High tea is a very cosy and coorie Scottish tradition, but what is it exactly? And how is it different from classic afternoon tea?
There's actually a lot of confusion around this, as many people think that both meals are the same. But high tea is its own special experience, so let's take a look at how you can enjoy it as a wee lockdown treat at home...
Is high tea different from afternoon tea?
Yes, although there are a few similarities between the two. The reason for the confusion is because afternoon tea is sometimes referred to as high tea, especially in the USA. In fact, high tea is much harder to find on hotel and restaurant menus these days and has all but vanished as a tradition in Scottish homes (but let's try to keep it alive because it's scrumptious).
Afternoon tea and high tea actually have totally different origins. The former is an English upper class ritual invented by the Duchess of Bedford in the 1840s. It takes place in mid-afternoon with a spread of finger sandwiches, scones, dainty cakes and a pot of speciality tea such as earl grey or lapsang souchong. It is traditionally served on a low table, often upon a three-tiered stand. The focus is very much on elegance and lighter nibbles.
What is high tea?
In contrast, high tea was a working class meal served around 5pm. The "high" in the title comes from the fact that the whole family would sit at a "high table" (dining table) to eat it together. It originated because workers in the past often didn't get lunch breaks, so would arrive home very hungry and want to sit down to a quick, hearty meal straight away.
High tea would start with a simple and carb-rich savoury dish served with bread and sides, followed by baked goods and a pot of tea. However, high tea didn't have the formality of separate courses as everything was laid out on the table all at once.
How to make a Scottish high tea at home
The great thing about high tea is that there are no strict rules, fancy etiquette requirements or complicated recipes — it's just a relaxed and satisfying meal to enjoy with your family. But what should you include?
Again, there are no hard and fast rules — it's all about simple and satisfying Scottish fare (and in fact, every family had their own favourites and preferences). But to inspire you, here is a typical spread:
— Savoury dish like steak pie, macaroni cheese or gammon steak
— Sides like pork pies, cold cuts, baked beans, boiled eggs and salad
— Sliced bread and butter
— Baked goods like warm scones, crumpets or Scotch pancakes
— A classic Scottish cake like Dundee cake
— Selection of jams
— Pot of strong tea, of course (but probably no fancy lapsang or lemon slices!)
Obviously, you don't have to make the baked goods in your high tea from scratch (unless you want to). But if you fancy whipping up something Scottish and traditional then take a look at this recipe for Borders bannock, which would make a delicious addition to your table.
And once you've got your 'scran' assembled, just lay it out on the table, sit down and let everyone help themselves. Enjoy your high tea!
Want to experience more Scottish culture and traditions? Then why not book a stay at an Airhouses luxury holiday lodge in the heart of the beautiful Borders?
You might also like:
Six Ways to 'Coorie Doon' in Style.
How to Have a Perfect Scottish Sunday.
Which Wines Should You Pair with Scottish Cheeses?
Airhouses is more than an award-winning holiday escape — it’s an experience you will never forget. Explore woodland walks, hiking trails and the peaceful village of Oxton (plus Edinburgh is less than an hour away). And don’t forget to say hello to our friendly animal family of alpacas, goats, donkeys, pigs, Shetland ponies and more.