High Tea: The Secrets of Success

High Tea - sandwiches and tea

There’s something about High Tea with Mary

Maryborough’s beloved Mary Poppins Festival is back on track in 2022 after a two-year hiatus because of Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns across the world.

To welcome the festival’s return, organisers paid tribute to its historical significance by hosting a High Tea for its founding group, Maryborough’s Proud Mary’s Society.

The Proud Mary’s Society was formed in 1999 to recognise Maryborough, Queensland, as the birthplace of Mary Poppins author, Pamela Lyndon (P.L.)Travers.

To celebrate her 100th birthday on 9 August that year, the local group hosted a Birthday Afternoon Tea on the Maryborough Town Hall Green.

This celebration grew and evolved into the Mary Poppins Festival that people know and love today.

Here we explore the secrets of hosting a successful High Tea.

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high tea - table setting

High Tea usually includes sandwiches, scones, pastries and cakes. Photo: Shutterstock.

Why hold a High Tea?

High Tea is often associated with Mary Poppins, the iconic character from Walt Disney’s 1964 film.

In one magical scene, Mary Poppins drinks tea on a bed with the children, Bert, and Uncle Albert, and soon everyone is laughing and floating around the room.

There are several other reasons High Tea is associated with Mary Poppins:

  1. High Tea and Mary Poppins are British institutions.
  2. They both involve enjoying good food and conversing with loved ones and friends.
  3. Mary Poppins is known for her impeccable manners–something that is also associated with High Tea.

So next time you sit down for a pot of tea and some sandwiches, remember that you’re taking part in a tradition that has been linked to Mary Poppins for over 50 years.

What is High Tea?

High Tea is a quintessentially British tradition, but contrary to popular belief, it isn’t actually a type of tea.

It’s a term used to describe an afternoon meal that usually includes sandwiches, scones, pastries and cakes.

High Tea became popularized in England during the Victorian era when Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, began hosting Afternoon Teas for her friends.

Because upper-class people wouldn’t eat their evening meal until 8 pm or later, the ‘mini meal’ called Afternoon Tea bridged the gap between their main meals during the long afternoons.

However, while the upper class had Afternoon Teas with servants attending to their needs, the working class couldn’t afford such luxury.

Instead, their evening meal became known as High Tea and usually comprised a mug of tea with a beef stew or pies and vegetables.

Over time, Britain’s upper class also adopted the name High Tea for their more elaborate Afternoon Tea, which may have been because the meal was originally eaten at a table, whereas Afternoon Tea was eaten while seated in low chairs or sofas.

High Tea eventually became a staple of English culture and remains popular today, and many other cultures around the world, including Australia, have adopted the tradition.

Today, High Tea is often served in luxury hotels and restaurants, often to celebrate milestones, but it can also be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home at any time of the year.

What occasions could be celebrated with High Tea?

There are several occasions that are perfect for celebrating with this elegant meal.

High Tea can mark a special anniversary or birthday, celebrate a promotion or milestone at work, or simply enjoy a leisurely afternoon with friends.

No matter what the occasion, the tradition will create lasting memories.

High Tea typically includes a selection of delicate sandwiches, pastries and scones with cream and jam.

Of course, no High Tea is complete without a pot of freshly brewed tea.

Whether you prefer black, green or herbal teas, this ancient beverage is the perfect complement to the food served.

high tea - pouring tea

High Tea is a quintessentially British tradition. Photo: Shutterstock.

How do I host a High Tea in my home?

If you would like to host a High Tea party in your home, there are a few things you will need to do in order to prepare.

First, you will need to create a menu.

Typically, light sandwiches are included, along with scones with cream and an assortment of pastries.

It is important to have a variety of items so everyone can find something they enjoy.

Next, you will need to set the table.

High Tea is traditionally served on a tiered serving stand, with the sandwiches on the bottom tier, followed by the scones, and then the pastries on the top tier.

You will also need to provide teacups and saucers for each guest, as well as a pot of hot tea.

Finally, you will need to plan for entertainment. These parties are usually quite relaxed, so plan for some light conversation starters or games that everyone can enjoy.

The art of invitations

Calligraphy is making a comeback as beautifully designed stationery and invitations.

Your guests will love receiving this personalised touch with their name scribed onto it by you, as they open up their invitations delivered to their letterboxes.

But when you’re short on time, it’s hard to come up with the perfect invitation.

Luckily there are pre-made e-stationery items and templates available from online stores or local craft shops that allow for customisation by using calligraphy ink or other creative designs.


High Tea is a type of afternoon tea that is typically a more formal affair and is usually served with a mix of savoury and sweet foods.

Etiquette dictates that one should wait to be seated by the host before sitting down.

Once seated, one should not begin eating until the host gives the signal to do so.

The meal should be eaten with your pinky finger extended and you should take small bites in a gentile fashion.

When eating a scone, it is proper to spread thickened cream on the scone first, and then add jam on top.

Ideally, leave your mobile phone at home!

Finally, it is important to remember to thank your hostess for the meal before leaving.

By following these simple guidelines, you can ensure that you have a pleasant experience.

How do I decorate my home?

There are many ways to decorate your home to create a High Tea atmosphere.

One way is to use pretty tablecloths and napkins, and set the table with your best china.

You can also add some special touches, such as fresh flowers or scented candles.

If you want to create a more formal setting, you can use white tablecloths and linens, and set the table with silverware and crystal glassware.

And of course, don’t forget the tea! Put out a selection of tea bags or loose leaf tea, along with milk and sugar.

What games and music can we play?

There are many games and music that can be played at a High Tea party.

One popular game is Croquet, which is played with either small balls or larger ones, mallets and hoops.

Another game that is popular is Charades. This game can be great fun for all ages, and it’s a good way to get everyone interacting with each other.

If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, then card games such as Euchre or Whist are always popular choices.

For more experienced card players, Bridge or Gin Rummy are also good options.

There is also Word Ladder. This involves making a list of words that all relate to a certain topic, and then seeing who can come up with the most creative word ladder linking all the words together.

High Tea parties are also often accompanied by live music or other forms of entertainment.

Whether you hire a harpist or simply play some soft background music, be sure to set the mood for a sophisticated afternoon gathering.

Mary Poppins Festival

The Mary Poppins Festival features events such as the Chimney Sweep Challenge, Great Nanny Race and Grand Parade, and the ‘Poppins Pop Up Picnic.’

The event encourages attendees to showcase their creative and imaginative side; joining in on the Costume Competition, taking part in activities, marching along in the Grand Parade, attending shows and displays, and much more.

“People come here to Maryborough to get that connection to Mary Poppins and P.L. Travers,” Fraser Coast Mayor George Seymour said.

“The festival allows attendees to dress up however they want; there are chimney sweeps, there are Mary Poppins and Admiral Boom characters. The festival allows attendees to embrace the experience.

Fraser Coast Tourism and Events General Manager Martin Simons said the festival was about families coming out and enjoying the day with a program that’s been going on for 22 years, showcasing the art of storytelling and encouraging children to take part in the activities.

For more information on the Mary Poppins Festival – Day in the Park, follow @frasercoastevents on Facebook and Instagram and visit the website www.marypoppinsfestival.com.au.


If you enjoyed this story, you might also like The Story Bank: Where Imagination Comes to Life



If you go

Maryborough is about 255 kilometers north of the Queensland capital, Brisbane.


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