The Duchess’ tea was the traditional afternoon tea. It consisted of four parts: finger sandwiches (meaning two-inch or so in width slices) , scones with clotted cream and seasonal fruit, various cakes, and of course, tea. Everyone inevitably thinks of cucumber when they think of English sandwiches, but sandwiches might contain fillings of roast beef, chicken, tuna, salmon, or egg instead. “Cakes” could include traditional frosted or unfrosted cakes, cupcakes, fancies (iced buns), or tarts. This meal would be eaten in the parlour or on the lawn whilst relaxing on low, comfortable chairs – and not around a dining table.
These days, you will partake of afternoon tea in restaurants or hotels or for special occasions, such as wedding showers.
The afternoon tea made popular by the Duchess did not cater to the needs of the working classes. These folks could not stop in their work to indulge in sandwiches and cakes in the afternoon. Hence the “high” tea was born. High tea was taken at the now traditional “supper” time when work ended, and it involved much more substantial and hot fare to fill the empty stomachs of hard-working people. It was eaten around the table, hence the term “high” tea as opposed to tea taken at “low” (in height) parlour chairs.