A Short History of High Tea and a Review of The Tea Party

With these chilly and rainy days I’ve been drinking lots of tea lately. I’ve also been thinking about my first time trying “high tea” this past Spring in Ottawa. It was at The Tea Party on York Street – right next to Ottawa’s busy Byward Market on a day that would turn dark and rainy in the afternoon.


I’ll have to admit that the first time I ever heard the words “high” and “tea” together the word posh quickly came to mind. It immediately made me think of crowns and dainty, flowery porcelain tea cups and strict social etiquette. It was a colleague who first told me about it. “They bring you your tea and then plates filled with tiny sandwiches and scones with cream and jam,” she told me. However lavish the activity sounded at the time, it nevertheless did cause my curious foodie eyebrow to raise with interest.

Here in Canada, today’s high tea costs anywhere between $15 and upwards of $60 (and beyond) per person. It usually consists of a personal pot of tea (of course) followed by a layered plate filled with sandwich squares or wedges on the bottom layer, scones with fresh cream and jam, as well as tiny sweets and squares on the other plate layers.


I did some research on the history of high tea and most of the sources I found report how high tea first became customary in the mid 1700’s among Britain’s working class men. According to the Carrington Hotel, the meal was called high tea because the working men usually took their high tea standing at around 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Over time, the occasion was adopted by other groups, including nobles and aristocrats.

And today, over 300 years later, one can still enjoy high tea in Canada and elsewhere around the world. My high tea was enjoyed as a brunch before I set off to go site seeing for the day. I was pleased to find a restaurant that serves up the meal for what I consider quite a reasonable price. For $15 dollars I tried this traditional meal while surrounded by jars of dried tea.

My favourite part of all was surely the still-warm scone with the clotted cream and smooth strawberry jam. I also enjoyed the carefully-prepared vegetarian sandwiches. Being a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland, the cafe’s Mad Hatter theme was also my cup of tea. This was a great start to my day and I imagine it would be enjoyed in the afternoon, as is customary, or anytime really.

high tea at The Tea Party in Ottawa

The Tea Party, Ottawa, Canada


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