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High tea

High tea, or simply tea, is a term used mainly in Great Britain to describe a mid-afternoon or early evening meal. Although, it does not necessarily include tea, it has the following formal structure:

  • Main course -- This is usually either a light fish or meat course.
  • Tea and cakes

The cakes may either be full sized and cut into slices, or smaller individual cakes, or muffins, toast or other savoury breads.

In a family, it tends to be less formal and often it is essentially either a regularized snack, usually featuring sandwiches, cookies, pastry, fruit, and the like (in Spain, this is called a merienda), or else it is supper.

The meal generally takes place sometime between 4:30 and 6:00 pm.

The term "high tea" is sometimes used in North America to refer to a very formal, ritualized gathering (usually of ladies) in which tea and little cakes are served on the best china. This usage comes from understanding the term "high" to mean "formal". (Judith Martin replies that the correct interpretation is, "It's high time we had something to eat.")

In Britain, this (in)formal gathering is called "afternoon tea" or, again, just "tea" and generally would take place some time between 2:30 and 4:30 pm.

See breakfast, brunch, lunch, supper, and dessert.



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