Although tea menus may vary, English teas typically consist of finger sandwiches, scones, pastries, cakes and teas. Hosts usually provide guests with choices for each item. These meals are referred to as afternoon teas. High tea is a term sometimes used to describe working class dinners. Americans sometimes mistakenly call the English afternoon tea "high tea."
Typical finger sandwiches offered during afternoon tea include cucumber, egg and cress, chicken and smoked salmon. Hosts serve jams and clotted cream with scones. Cakes and pastries served include sponge cake, mini-éclairs and fruit cake. Other options include petit fours and hot cross buns. Sometimes, hosts provide cookies, which the British call biscuits.
There are many different kinds of teas a host may offer guests. Some popular options include Earl Grey, Darjeeling and Lapsang Souchong. Hosts may also offer herbal teas. Tea is usually loose and brewed in a teapot. Hosts also provide sugar and milk for guests who prefer to take their tea with these additions.
Afternoon tea became an English custom in the 1840s. By the end of the 19th century it had become popular among the upper and middle classes. Afternoon tea usually takes place between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.