The origins of afternoon tea show clearly it was the preserve of the rich in the 19th century. For workers in the newly industrialized Britain, tea time had to wait until after work. By that hour, tea was generally served with heartier dishes which were substantially more than just tea and cakes. Workers needed sustenance after a day of hard labour, so the after-work meal was more often hot and filling and accompanied by a pot of good, strong tea to revive flagging spirits.
Today, the evening meal in households is still often called “tea” but as working patterns have changed yet again, many households now refer to the evening meal as supper.
The addition of the word “high” to the phrase “high tea” is believed to differentiate between the afternoon tea that is traditionally served on low, comfortable, parlour chairs or relaxing in the garden and the worker’s after-work high tea that is served at the table and seated on high back dining chairs.