Food & Drinks

7 things you didn’t know about high tea

A high tea cheat sheet that's fit for a Queen!
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There’s no better way to unwind than with a cup of tea and a sweet treat. And thanks to a little help from the royal family back in the 19th century, this humble afternoon tradition turned into a more extravagant occurrence — otherwise known as high tea.

Now hosted in the opulent dining rooms of hotels like the Crown Towers Melbourne — its Conservatory restaurant boasts Yarra views, an Instagramable interior and a new menu, as of 1 July, that’s infused with tea (think: jasmine green tea and mango mousse cake) — high tea has become a reason to celebrate special occasions or simply delight in life’s sweet pleasures (because cake is always a good idea).

In honour of it combining three of our favourite things (royals, tea and cakes), we’ve rounded up seven things you didn’t know about high tea.

1. High tea was invented by Anna, Duchess of Bedford

In England — where the tradition originated — ‘high tea’ is known as ‘afternoon tea’ and was introduced by Queen Victoria’s lifelong friend Anna, Duchess of Bedford in the 1840s.

The Duchess would become hungry at around four o’clock in the afternoon and would ask for a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake to be brought to her room. Her snacking habit quickly became a custom and then, a fashionable social event.

2.‘Pinkies up’ is a faux pas

Despite popular belief — and endless movie references — lifting your pinkie finger whilst drinking a cup of tea is actually an impolite technique. Not only is ‘pinkie finger up’ an incorrect technique, it also makes holding your tea cup more difficult.

Instead, you should hold your teacup pinkie down, with two fingers curled through the handle and your thumb resting on top.

The Duchess of Cambridge drinking her tea, pinkie down!

(Source: Getty Images)

3. The Earl of Sandwich invented the ‘high tea sandwich’

As the tradition of high tea started to gain popularity, John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich came up with the genius idea of placing meat and other fillings between two slices of bread.

It was this idea that started the ‘high tea sandwich’ or the ‘finger sandwich’ — a delicacy that is still enjoyed at high teas across the globe.

4. Opulent tea rooms first appeared in Australia in the 1880s

Australians in the colonial period were heavily influenced by English trends — and afternoon tea was one of them.

As a result, opulent tea rooms started to appear around Australia in the late 19th century, offering tea with daintier treats like tea sandwiches, scones and small cakes.

The appearance of these tea rooms is where the modern Australian idea of high tea (pictured below) has come from.

The Conservatory is famous for its high tea, as well as being one of the best buffet destinations Melbourne has to offer.

5. Queen Elizabeth indulges in a high tea daily

She’s the longest reigning monarch, but Her Majesty shows no signs of slowing down or neglecting her afternoon tradition of high tea.

For tea, Queen Elizabeth will eat finger sandwiches with a filling of cucumber and smoked salmon (crusts off!). She will, of course, sip on freshly-brewed Earl Grey tea and if she’s feeling decadent, treat herself to a scone or piece of cake.

6. According to Her Majesty, it’s jam first, then cream for scones

The source of many years — if not decades — of debate in the high tea world, the correct way to top a scone is a controversial one. Some say that it is cream first followed by jam, whereas others swear it’s jam first, then cream.

Considering she takes high tea on a daily basis, there proves no one better than Queen Elizabeth herself to settle to debate. According to Her Majesty, the correct way to method to topping a scone is in fact jam first, then cream!

A high tea fit for a Queen — and for sharing on social media — at Conservatory.

7. The dos and don’ts of high tea

Just like a fine dining experience, high tea has its very own unique etiquette. While some rules are more flexible than others, there are some very important rules that are not to be messed around with.

The most important to remember are:

  • Never start eating until everyone has been served.

  • Avoid picking food from the tower with your fingers; use a fork if servers aren’t provided.

  • Never leave your spoon in the cup, always place it on the saucer instead.

  • Look into — not over — your teacup when sipping. It’s more polite!

Book afternoon tea with your friends or family at Conservatory and wow them with your impressive tea knowledge!

Brought to you by Crown Melbourne. The Conservatory restaurant and buffet is located in Crown Towers Melbourne. For more information, or to make a reservation, call (03) 9292 5777 or visit

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