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High Tea, Low Tea: Two Beloved Tea Traditions Part 2: Low Tea

Posted on 06/15/2023

The creation of “low” or “afternoon” tea is often credited to the Duchess of Bedford, who, according to legend, started this tradition to satisfy her afternoon cravings. It was becoming fashionable around the time of the introduction of gas lighting for the wealthy to stay up late into the night. The working class were obliged to rise and sleep with the sun, so late night dinners by gas lamp became a luxury for those who could afford it. Because of the long gap between her mid-morning breakfast and dinner at 9:00pm, the Duchess became accustomed to taking her tea around 4:00pm with bread, butter, and cake. When her ritual caught on, it evolved from a simple pleasure to a luxurious social event that spread across the country. It was referred to as “low tea” because the guests sat at armchairs and chaises by a low coffee table, or “afternoon tea” for the time it was served.


The indulgent and extensive menu for “afternoon tea” includes an impressive spread of cakes, sweets, scones and finger foods. One popular early addition to the ensemble is the classic crustless tea sandwich, traditionally enjoyed with dainty, light fillings. Cucumber is one of the most popular, made up of butter or cream cheese mixed with thinly sliced cucumbers and lemon juice, salt or seasonings. Decorative petit fours, sweet fruits, and crumpets, offered alongside lemon curd and clotted cream, are common fare. At the time “afternoon tea” was popularized, the upper class would have been drinking similar teas to the common folk, although perhaps of a higher grade. One thing that the very wealthy had access to that the working class did not was specialized flavored tea blends, such as Earl Grey. The ulterior motive of the tea service was a chance to make a show of wealth. Beautiful, ornamental imported dishes, cups, and saucers were laid out for the occasion, alongside fine silver.


When it comes to enjoying “afternoon tea” at home, the possibilities and combinations are endless! Make smoked salmon and cream cheese or cucumber sandwiches. Bake scones or crumpets and serve them with lemon curd or clotted cream. For a more traditional choice of tea, brew a pot of China Congou or Earl Grey. If you wish to make the occasion a special one, try serving these snacks with a pot of your favorite Upton tea!

We hope you have enjoyed this exploration of two traditions to enrich your love for teatime. Whether “high” or “low” tea, making tea a special occasion to savor will brighten up your day.

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