When most Americans think of a tea, they think of finger foods and dainty cups. This ican be traced to the British tradition of afternoon tea, also known as low tea. The designation of "low" refers not to the class of the people involved but rather to the fact that the food was served around low tables, such as coffee tables. Low tea is an intimate social affair with light food. High tea tended to involve working class people, who, being unable to attend teas in the middle of the workday, would have a heartier meal when arriving home from work. Although traditionally a family affair, today's high tea is more like a dinner party.
Plan a menu. High tea is also called "meat tea" because of its focus on hearty meat dishes. The menu should include dishes such as roast beef, ham, or shepherd's pie. Consider having at least two meat options, a fish option, a vegetable or two and a couple of simple dessert options. This is the equivalent of a dinner. Also include beverages, especially tea. Traditional British teas are mainly black teas, such as Earl Grey and English Breakfast, with either milk or lemon and sugar. Modern teas can take advantage of the huge variety of options available, however, so don't feel confined by tradition. You can include some herbal and caffeine free teas as well.
Create and send the invitations to your high tea at least two weeks in advance. Along with the standard details, such as date, time and location, include a sample of the menu. Since most Americans confuse high tea and afternoon tea, this can let your guests know to expect a full dinner rather than just finger foods to avoid the possibility of them eating prior to attending. It also gives your guest the opportunity to let you know of any food allergies or special dietary needs they might have.
Create a shopping list based on your menu. If you have space in your refrigerator, it is best to shop a few days before your tea. Check your supply of plates, cups and utensils as well, and pick up anything else you might need at the same time.
Determine what can be prepared ahead of time and reheated or served cold the evening of the tea. Then start cooking ahead of time. This will allow you to focus on your guests rather than being in the kitchen when they arrive.
Set out the cups, teas, sugar and lemon, as well as any appetizers, the hour before your guests arrive. When your guests arrive, you should pour them their first cups of tea. Keep a kettle simmering with hot water for refills throughout the evening.
Serve dinner and enjoy your company. Unlike traditional high teas, the focus of your tea is to enjoy the company of your guests.