High tea has different meanings according to country.

Table of contents
1 North America
2 Great Britain and Ireland
3 See Also

North America

The term high tea is sometimes used in North America to refer to a very formal, ritualized gathering (usually of ladies) in which tea and little cakes are served on the best china. This usage comes from understanding the term "high" to mean "formal". (Judith Martin replies that the correct interpretation is, "It's high time we had something to eat.")

Great Britain and Ireland

Afternoon Tea

In Britain, the North American (in)formal gathering described above is called Afternoon Tea (or just tea) and generally would take place some time between 2:30 and 4:30 pm.

High Tea

High Tea, is a term used mainly in the United Kingdom and Ireland to describe an early evening meal, typically around 7:00 pm. Although, it does not necessarily include tea, it has the following formal structure:

  • Main course -- This is usually either a light fish or meat course.
  • Tea and cakes

The cakes may either be full sized and cut into slices, or smaller individual cakes, or muffins, toast or other savoury breads.

In a family, it tends to be less formal and often it is essentially either a regularized snack, usually featuring sandwiches, cookies, pastry, fruit, and the like (in Spain, this is called a merienda), or else it is supper.


By contrast, Tea is a late afternoon light meal, called that even if the diners are drinking beer, cider, or juice. It generally takes place sometime between 4:30 and 6:00 pm.

See Also

breakfast, elevenses, brunch, lunch, Dinner, supper, dessert, British cuisine, Devonshire tea

The term High Tea comes from the meal being eaten at the "high" (main) table, rather than the smaller table common in living rooms.