In 1662, King Charles II of England married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza who brought with her, as part of her dowry, a small chest of tea. As the new queen, Catherine began the serving of tea to her friends at court.
Although there is mention of "five o'clock tea" in France in the 17th century, the credit for the invention of "Afternoon Tea" is given to Anna Russell, duchess of Bedford who, during the long gap between an early breakfast and very late dinner, experienced what she called "a sinking feeling" at about 4 or 5 in the afternoon. She asked her maid to bring her a pot of tea, a little bread and butter and cake in her room. She found this arrangement so agreeeable that she began asking her friends to join her.
High tea, a term often confused with afternoon tea, usually takes the place of supper. During the Industrial Revolution, working class families would return home tired and exhausted. The table would be set with dinner foods like meat, bread, butter, potatoes, cheese and of course tea. It was termed "high tea" because it was eaten at a high dining table rather than a low tea table.
Afternoon tea (because it was usually taken in the late afternoon) is also called "low tea" as it is served at a low table. Since this wasn't a meal, but rather like a late afternoon snack meant to stave off hunger, finger foods were the common fare. Tiny, dainty sandwiches, scones and pastries were served with afternoon tea. Finger foods afforded one the opportunity to take a petite bite and easily maintain a conversation. This is most important, as one is not merely taking tea to gain nourishment or satisfy hunger, but to take time to relax, converse and enjoy the company of dear friends. In England, the traditional time for tea was four o'clock or five o'clock in the afternoon and no one stayed after seven o'clock.