substantial meal

Tea (meal)

Depending on a country's customs, tea can refer to any of several different meals or mealtimes. As a meal typically eaten in the afternoon or early evening, it is ubiquitous.

United Kingdom

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea is a light meal typically eaten between 3pm and 5pm. It originated in the United Kingdom, though various places that used to be part of the former British Empire also have such a meal. However, changes in social customs and working hours mean that most Britons only take afternoon tea on special/formal occasions.

Traditionally, loose tea would be served in a teapot with milk and sugar. This would be accompanied by various sandwiches (customarily cucumber, egg and cress, fish paste, ham, and smoked salmon), scones (with butter, clotted cream and jam — see cream tea) and usually cakes and pastries (such as Battenberg, fruit cake or Victoria sponge). The food would be often served in a tiered stand.

While afternoon tea used to be an everyday event, nowadays it is more likely to be taken as a treat in a hotel, café, or tea shop, although many Britons still have a cup of tea and slice of cake or chocolate at teatime. Accordingly, many hotels now market a champagne cream tea.

High tea

High tea (also known as meat tea) is an early evening meal, typically eaten between 5pm and 6pm in the evening. It would be eaten as a substitute for both afternoon tea and the evening meal. The term comes from the meal being eaten at the "high" (main) table, instead of the smaller lounge table. It is now largely replaced by a later evening meal.

It would usually consist of cold meats, eggs and/or fish, cakes and sandwiches. In a family, it tends to be less formal and is an informal snack (featuring sandwiches, biscuits, pastry, fruit and the like) or else it is the main evening meal.

On farms or other working class environments, "high tea" would be the traditional, substantial meal eaten by the workers immediately after nightfall, and would combine afternoon tea with the main evening meal. See also style="font-style : italic;">The UK Tea Council Definition

In recent years, high tea has become a term for elaborate afternoon tea, though this is American usage and mainly unrecognised in Britain. However, this usage is disfavored by etiquette advisors, such as Miss Manners (see below).

Main evening meal

In most of Wales, Northern England, parts of Scotland, and some areas of Southern England, the three main meals are referred to as "breakfast, dinner and tea" or "breakfast, lunch and tea" where in other areas they might be "breakfast, lunch and dinner".


In Ireland "to have your tea" can mean either the main evening meal or a meal afterwards like supper, although tea would mostly follow a dinner meal and would usually take place between 6pm and 9pm. It is regularly regarded as an English term.


Afternoon tea was served daily in upper class homes in Commonwealth countries through the end of the 20th century. The tradition continues in some countries, in others tea is served less frequently. Afternoon tea is generally available in high-end hotels, restaurants and cafés.

In Kenya, tea (or chai, as it is known locally) is served scalding hot with lots of milk and is usually quite sweet. In northern Kenya, tea time is used not so much as a snack, but a mid afternoon break time from work to rest, cool off, and drink tea. It was customary to always return home during work breaks for meals (lunch); and tea would be served at this time.

Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Uruguay

Snacks are eaten at 5pm and include medialunas (crescent-shaped rolls), sandwiches de miga (very thin bread), dulce de leche, dulce de membrillo (sweet quince paste), marmalade, avocado or butter spread over bread, and assorted bizcochos and pastries with tea, coffee, café con leche or mate. This light meal is called merienda or Once. In Peru it is known as lonche.


Tea in Mexico is a light meal, eaten late afternoon before dinner, which includes assorted sweet breads.

Australia and New Zealand

Many Australians call the early evening meal their "tea" while others will call it "dinner"; though both words are mutually understood to mean the same thing. The prominence of this usage is due to the influence of Scottish people for whom dinner is a meal eaten at midday and tea is the evening meal. Although the proportion of Scottish settlers being much greater in New Zealand than in Australia, in modern New Zealand the midday meal is still termed "lunch". Hence some Australians and New Zealanders describe the three main meals as breakfast, lunch, and tea.

Afternoon tea is not served daily but is served more frequently than in the United States. The meal is sometimes called "high tea" on the same understanding as in the U.S. (see below) but purists consider such usage erroneous. Cream teas are referred to as "Devonshire Teas" and are available in many high-end restaurants and cafés.

During the working day "tea break" or just "tea" can refer to either morning tea (corresponding to elevenses and coffee break) or afternoon tea. This may be taken in a designated tea room. Colloquially, this can be referred to as a morning smoko or just smoko; which in times past was understood to mean a cup of tea, maybe something sweet or a sandwich, and a cigarette. This term is commonly used by tradesmen and the building industry.


Due to the great variation of cultures scattered across Canada, one may find families in the same neighbourhood who observe any or none of the tea customs found in the rest of the world. Cattle ranchers on Ranch Creek may prefer coffee in the morning to tea in the afternoon, a Hong Kong Chinese business meeting in Markham may take afternoon tea as per customs in Hong Kong (see below), and on Vancouver Island, especially in the city of Victoria, traditional English-style afternoon tea may be served instead. For most of the majority English Canadians, however, the meals are identical to the custom of coffee break as per the neighbouring United States (see below) and referred to as such.


In Germany the traditional afternoon meal is called Kaffee (coffee), Nachmittagskaffee (afternoon coffee) or Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). Only sweet foodstuffs are served, with cream-based cakes taking priority (such as Black Forest gateau), although drier forms of cake, fruit tarts and pastries may also be served. In modern times, because of work and lack of time, a Kaffee is an event reserved for Sunday afternoons with a carefully set coffee table, tablecloth, and invited guests.

The practice of consuming extremely rich concoctions flourished during the German economic recovery period — the Wirtschaftswunder of the 1950s and 1960s — as a reaction against the austerity and rationing of the war and immediate post-war years.

Traditionally coffee is the preferred drink served (with cream, or condensed milk, and/or sugar), but in recent decades tea has become more popular also to the common German people. In North Germany, e.g. Lübeck, Bremen and especially Hamburg, as well as in Friesland especially East Frisia, however, tea has always been traditional. Also, in the upper class and the German bourgeois esp. of the 19th and early 20th century tea was the preferred drink, they also called it "tea" instead of Nachmittagskaffee, they had their afternoon tea and also tea parties. People like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe were known for their tea parties, and authors like Heinrich Heine were known as fanatic tea lovers. The afternoon tea at the home of Thomas Mann was also quite famous (a TV Station in the 1950s produced a documentary called Afternoon Tea with Thomas Mann, in which Mann invited the viewer to tea and then served a cup of tea to the camera). In the late 19th and early 20th century, tea was also extremely popular in Berlin and in parts of today's East Germany. The origin maybe lies in the German tea culture, esp. of the Prussian aristocracy, which dates back to the 17th century.

Germans are also well aware of the U.K. custom, and refer to it by the English words "tea time". Friends may sometimes gather to have an English-style tea instead of the usual Nachmittagskaffee.


In Guyana, "tea" can mean either the traditional mid-afternoon meal or can refer to breakfast itself. As a former colony of Britain, Guyana is steeped in English traditions. The country's love of cricket, the national game, translates into the common understanding that "tea is an interval in the middle of afternoon play. A tea meal is also popular at luncheons and afternoon parties.

In addition, when speaking to older citizens, especially those of rural origin, it is not unusual to hear breakfast called "tea", possibly because tea is the most frequently consumed Guyanese breakfast beverage. At breakfast tea, one may eat bread, toast, roti (an Indian flatbread) or any combination thereof.

Most Guyanese refer to the most popular tea they drink as green tea, but it is actually the equivalent of a North American black tea.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, the term "tea," as used outside the beverage context, denotes a light meal served in middle afternoon from 2pm to 6pm. This is a practice that Hong Kong people adopted from the British concept of afternoon tea during the late period of British colonial rule. Afternoon tea is common, although not a meal served daily. The food taken consists of some light meals or "snacks" such as sandwiches, toast, or more substantial fares including fried chicken wings, French toast, noodle soup, and even a mini meal consisting of spaghetti courses served together with milk tea, coffee, Horlicks, Ovaltine, yuenyeung, lemon tea for Western style food, and Chinese tea for Chinese style food. Many local fast food restaurants, such as Café de Coral, sell afternoon tea sets. When used in this context Hong Kong people usually refer the action as "eating tea" (Cantonese: 食tea). Elaborate versions of English-style afternoon tea (see above) is often described as "high tea" by Hong Kong people.

A Chinese custom of yum cha (飲 茶, or yam2 cha4, Cantonese for "drinking tea") also exists in Hong Kong. Yum cha refers to a meal at which tea and dim sum is consumed, often on social occasions. Yum cha is a native Chinese custom, and is not derived from British or other European tea-drinking traditions. Unlike European tea, which is frequently taken in the home, yum cha is almost always consumed in a dim sum restaurant or teahouse. Yum cha is usually a weekend breakfast, brunch or lunch, but in the Hong Kong context is also often used for afternoon tea. Most Chinese restaurants offer special afternoon tea time discounts on their dim sum dishes.


In Italy tea is usually served for breakfast as an alternative to coffee, or at 5pm in the afternoon, with biscuits or cakes: in Italian this afternoon meal is called merenda. Italians usually drink tea without milk but with lemon and sugar.

United States

For most of the United States, the morning or afternoon break is not normally referred to as tea as the beverage has not traditionally been a widespread choice with Americans. The term coffee break is used instead to denote a daily social gathering for a snack and short downtime where hot and cold beverages and cakes, breads and pastries are served.

The term "high tea" is sometimes used in the United States to refer to afternoon tea or the "tea party", a very formal, ritualised gathering in which tea, thin sandwiches and little cakes are served on the best china. This usage is an analogical construction, the term "high" being associated with social "formalilty" (rather than a "high", or main, table). Most etiquette mavens advise that such usage is unorthodox outside commercial contexts (see below); (etiquette authority Judith Martin's tongue-in-cheek interpretation is, "It's high time we had something to eat.")

This form of tea is increasingly served in high-end American hotels, often during the Christmas holidays and other tourist seasons, and a rising number of big-city teahouses, where it is usually correctly described as "afternoon tea" (see the history, above).

The tea party is still occasionally given in the U.S., either for a special occasion or in honor of a visiting celebrity or guest. This occasion is a formal one in which ladies wear good afternoon dresses or suits and gentlemen wear business suits, but otherwise afternoon tea is an informal gathering of friends. In 1922 Emily Post wrote that servants should not enter the room during afternoon tea except if summoned to bring fresh hot water or remove soiled dishes, so as not to interrupt the intimate nature of the gathering and its conversation.

American situation comedies might center a joke around an eccentric British character having his afternoon tea. However, Hollywood used afternoon tea as a device to indicate social class or status; in movies such as Notorious and Marnie (both directed by Englishman Alfred Hitchcock, but set in the United States) and Pocketful of Miracles specific reference is made to the fact that a lady would have afternoon tea. Popular culture portrays upper class women as taking afternoon tea with friends at restaurants or serving it to friends in their homes; by-and-large middle class women by contrast have a coffee break in their kitchens.

Use in cricket

In cricket, the second and usually shorter of the two intervals during a match lasting a full day or more is known as the tea interval, and also (more formally but less commonly) the afternoon tea interval. The interval is an opportunity for the players and umpires to partake in light refreshments. The former England international Phil Tufnell was well known to enjoy this break, sometimes having as many as three cups in a twenty minute break.


See also

External links

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