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Is it "High Tea" or "Aftenoon Tea?"---20-40-60 Etiquette in Oklahoma City


(Editor's note: Columnist Callie Gordon was married to Matthew Athey on Saturday at the Christ the King Catholic Church. Her new byline is Callie Athey.)

By Callie Athey, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace

QUESTION: I am planning a tea for my mother's birthday. Is there a difference between calling it a "high tea" or an "afternoon tea"? Which is more appropriate? 

CALLIE’S ANSWER: I googled this as I did not know. High tea is eaten at the table and usually around dinnertime. Afternoon tea is seen as a small meal between lunch and dinner, sitting around the sofa.

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: In the United States, it is easy for us to imagine “high tea” as meaning a formal tea served daily to people speaking in British accents while sipping on tea out of a formal china cup, perhaps in a floral chintz pattern. Near them is a silver tray with festive scones, mini sandwiches, biscuits and jam or petits fours (mini cakes). But, apparently, as I learned in researching this question, we would be wrong. That kind of tea is “afternoon tea,” not “high tea.” And if you have an elegant tea for your mother’s birthday, that’s what you would call that scenario, minus the British accent.

HELEN’S ANSWER: A tea is a charming way to entertain whether it be for a bride, a birthday or a family member. Oklahoma City hosts have given many teas throughout the years. Usually, the host designates the party as “come for tea,” and there are finger sandwiches, fruit, assorted desserts and various teas, or in some cases, champagne.

But, traditionally, a “high tea” in England, where tea is still a fashionable drink, was more of a family meal served at 5 p.m., and an “afternoon tea,” composed of cucumber sandwiches and scones and teas, was served in the late afternoon. Dinner was then served a little later, at 7 or 8 p.m.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Dannie Bea Hightower, longtime Oklahoma City community leader:

People often think that “high tea” means the formal tea that people have daily in the afternoon with elegant snacks. However, high tea has nothing to do with formality. It has to do with the time of day.

High tea in England is more like an early supper, such as one for children, served before a full dinner that their parents would eat later in the evening. It is served during the high part of the day, which can also mean earlier in the afternoon, and it’s basically a snack.

The proper name for a formal tea is “afternoon tea.” It’s a tea around 4 p.m. and is what Americans traditionally associate with the English tea. For an invitation such as what you are talking about, either call it an afternoon tea or maybe even an English tea, although “afternoon” would be better wording.

People use these terms wrongly all the time, and they are not interchangeable.

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