drink of Britain?

In 1662 King Charles II married a Portuguese Princess, Catherine of Braganza, and brought her to England. Princess Catherine had a famous love of tea, and made sure to bring it with her, and drank it in the English courts.  At the time ale was the unofficial national beverage, and tea was something used for medicinal reasons.  Catherine was immensely popular and spread the trend of tea drinking among the aristocrats, and with her marriage opened up new trading opportunities for Britain. 

Tea was considered an expensive luxury, as it was shipped in from China or India, a long and treacherous journey by boat, and therefore it became an essential item in society to show off wealth and generosity to guests.  Tea became in such high demand that merchant sailing boats, called clippers, used to race from China with the first crop of the year, to try and be first to arrive in London.  The competitiveness of the tea clippers reached a peak in 1866 with The Great Tea Race, which was followed closely by the press and everyone in England.  After a journey of over 14,000 miles, taking 99 days, three ships arrived in London within 2 hours of each other, such a close finish bringing even more hype and popularity to the tea commodity.  Soon after this the ease and efficiency of the steam ship, and the opening of the Suez Canal made importing of tea much quicker and easier, and the popularity of tea has remained ever since, making it a staple in every English home. 

 High tea Radisson

Devonshire Tea vs Cornish Tea, which method is correct?

Devonshire Tea, Cornish Tea, or Cream Tea is a well-known version of afternoon tea, consisting of scones with jam and cream.  It is difficult to determine if the Devonshire or Cornish Tea came first, and there is also strong rivalry as to the correct method of eating scones.  The Devonian Method is to split the scone in half, cover the scone in clotted cream, and then add strawberry jam on top.  The Cornish method, however, is to split the scone in half, spread with strawberry jam, and then top with clotted cream.  So what do you think is the ‘correct’ way?!

High Tea scones

Today High Tea is a popular event in Australia as well as England and can be found in luxury hotels and venues around the world. Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Sydney has just launched its brand new 2022 menus, featuring our signature Traditional High Tea, as well as Vegan High Tea, Gluten-Free High Tea, and Kids High Tea, now available to book on our new booking page:

High Tea is also the perfect occasion for a group celebration such as a birthday, bridal shower, or baby shower, and Radisson Blu Sydney offers group high teas with private function room hire.   

Author: Joanna McGuiness

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published