What is high tea in Australia?
High tea is one of the most popular experiences offered by hotels around Australia. But it hasn't always been called high tea. Over the past 25 years, it's become commonplace to call the traditional British "afternoon tea" (an elegant affair involving dainty finger sandwiches, scones and delectable sweet morsels), "high tea".
Afternoon tea has its origins in the early Victorian era of Britain, when Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, took to summoning a tray of tea, bread and butter, and cake to her room when her spirits started to flag at 4pm.
Her friends rather liked this idea and the trend took off. There was no looking back.
According to Helen Simpson in The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea, "By the 1880s ladies were changing into long tea gowns for the occasion, appetites sharpened by the customary afternoon drive in a carriage."
"Tea services had also kept pace, with side plates, bread and butter plates, cake stands and every conceivable accompaniment advancing across the drawing room. There was a newly translucent delicacy about the tea china itself thanks to Josiah Spode, who had at the start of the century invented bone china, a beautiful and inexpensive form of porcelain which kept tea hot even though it was so fine that you could see your fingers' shadows through it."
Today, afternoon tea is "still a graceful event, and brings people together for a brief hour's pleasure and refreshment".
What is the difference between a high tea and afternoon tea?
What is commonly referred to as "high tea" in Australia and known as "afternoon tea" in Britain is basically the same experience: an elegant spread of sandwiches, small savoury dishes, scones and delicate cakes and pastries.
However, high tea is traditionally a completely different concept to afternoon tea in Britain. According to Simpson, "high tea is not a dainty affair.
"It usefully divides day from night, being held at six o'clock, rather than at the more idle and elegant afternoon-tea hour of four to five. It is hearty enough to make dinner unnecessary."
Simpson goes on to elaborate, "What You Will Find At High Tea: a large table spread with a white cloth; a heavy brown Firestone teapot pouring tea strong enough, as they say, to trot a mouse on; a side of smoked ham, perhaps, or an egg-and-bacon pie; a generous wedge of cheese; a dish of tomatoes and a bunch of watercress; some savoury dish like potted shrimps or even jugged kippers; scrambled eggs; bread-and-butter with pots of jam and honey; a plate of sandwiches; hot toasted tea cakes; and appetite-cutting cakes, often baked from recipes unique to the region, full of dried fruit and oatmeal and ginger.
"What You Will NOT Find At High Tea: delicate pretty cakes like mille feuilles or meringues; frosted confections; creamy gâteaux; little fingers crooked over teacups; silver teapots and fine porcelain; social chit chat."
What is usually in an afternoon tea?
Today, having afternoon tea at an elegant hotel in London, or a high tea at a hotel in Australia, is a popular culinary experience, with many chefs taking a whimsical approach to the the traditional afternoon tea menu.
At London's The Berkeley for example, you can partake in a rather fashionable Prêt-à-Portea, with a line-up of sweet confections inspired by the latest catwalks. (You can expect the likes of a Hermès bag crafted out of Victoria sponge sandwiched with apricot jam, wrapped in chocolate and finished with a chocolate feather plume!)
Meanwhile in Australia, pastry chef Adriano Zumbo takes a more theatrical approach at Sydney's QT with the likes of Caesar-salad "sliders" and a "garden patch" of green peas, mint and carrots, presented on an impressive black tower of boxes.
However, at London hotels such as The Dorchester, Claridges and The Ritz, chefs adhere to a strictly classic afternoon tea menu of finger sandwiches, scones and an assortment of dainty cakes and pastries.
Tea, is of course served with a wide selection of black and green teas to choose from. Most hotels also offer a glass of sparkling wine or Champagne for a special celebratory note.
Afternoon tea recipes
According to Simpson, "afternoon tea must always start with sandwiches."
"You are not allowed to move on to the cakes and muffins until you have blunted the teeth of your appetite with a sandwich," she warns.
Take inspiration from the following sandwich ideas to create your own refined crustless wonders.
A great chicken sandwich is a must-have for a traditional high tea. This recipe is extra tasty, with the addition of crunchy cashews, finely sliced cucumber and chives. Get the recipe here.
Combining creamy creme fraiche, zesty lemon, and fresh dill creates a flavour that pairs perfectly with smoked salmon. Get the recipe here.
Crab, celery and lemon zest mixed with aioli makes this delish filling to sandwich. Crown with cucumber ribbons and salmon roe, and you’ll have your very own high tea at home. Get the recipe here.
A tasty combination of two afternoon tea classics (egg and cucumber), these finger sandwiches will be a high tea hit! Get the recipe here.
Bite-size savoury nibbles
These elegant bite-sized canapes may look tricky to make but thanks to the store-bought blinis they can be made in a pinch. Get the recipe here.
With only five ingredients, these bite-sized quiche puffs are a cinch to make, and they would make a traditional addition to your high tea experience. Get the recipe here.
Croustades, meaning 'little cups', look fancy but are easy to make. You just bake discs of white bread and fill with yum! There are only a few ingredients, making life easy! Get the recipe here.
Get your tea party started the right way with these elegant, but very simple, savoury cones. A crispy take on the traditional chicken sandwich! Get the recipe here.
The sweetness of caramelised onions alongside crumbled goat's cheese makes these mini tartlets a delicious moreish bite that you need to serve at your next party. Get the recipe here.
These middle Eastern-inspired nibbles are vegetarian friendly and you can never go wrong with the flavour combination of spinach and feta. Get the recipe here.
Use delicious Australian cheeses and a generous hint of spice to entertain the vegetarian way. Arranged on rye crisps and garnish with a piece of dill, these hors d'oeuvres are a little bit fancy and will certainly impress your guests. Get the recipe here.
Everyone's favourite addition to a classic British Sunday roast now comes in mini form. Get the recipe here.
A mainstay of a traditional afternoon tea, scones are very simple little cakes and are usually served with jam and cream. In Cornwall and Devon, a 'cream tea' comprises of tea and scones, served with jam and clotted cream. Scones should be served freshly baked, still warm from the oven. Most hotels in London offer both plain and sultana scones with clotted cream and jam, but feel free to riff on the traditional recipes with alternative flavours.
A step-by-step recipe (with photos) for classic scones, along with variations including blueberry scones, cheese and herb scones, date scones and sun-dried and tomato scones. Get the recipe here.
Fast Ed's spin on the classic scones recipe includes black tea, sultanas and cinnamon. Get the recipe now. Get the recipe now.
These savoury scones are served with a creamy cheese mixture and (optional) gherkins. Get the recipe here.
Cakes and pastries
Complete your afternoon tea with an assortment of small cakes and pastries. These bite-sized sweet treats are usually exquisitely decorated and are presented in the prettiest colours, with a variety of flavours and textures.
These mini cream cheese tarts are simple and require only a few ingredients, making them an excellent choice for a quick dessert or a party treat. Get the recipe here.
Topped with caramel ganache, these bite-sized brownie treats are a fancier version of your typical cafe-style brownie. Get the recipe here.
Dainty berry-filled morsels crowned with a cloud of meringue. Perfect with a cup of tea. Get the recipe here.
This lemon and raspberry curd tartlet recipe is quick and easy to prepare, made with just a few simple ingredients, including caster sugar, eggs, lemon juice, and butter. Get the recipe here.
These miniature cakes are fluffy, moist, and infused with the subtle sweetness of white chocolate, rosewater and cream cheese. Get the recipe now.
Just add white chocolate swooshes to custard-filled, cream-topped pies to give them wings! Get the recipe here.
Sweet, sticky and a little bit salty. There's nothing like choc-caramel to up your afternoon game. Using mini muffin trays, make these delectable caramel cups and try not to eat them all at once. Get the recipe here.
Piled with fairy floss and rose petals, these bite-sized bundt cakes have all the grace and style of beautiful swooshing dancing dresses. Get the recipe here.
Close your eyes, take a bite and wait for the melting moment. This grown-up fudgy treat is studded with pecans and rolled in dark chocolate. Get the recipe here.
Serve as delightful afternoon tea petit fours. Roll them out with your choice of either chocolate sprinkles, desiccated coconut, chopped pistachios or cocoa powder. Get the recipe here.
Macarons are an afternoon tea crowd-pleaser. Bursting with homemade passionfruit curd, these tangy morsels will elevate your high tea. Get the recipe here.
Now all you need to do is serve your afternoon tea on a gorgeous tiered cake stand.