Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tea... (a momentary departure from clothing).

I keep getting these invitations in the mail from one group or another, inviting me to "High Tea", either specifically, or by way of group-invite. The invitation always concludes with "High Tea at the R**z" or "Four S*****s", "4PM. Proper Attire Required".

I think that far too few people dress when they ought to, and the casual movement has us by the inseam, but this High Tea business must stop. The "High" in high tea refers to the time of day by hands on the clock (6pm), not the airs and graces put on by the attendees. What is meant by these pretentious invitations is actually Afternoon Tea. A high tea is a meal, with sandwiches, eggs, meats, cheeses, relishes, and breads. Strong black tea (across which a mouse could trot) is served boiling hot, by someone particularly versed in its preparation, and usually in one variety only. There are no doilies, no little snacks, and no foppery. One can expect the crusts left attached to the breads, and mixed company ready to consume filling amounts from large serving spoon portions, and an absence of multi-leveled petit four towers.

High tea is a great way to have guests over for dinner without the pomp and preparation of a dinner party. High tea serves food from their baking dishes, and generally, each person serves themselves from the abundance in the center of the table. The tea is gulped, and it is a wonderful experience.

Afternoon Tea is around 4pm (tea time!), and if you respond to one of the misnamed invitations mentioned, you'll find women attempting to emulate Victorian restraint, nuance, and propriety. You will find tiny finger-foods, and lately, several varieties of ghastly herbal tea with no relation to black tea at all. The attendees will sit smugly, wishing it occurred regularly, hoping that those around them think that it does.

There is nothing wrong with a lengthy and over-blown afternoon tea, but I must take issue with the ludicrous misunderstanding and abduction of the term "high", which is assumed to be a qualitative descriptor, and makes the misunderstanding laughable.

Next time I get one of these invitations, I will arrive promptly at 6pm, invitation in hand, demanding my thick slabs of ham, toast, potted shrimp, and piping hot black tea.


  1. Thank goodness you haven't forgotten the blog. Luckily the "high" tea plague so visible in Boston is here, in New York, lost in the din of, well, a thousand other plagues. It's sad what has become of high tea, since in its older form it could still be such a useful practice. In Berlin, something like high tea still attains, though it runs from about 2pm to 6pm and is called "breakfast."

    -New York

  2. Savoring this post again after a couple of weeks, I have one more comment: I now notice your delicious line about women emulating "Victorian restraint, nuance, and propriety." As a historian who has written about the ghastly and pretentious "taste" of the Victorian period, I find this particularly juicy in terms of the similar practice you are here lampooning.

    -New York


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