History of Tea


Part 4 of 4

Afternoon teas could be very simple events or more elaborate ones used to introduce debutants to society or to honour special guests. The more elaborate teas were often called “at homes” and could take place in the evenings.  There would be maids and footmen to help guests out of their carriages, and tons of food and drinks, including champagne as well as tea, bullion and hot chocolate. Musicians would also complete the event.

Now the only problem left to deal with was “how could a Victorian lady truly relax with her tea when she couldn’t breathe?” Victorian women often had difficulty breathing and fainted often because their waists were squeezed into a tiny 18 inches by a whalebone, wire, sometimes steel ribbed corset. Also Victorian Women could wear up to 37 pounds of clothing – up to 19 lbs suspended from the waist alone. On top of the corset problem, there was the problem of sitting down with a bustle. Bustles were made of wire mesh and springs, and they wouldn’t allow a women to sit back in their chair so they had to balance themselves on the edge. In fact in the late 1870′s bustles became so large that they were called tea tray bustles (because they were large enough to hold a tea setting).

In the 1880′s, the Dress Reform Society in England came to the rescue by introducing “tea gowns”. These very loose, flowing gowns, almost like negligees were made of chiffon, lace, velvet, satin or silk, and were very ornate – trimmed with beads, jewels, feathers, furs or ribbons. Many “tea gowns” had matching jackets. They were usually worn in the home, or if you were visiting friends in their country house. The comfortable tea gowns, however were not worn to public functions or formal teas.

When Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward the seventh, took the throne (1901 – 1910), tea gowns became even more lavish and high society went all out with teas. Evening tea parties had footmen, hot dishes, professional musicians, and ornate silver tea pots on swivel stands. The Edwardian era was a very lavish and joyful time. People emulated the extravagant ways of the king.

LOW TEA – also called afternoon tea is the most elegant of teas, served between 4 and 5 o’clock. This was the tea of wealthy aristocrats and features dainty finger sandwiches, scones with Devonshire or clotted cream and jam, and also a variety of tarts and pastries. Sometimes fresh fruit is also served. Low teas are called “low” because it was taken in the sitting or “withdrawing” room where low tables (like a coffee table) were placed near sofas. In a traditional low tea, all food must be dry to the touch as Victorians wore hats (some with veils) and gloves to these events. The gloves would be left on while eating, especially at outdoor garden teas, so food was prepared neatly so as not to get the gloves dirty.

HIGH TEA – also called a “Meat Tea” was traditionally the tea of the middle and lower classes. During the second half of the Victorian Period, known as the industrial revolution, working families would come home tired and hungry. High tea was served at 6 o’clock at the end of the workday, and is basically a large, heavy supper with several courses – meats, eggs, cheese, fish, vegetables, sandwiches and tea. Despite its name there is nothing elegant about high tea. It was the main meal of the day and is still a tradition in English, Welsh and Scottish farming regions.

 So there you have the basic history of tea… After almost 5,000 years of tea drinking, we’re still discovering new varieties, new flavours, and the wonderful health benefits of this drink.

Join us for our Musical Twilight Tea with musical guest Rosalee Peppard. Her music is steeped in the sea, as she brings the rich maritime past to life in song.