High tea (also known as meat tea) is an early evening meal, typically eaten between 5pm and 7pm. It is now largely followed by a lighter meal later in the evening.
High tea typically consists of a hot dish such as fish and chips, shepherd's pie, or macaroni cheese, followed by cakes and bread, butter and jam. Occasionally there would be cold cuts of meat, such as ham salad. Traditionally high tea was eaten by middle to upper class children (whose parents would have a more formal dinner later) or by labourers, miners and the like when they came home from work. The term was first used around 1825 and high is used in the sense of well-advanced (like high noon, for example) to signify that it was taken later in the day.
The term “high tea” was used as a way to distinguish it from afternoon tea. Though it is often stated that the words "low" and "high" refer to the height of the tables from which either meal was eaten, the term for the later meal actually relates to the usage of "high" as in the phrase "it's high time". Afternoon tea was served in the garden where possible; otherwise it was usually taken in a day room, library or salon where low tables (like a coffee table) were placed near sofas or chairs generally (hence the fallacy about it being low tea). Most quality hotels in Britain serve afternoon tea, frequently in a palm court, and more recently have offered the option of champagne instead of tea.
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