High Tea Sets A Refined Tradition

For those seeking an elegant and refined tradition, high tea is an experience like no other. You are transported to a bygone era of civility and grace as you peruse the delicacies spread before you on a lavish three-tiered platter. The origins of high tea date back to 19th-century England, when the upper class would gather between 3 and 5 pm for tea, sandwiches, scones, and pastries. Today, high tea is enjoying a resurgence worldwide as more people seek to unplug from the bustle of modern life and reconnect with time-honoured customs. However, to fully immerse yourself in the ritual of high tea, one must have the proper accoutrements – namely, an authentic high tea set. From the fine bone china to the polished silverware, each high tea set element is crafted to exact standards using only the finest materials. For those interested in bringing high tea into their home, you will want to invest in a high tea set that reflects your style while also honouring the rich history of this cultural tradition. A high tea set is not just another accessory – it is a gateway into a world of refinement that transcends time.

What Exactly Is High Tea?

High tea is a long-standing English tradition that evokes images of sophistication and leisure. At its core, high tea refers to a lavish afternoon tea service, typically between 3 and 5 pm. It originated in 19th-century Britain as a filling meal for the working class who could not make it home for dinner. Over time, it evolved into an indulgent social event for the upper classes.

Today, high tea is still a refined experience centred around small sandwiches, scones, pastries, and petit fours served on a tiered platter accompanied by premium loose-leaf teas. The sandwiches typically include cucumber, egg salad, smoked salmon, ham, and cheese. Freshly baked scones are served with jam, lemon curd and clotted cream. An array of bite-sized pastries and cakes round out the platter.

Given the level of service and quality of ingredients, high tea can be pricey, often starting around $35 to $50 or more per person. For a truly luxurious experience, many high-end hotels offer high champagne teas for over $100 per person. The set of sterling silver cutlery, bone china tea cups and pots, cake stands and linens used to serve high tea also contribute to the cost.

If you’re looking to host your high tea, start by choosing a selection of premium whole leaf tea, preparing an assortment of finger sandwiches and pastries, and using your finest china and silverware. Play classical music for ambience, and remember to dress up to make an occasion of it. Following the time-honoured high tea tradition, you’ll be transported to a more refined era.

A Brief History of High Tea

High tea originated in England in the 1840s. Anna Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, would become hungry around 4 pm, so she started taking tea, small sandwiches, and cakes in her boudoir to tide herself over until dinner at 8 pm. She began inviting friends to join her, and thus the social tradition of afternoon tea was born.

High tea originally referred to a hearty, hot meal served on a high table, as opposed to low tea served on low tables. Today, high tea refers to an elegant afternoon tea service.

High tea consists of scones, tea sandwiches, petit fours, teacakes, madeleines, macarons, tea, and occasionally champagne. The fare is served on a tiered platter, with savouries on the bottom tier, scones in the middle, and sweets on the top.

High tea remains an indulgent affair, as high-quality, fresh ingredients and skilled preparation come at a premium. However, experiencing high tea at a posh hotel or tea room is a quintessential social and cultural event for many.

Popular teas served at high tea include Earl Gray, Darjeeling, English Breakfast, and Jasmine pearls. The tea is brewed in an ornate teapot and in delicate bone china teacups.

High tea sets, also known as afternoon tea sets, typically include a teapot, sugar bowl, milk pitcher, slop bowl, tiered trays, tea strainer, tongs, linens, and teacups and saucers. High tea sets are available at department stores, speciality home stores, and online retailers.

With a history of over 175 years, high tea remains an enduring tradition and social event. Partaking in a luxurious high tea is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Why High Tea Is Such an Elegant Affair

A Refined Dining Tradition

High tea is the pinnacle of refined dining. Initially popularized in Britain in the 1840s, high tea encompasses an elegant multi-course meal featuring tea, sandwiches, scones and pastries. Often confused with afternoon tea, high tea is a heartier meal as a substitute for dinner among the working classes. Today, high tea signifies an indulgent cultural tradition focusing on congenial company and unhurried conversation.

Premium Ingredients and Careful Preparation

High tea demands the finest quality ingredients and meticulous preparation to achieve an exceptional standard of cuisine. Delicate finger sandwiches made from premium meats, seafood, cheeses and vegetables are freshly prepared and attractively garnished. Scones are baked in-house, served warm with clotted cream, lemon curd or fruit preserves and a selection of fragrant loose-leaf teas. Elegant pastries and sweets demonstrate a high level of skill and artistry. With so much attention devoted to even the most minor details, high tea becomes a truly fantastic culinary experience.

An Occasion for Dressing Up

For many, high tea signifies an opportunity to dress in your finest attire. Women often wear dresses, skirts and dressy separates with heels and a fashionable hat or fascinator. Gentlemen tend to favour slacks or trousers with a button-down shirt, sports coat and sometimes a tie or bow tie. The refined atmosphere calls for graceful decorum as if attending a special occasion. For this reason, children under a certain age may not be permitted. The stylish ambience and fanfare surrounding high tea contribute to its appeal as an indulgent escape from the everyday.

High tea represents a noble cultural tradition focusing on the simple pleasures in life. Though the cost may be considerable, the experience is truly priceless. If you seek an elegant repast in stylish surroundings, high tea could be the ideal treat for a special celebration or getaway.

Why High Tea Can Be Pricey

High tea sets are a fine tradition with a high price tag. There are several reasons why an authentic high tea experience can be expensive.

Premium Ingredients

High tea features premium tea leaves, like Darjeeling, oolong or organic herbal blends, and high-quality finger sandwiches, scones, petits fours, macarons, petits fours, madeleines, and other delicacies. These speciality ingredients naturally cost more, especially when made in small batches using artisanal methods.

Expertise and Labor

Trained tea sommeliers and patissiers carefully curate the tea experience. Their expertise and the labour required to source fresh, high-quality ingredients and handcraft each element of the high tea contribute to the overall price. Everything from the tea selection to the tiered stands to the accompanying sweet and savoury bites is meticulously chosen and prepared to provide an unparalleled sensory experience for guests.

Ambience and Service

High tea is meant to be a luxurious escape, set in lavish surroundings with silver tea sets, bone china, crisp linens, and fresh flowers. Efficient yet unobtrusive service from formally-attired staff also enhances the ambience, which comes at a premium. Some of the most prestigious hotels even have tea rooms with panoramic views of the city or countryside, adding to the cost.

Scarcity and Demand

Authentic high tea experiences are rare, offered at only the finest hotels, tea rooms, and restaurants. Due to their exclusivity and popularity, especially around holidays and for special occasions, demand is high while availability is scarce. According to the law of supply and demand, this results in higher prices, which customers willingly pay for the uniqueness of the experience.

While the price of high tea may be steep, it remains an indulgence worth savouring at least once for many. When you consider the high quality of the tea and delicacies, the expertise that goes into its preparation and presentation, the refined ambience, and its scarcity, it becomes clear why this grand tradition comes at a premium. For those seeking an unparalleled sensory escape, high tea offers a genuinely priceless experience.

Types of Teas Typically Served at High Tea

Black Teas

Black teas are fully oxidized, resulting in their characteristic dark colour and robust, malty flavour. Popular varieties served at high tea include Earl Gray, Darjeeling, and English breakfast tea. Earl Gray is scented with bergamot oil, giving it a distinctive citrus aroma. Darjeeling comes from the Darjeeling region of India and is praised for its musky, fruity notes. English breakfast tea is a brisk, full-bodied blend that pairs well with the traditional English breakfast.

Green Teas

Green teas are unoxidized, so they retain their fresh, vegetal qualities. Green teas commonly found at high tea include sencha, gyokuro, and matcha. Sencha produces a grassy, seaweed-like flavour. Gyokuro has a delicate, sweet flavour due to being shade-grown. Matcha is a powdered green tea whisked into a frothy drink with a herbaceous, slightly bitter taste.

Oolong Teas

Oolong teas are semi-oxidized, resulting in floral, fruity flavours. Famous oolongs for high tea are Da Hong Pao, which has notes of orchid and peach, and Ti Kuan Yin, which produces aromas of gardenia and cooked plums.

Herbal Teas

For those who prefer an uncaffeinated option, herbal teas made from flowers, fruits, and spices are frequently available. Chamomile tea has a refreshing apple-like flavour with calming properties. Rooibos tea yields an earthy, mildly sweet taste with hints of spice. Peppermint and lavender teas provide uplifting minty or floral aromas, respectively.

A traditional high tea experience would only be complete with premium loose-leaf teas. The specific teas can vary, but black, green, oolong and herbal varieties are staples. By understanding the differences between these types of tea, you can make an informed selection to suit your tastes perfectly. Savouring a cup of tea that has been carefully chosen to complement the occasion helps elevate high tea into an art form.

Must-Have Elements of a High Tea Spread

To host a proper high tea, several essential elements must be present. These key components will provide an authentic experience and satisfy your guests.

An Assortment of Teas

No high tea is complete without an array of premium loose-leaf teas for your guests. Offer a variety such as Earl Gray, English Breakfast, Darjeeling, chamomile, and peppermint. Provide tea strainers or infusers and small pots of hot water for each table so guests can steep their tea.

Tiered Serving Trays

The iconic tiered trays are a hallmark of the high tea tradition. Fill silver or porcelain trays with finger sandwiches, scones, tea cakes, macarons, tarts, and chocolates. Place one tiered tray in the centre of each table for guests to share, or provide individual trays for each person if preferred.

Finger Sandwiches

Delicate finger sandwiches with their crusts removed are necessary for any high tea spread. Offer fillings such as cucumber, egg salad, smoked salmon, ham, cheese and chutney. Spread the fillings generously but not so thickly that the sandwiches cannot be eaten neatly in two or three bites.


Freshly baked scones, preferably plain and fruit varieties, should be served with clotted cream, lemon curd, jam, butter and marmalade. Split the scones in half horizontally and top with the spreads so guests can create their perfect bite.

Petite Desserts

In addition to scones, an array of bite-sized desserts such as madeleines, tea cakes, macarons, tarts and chocolates complete the high tea experience. Aim for three to five options so there is something for everyone but a manageable amount of sweets.

With these must-have elements artfully arranged and served correctly, you will host an exceptional high tea that allows your guests to leisurely sip premium teas while enjoying an assortment of delicacies, as is the time-honoured tradition. Savour the refined experience and camaraderie of this special occasion.

How to Host a High Tea Party at Home

Select a Theme

Choose a theme to help guide your colour scheme, decor, and menu. Popular high tea themes include floral, Marie Antoinette, Alice in Wonderland, and Downton Abbey. Remember the theme when selecting linens, centrepieces, china, and attire. For a floral theme, opt for pastel colours and fresh flowers. Use gold accents, pastries, and historic-inspired clothing for a Marie Antoinette theme.

Send Invitations

Mail invitations 4 to 6 weeks in advance with details on the theme, start time, and dress code. For an elegant affair, request that guests wear formal or business attire, including dresses, skirts, button-down shirts, and slacks. You may also suggest fascinators or hats for an authentic experience.

Choose a Menu

A traditional high tea menu includes an assortment of finger sandwiches, scones, tea pastries, and of course, a variety of premium loose-leaf teas. Consider cucumber, egg salad, ham, cheese, and watercress for sandwiches. Serve the scones with clotted cream, lemon curd, and jam. Fill your pastry tray with macarons, madeleines, petit fours, tartlets, and choux puffs. Offer your guests a selection of black, oolong, green, and herbal tea options.

Set the Scene

Use your finest china, linens, and silverware to create an elegant tablescape. Include teapots or teapot-shaped vases filled with fresh flowers as centrepieces. Place settings should include a salad plate, napkin, fork, knife, teaspoon, teacup and saucer. For an authentic British experience, provide a three-tiered pastry tray, teapot, milk jug, and sugar bowl for each table. Dim lighting and classical music will complete the ambience.

Serve and Enjoy!

Once everything is prepared and your guests arrive, you can serve the high tea. Explain each element as you serve the courses. Most importantly, enjoy this fine tradition with friends and loved ones! A high tea party is meant for leisurely conversation and camaraderie.

Where to Find High Tea Sets and Accessories

Online Retailers

Many reputable retailers offer high tea sets and related accessories on their websites. Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, and Liberty London are premier London department stores that ship internationally and have dedicated sections for high tea ware. The high tea sets from https://www.teasetbox.com are quality and affordable.

Specialty Stores

Brick-and-mortar stores specializing in tea, tableware, linens, or British imports are also great places to find high tea sets. Check if any speciality home goods stores in your area carry brands like Wedgwood, Royal Albert, or Spode. These brands are synonymous with the classic English style that complements a traditional high tea service.

Auction Houses

Monitor sites like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams for rare, antique high tea sets. Auction houses frequently feature prized lots such as sterling silver tea sets, hand-painted porcelain sets from renowned makers, and Art Deco-era sets in their home decor and ceramics auctions. Be prepared to pay premium prices for sets from prestigious makers or specific eras.

Estate Sales

Estate sales and antique fairs are ideal for finding unique vintage high tea sets at potentially lower prices. Many people are downsizing or clearing out family heirlooms so that you may spot a set passed down for generations. Check listings on sites like EstateSales.net and AuctionZip.com to find sales in your area.

  1. Sterling silver: hallmarked, engraved, filigree detailing
  2. Bone china: hand-painted, gold leaf accents
  3. Glassware: etched, cut crystal
  4. Linens: embroidered tablecloths and napkins
  5. Serving trays: silver, wood
  6. Teapots: ceramic, cast iron
  7. Scones: plates, stands, knives

With some searching at the right places, you can build a high tea set and curate an accompanying collection of accessories that suits your tastes and budget. The ritual of high tea is meant to be an indulgence, so take your time finding the most refined pieces.

High Tea Set FAQs: Your Top Questions Answered

What types of tea are served at high tea?

High tea traditionally features a variety of premium loose-leaf teas. Earl Gray, Darjeeling, and English breakfast tea are the most common options. Earl Gray is a fragrant black tea infused with bergamot oil, giving it a distinctive citrus aroma and flavour. Darjeeling tea comes from the Darjeeling district in India and is praised for its musky, floral notes. English breakfast tea is a full-bodied black tea that pairs well with milk and sugar.

Why is high tea so expensive?

High tea is an indulgent experience featuring the finest ingredients and service, which naturally comes at a premium. Loose leaf teas, finger sandwiches with high-quality meats and cheeses, scones with clotted cream and jam, petit fours, tartlets, and other delicate pastries are all crafted using artisanal methods with the freshest local and imported ingredients. Skilled staff provide attentive table-side service for an unrushed multi-course affair meant to be an extraordinary social event. These factors contribute to the higher cost of high tea versus casual afternoon tea.

Where can I purchase a high tea set?

High tea sets, also known as tiered tea sets or curate stands, can be purchased from:

  1. Speciality kitchen and home goods stores:Stores like Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and Crate and Barrel offer high tea sets ranging from $50 to $500 or more for premium bone china sets.
  2. Department stores:High-end department stores often have housewares sections where you can find a selection of high tea sets, especially around the holidays. Look for stores like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdale’s.
  3. Online retailers:Websites like Amazon, Wayfair, Overstock, and Houzz have a large selection of high tea sets at various price points to shop from the comfort of home. Look for highly-rated brands like Royal Albert, Wedgwood, Spode, and Lenox.
  4. China and porcelain companies – For the finest bone china high tea sets, shop directly from renowned makers like Royal Doulton, Royal Worcester, and Bernardaud. Sets from these luxury brands come at a premium but are heirloom quality.
  5. Auction houses and antique stores – Vintage and antique high tea sets in sterling silver, porcelain, and bone china can sometimes be found through auction houses, antique stores, and some specialized online dealers. Be prepared to pay a premium for rare, well-preserved sets, especially those from renowned makers.

High tea is a fine tradition that calls for an elegant setting. A tiered set, whether new or antique, creates the perfect stage.


As you can see, high tea has a rich history and tradition that continues today. Indulging in an elegant high tea experience allows you to slow down, savour delicate foods, and enjoy a refined social occasion. While high tea sets and services may come at a premium, the experience is well worth the splurge for many. The next time you want to treat yourself or a loved one to something extraordinary, consider hosting your high tea. Select a scenic location, don your finest attire, brew a pot of premium loose-leaf tea, and display petite sandwiches and pastries on your best china. High tea is the perfect chance to channel your inner duchess and embrace the simple pleasures in life.