In the 18th century, tea was one of the most valuable imports from China into Britain. So much so, that over 2lbs of the substance was consumed on average by every Brit during this time (almost 1 kilogram). Britain paid the Chinese £26 million in silver from 1710-1760, because there were very few other British products the Chinese wanted in return, and the money soon started running out! It was this reason that traders in the Far East started the (illegal) sale of opium into the port of Canton, and precipitated the First Opium War… the rest is Hong Kong history.
So what is the difference between the two meals? It is very easy to get confused and consider them both the same meal, but they are in fact different…
Afternoon tea originated in the early Victorian-era, within the network of ladies in high society. It is rumoured that the Duchess of Bedford would ask her ladies-in-waiting to sneak items from the kitchen to her during the mid-afternoon, to endure the long wait for her evening meal, which used to be served fashionably late.
In contrast, high tea was a much more humble affair, a heartier meal and coined a “workman’s supper”. It would be served upon the workers’ return home from exhausting work and so hot meals were in favour to provide enough sustenance. And the “high” in “high tea”? That comes from it being served on a high table such as a dining room table. In contrast, afternoon tea would have been served on a coffee table, a “low” table, in the parlour.
What is included in each meal?
Afternoon tea is more of a special occasion meal, usually served on a three-tier cake stand, showcasing a variety of delicately cut sandwiches, a selection of the finest patisserie and scones with clotted cream and jam. The meal is a sociable event to be had with friends, and so a cup of tea is an imperative part of the experience. Speciality tea blends and infusions may be on offer, but whichever one you chose, it must be brewed in a teapot, and poured into a cup with a saucer. (Coffee-lovers will be given the option, don’t despair, though not the traditional drink). The afternoon tea can have many variations, twists and flavours, and often restaurants and hotels will theme their menu to link into a brand promotion… one currently being served at Ammo in Admiralty is a Mr Men & Little Miss theme which we thought was fun for a mum and daughter date!
High tea will usually contain a hot food choice (but a cold meat salad is known to be found on this menu), add a large slice of cake, or a substantially calorific pudding in addition to a mug of tea or coffee. The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, whilst not entitling it as such, does also serve a high tea menu next to their iconic afternoon tea menu, if you fancied instead a hot-dog or some spring rolls for a change! (NOTE: You can also add a glass of champagne if you wanted!)
Traditionally though, this meal was a way to show-off baking skills and so it’s not uncommon to see British favourites on the menu, such as steak and kidney pie, bread with butter (sweet and savoury), fish pies, spotted dick with custard and rice puddings.
Top Hong Kong Afternoon Tea Recommendations
Statement at the Tai Kwun complex. A beautiful low-rise setting at the refurbished centre for heritage and arts, amongst the high-rise backdrop of Central. Traditional delicacies such as cucumber sandwiches are served alongside raspberry and lemon tarts and choux buns, starting at HK $288 per person when accompanied with tea, or upgrade to HK $388 for the Ruinart Champagne option. As an added bonus, it also includes unlimited sandwich refills!
Statement, Police Headquarters Block 01, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central www.statement.com.hk
The Peninsula Hotel lobby lounge in Tsim Sha Tsui. The most iconic afternoon tea experience in the perfect traditional setting in Hong Kong. Traditional sandwiches, home-made cakes and pastries and sumptuously buttery classic scones with clotted cream. Don’t forget they do also offer a high tea menu if you prefer a hot dish! Prices start at HK $418 for one person and HK $748 with a HK $220 champagne add-on.
The Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong, Salisbury Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong www.peninsula.com
Mr Men & Little Miss themed afternoon tea at Ammo in Admiralty. Nestled alongside the Asia Society, the former Explosives Magazine of the old Victoria Barracks, the surroundings are beautiful to enjoy eating in, and later taking the time to explore. We think this afternoon tea is a great one for sharing with your children (well, one of them whilst there are only two per table allowed!) with the menu including cookies, macaroons and hot chocolate. The price is HK $548 for two people which includes a personalised Mr Men & Little Miss mug for any of the characters.
Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty, Hong Kong www.ammo.com.hk