The Chinese are credited with discovering tea as a beverage some 4,000 years ago. When tea began to gain a British following in the 17th century, it was served mostly in coffeehouses that already existed, admitting only men. As a result, women of the family adopted tea on their own ground. Tea drinking became much more of an “at-home” activity, and afternoon tea, as we now know it, came into being.
At that time, the day’s three meals were a heavy breakfast, a light lunch and a large dinner around eight or none o’clock. Women soon realized that they were feeling hungry and faint around five o’clock and started serving tea with assorted sandwiches and small cakes, thus creating the afternoon tea. It is not to be confused, however, with the high tea. High tea was served around the same time in working class homes. The high tea was a hearty meal consisting of cold meats, cheeses and bread, eaten when the men came home from the factories or field.