In my personal life I am often accused of being too fastidious when it comes to tea. Now that I have turned my passion for the “perfect cuppa” into a business, my friends and family are slightly less apt to judge; nevertheless, I am fully aware that my attention to detail often borders on obsessive, particularly within the realm of tea. I would like the record to reflect my admission of guilt on this matter and beg for forgiveness as I take my pursuit of accuracy to an admittedly crazy place.

For some time now I have wanted to issue a point of clarification on the definition of High Tea vs. that of Afternoon Tea, but I have hesitated, wanting to avoid any air of pretension. Well, that ship has sailed. I can remain silent no longer.

Our new location at Oxford Exchange offers Afternoon Tea daily from 3 to 5 p.m. Every menu, every piece of literature, every mention in the media has been carefully crafted to ensure that it is only ever referred to as “Afternoon Tea,” yet I am inundated with calls and comments asking about our “High Tea.” Even as I model back the correct terminology, describing our “Afternoon Tea’ menu in full detail, it is not unusual to hear squeals of delight as they tell someone waiting anxiously in the background, “Yes! They have High Tea!”

Thus far my subtle, yet persistent, efforts to enlighten my fellow Americans on the subject of traditional Afternoon Tea have all been to no avail. My own father still tells his friends that we now offer “High Tea.” Et tu, Brute?

As a collective, Americans have confused Afternoon Tea with High Tea seemingly for generations. Perhaps it is because we associate the word “high” with formality, elegance or rank – think “high court,” “your Highness,” “high command.” It is natural to presume that High Tea would represent the more formal of the two offerings. Au contraire. The term “high” is actually a reference to the height of the tables that this rather rugged, informal evening meal is often served upon. High Tea constitutes something more closely resembling dinner, heavy with meats and cheeses. – and nary a scone in sight.

Afternoon Tea, on the other hand, is a more formal afternoon affair consisting of savories, sweets and scones, often served on three-tiered trays. Anna, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford,and one of Queen Victoria’s Ladies in Waiting, is credited with beginning the tradition of Afternoon Tea in England in the 1840s. Dinner was often served quite late in mid-19th century London and the fashionable Duchess began requesting tea and cake in her rooms to stave off hunger during the afternoon. She began inviting her friends to join her and the trend quickly caught on among the English aristocracy.

If you have never attended an Afternoon Tea, it is time you did. I may be slightly biased, but it is a fabulous way to spend an hour (or maybe even two). Just do me a favor – when you check-in, tweet, blog or post about it, help the cause – call it Afternoon Tea.

 

Reservations can be made for Afternoon Tea at the Oxford Exchange by calling 813.253.0222.

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