The terms "High Tea" and "Low Tea" are often confused. High Tea or "meat tea" is dinner. During the Victorian Period, working class families ate a substantial evening meal, served family style, consisting of meat, bread, butter, potatoes, pickles, cheese and, of course, tea. The meal was called "high" tea because it was eaten at a high dining table rather than a low tea table. Afternoon tea, was called "low tea" because it was usually taken in a sitting room or withdrawing room. Low tables were placed near sofas or chairs. Since low tea wasn't a meal, but like an afternoon snack meant to stave off hunger, finger foods were the common fare. Low tea can be served at engagement parties, showers or a compliment to business meetings and other gatherings.
1. Note that the traditional time for low tea is 4:00 p.m. Guests do not stay beyond 7 p.m.
2. Plan your setting. Fresh flowers, tablecloths, cloth napkins, place-cards and doilies add elegant touches. Music can enhance the atmosphere.
3. Gather the essentials for any proper tea. A teapot of silver or bone china is, of course, de rigueur. You will need a kettle to boil the water before you transfer it to the teapot. You will also need a sugar bowl and cream pitcher. Use tongs for sugar cubes, a sugar spoon for granulated or raw sugar crystals. Arrange the tea pot, sugar bowl and pitcher on a silver tray. Additional trays may be needed for serving, depending on the size of your gathering. Use your best china cups, saucers and dessert plates and silver forks, spoons and butter knives. If serving loose tea, you will also need an infuser (steeper).
4. Select teas for the affair. Provide guests with a selection loose teas or tea bags. Provide individual infusers for each guest, if a variety of loose teas are served. If you serve only one type of tea, brew it in the pot. If serving several types, fill the pot with boiling water.
5. Search for low tea recipes. You can find a plethora of low tea recipes in cookbooks and online. You can make tempting tidbits yourself, create menus of pre-made purchases or you might have your tea catered. Low tea traditionally consists of dainty tea sandwiches, desserts, finger foods and a hot dish in colder months. Petit-fours, tarts, cream puffs and scones are among the most common offerings, accompanied by jams, lemon curd and clotted cream.
6. Mail invitations to your guests. E-vites are terribly gauche.