High Tea History and Etiquette – The Tradition Continues at the CWCC

By Diana Cordova, CWCC Business Development & Marketing Director

On July 23, 2011 the CWCC will be hosting High Tea at Accelerated Schools at the Fitzroy Mansion.  High tea is fairly new to us at the Chamber; this will be our 3rd high tea, but it won’t be the last.  These events have been so popular that we’ve decided to make them a CWCC tradition.

In thinking about traditions we got to wondering…how did high tea first get started.  With visions of doilies and proper, well-coifed, English ladies discussing the day’s events over tea and cucumber sandwiches, we started digging into the fascinating history and etiquette behind high tea.

According to VeeTea, we here in the U.S. have been misinformed as to what high tea really is.  In England, an early evening meal that the lower classes partake in is high tea and the formal tea held in the afternoon that we think of is actually called low tea and often referred to as afternoon tea.  Literally, “high” tea is a reference to the tall height of the table it is served on.  You’ve probably guessed by now that “low” tea is served on a low table.

As to the origin of our favorite tea tradition, all sources agree that Anna, the Duchess of Bedford (1788-1861) gets the credit.  According to festivi’teas, in 1840 the Duchess often had “a sinking feeling” and found herself hungry around four o’clock in the evening.  Thus began the requests for her servants to sneak her bread and tea.  Eventually she began inviting friends to join her for mid-evening tea at Belvoir Castle where bread and butter sandwiches, cakes and other sweets were enjoyed.  By 1880 the social ritual of afternoon tea was practiced by upper class society women who donned formal gowns, gloves and hats for the occasion (historic-uk).

In the early twentieth century in London high tea continued to evolve, according to Tea Genius Jon Michael, who noted that the Ritz was the hot spot for tea at the time because young ladies were allowed to go there unchaperoned; imagine that.

As for the etiquette around high tea, it’s quite extensive, so we’ll just cover our favorites and refer you to The Tea Party Club for the full list including proper napkin etiquette.

  • Take small bites.  Never stuff the whole sandwich or dessert in your mouth even though it seems small enough.
  • Do not dine with gloves on.
  • Scones are not to be eaten with a fork.
  • Never sip or slurp tea.

Now that the history lesson is over and the etiquette is out of the way, it’s time to actually experience high tea CWCC style.  As you’d expect there will be tea, finger sandwiches, scones and assorted sweets.  You might not expect champagne, but it will be chilled and poured as you walk into the elegant, historic Fitzroy Mansion, that like the tradition of high tea, dates back to the 1800’s.  There will be time to catch up with friends and make new connections.  Then you’ll get to know speaker Dafna Michaelson who will inspire you with stories from her project the 50 in 52 Journey, in which she traveled across America to all 50 states and Washington DC spanning the 52 weeks of 2009 to find America’s problem solvers and idea generators.   Reserve your spot today to have high tea with the Colorado Women’s Chamber – gloves not required.

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