The tradition of high tea is a British meal; it all came about in the 1600s among the working class. The meal was very different than today where a few sandwiches or cake may be the fare. In the 1600s the meal was substantial and included meat sandwiches, meat pies and a variety of cold cuts and cakes.
High tea for the working class was an integral part of the evening meal which was usually taken after the sun had set. In the case of high tea for farmers the meal was served earlier and the fare was closely related to what is commonly called supper. It was important for farmers to have a substantial meal at four or five in the afternoon as they often went back to work after the meal was finished.
High tea is very different today, it consists of light fare such as watercress or salmon pate sandwiches. Scones with clotted cream are very popular as are small cakes and other desert items. Of course the small food items are all accompanied by tea, most often served on a ceramic tea set which consists of a beautiful tea pot and matching cups and saucers.
Although afternoon tea is a ritual with the British to this day, high tea or cream tea is usually reserved for a special occasion. On these special occasions people often go to small tea shops that specialize in setting out elaborate dishes of fancy cakes, sandwiches and other light fare. Many of these small tea shops serve their tea and snacks on ceramic tea sets which tend to compliment the occasion.
Today, with children arriving home at about four in the afternoon, it is common for them to have a sandwich and a cup of tea. This is nothing special and happens almost daily. High tea, if held at all in the home would be reserved for perhaps Sunday afternoon or other special days.
High tea has long been a part of the British tradition, in the 1950s the habit arrived in the US. It is quite ironic that high tea which was originally a meal taken by laborers and other members of the working class is now almost exclusively reserved for restaurants and hotels which are considered quite exclusive.