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The History of Afternoon Tea (High Tea)

The traditions of Afternoon Tea (High Tea) date back to the Seventh Duchess of Bedford. Tea had been popular in the 17th and 18th  Centuries, but the custom of taking tea and sustenance in the late afternoon stared in the early 1800's. The Duchess wished to fill the time between lunch and dinner and found her guests were often hungry at 5pm. Dinner was often not served until 8:30 0r 9pm.

Afternoon Tea become a time when chaperoned young ladies may meet prospective husbands. Tea was served in the drawing room or in a shaded area of the garden, and all society discussed the gossip and scandals of the day. 'At Home' cards were sent to friends and social acquaintances to indicate when a lady was at home to entertain.

Once taxes were reduced on tea itself all levels of society enjoyed tea very much as we do today.

Taking tea at Oruawharo is the opportunity to participate in the gentry lifestyle of founders Sydney and Sophia Johnston and the busy social life that characterised the homestead in their day.

At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Oruawharo was the regular meeting place of some of New Zealand’s leading social and political dignitaries. The women dressed in the graceful sweeping gowns of the time, the men in elegant formal attire, would gather in the wood-panelled dining room, before the roaring drawing room fire, or in summer on the veranda and lawn, to participate in what was an almost ceremonial occasion.

Or if they were to call to tea today those elegant ladies and gentlemen would find little had changed. They’d discover tea parties being served as in the past, only we have the beautiful 120 year old St Vincent's Church where we serve the High Teas now.

As on those refined early occasions, today’s guests are offered a selection of teas. In modern times these are blended especially for Oruawharo and available for purchase in attractive canisters decorated with our own branding as well as some delicious jams, chutneys and compotes.  We also have cast iron teapots in red or black available, which means you can enjoy your tea in the comfort of your home.

An event in St Vincent’s is an ideal way to enjoy the spectacular park-like setting of the grounds. Our Chef, William brings his own flare, preparing a selection of delicate sandwiches, freshly made scones, cakes and new savory delicacies, served on pretty tiered stands, all made from scratch. Guests are waited on by hostess Bianca, just as they would have been by the huge house staff who served Oruawharo’s first visitors. After indulging in the High Tea and the wide array of fine teas and local coffee, wander through the vibrant gardens and get a guide tour through the Homestead by owners Rob and Erica.

As you enjoy your visit, know that your patronage contribute towards the restoration of this Category 1 Historic Hawke’s Bay property and we thank you for sharing our passion for this magical property.


High Tea Days

We only host High Teas on selected days.

Please see the events page or our Facebook for the available dates and prices.


Extra Info about the High Tea Days:

• Tea/Coffee + scones, jam & cream + sandwiches + savories + sweets
• Cash bar available
• Function is held inside of St Vincent’s Church
• Includes a guided tour of the Homestead & guests can view the gardens
• History presentation will be playing on the screen during your meal

You can purchase:

A variety of Teas at $16 per tin, Green, Black & Fruit Teas available

Cast iron pots at $50 per pot, Red or Black

Dietary requirement option: While we will endeavor to offer a High Tea like food selection to people with dietary requirements it is not always possible as most elements on our typical high tea menu will contain some dairy or possibly some gluten. Meat is in a few components also. The below menu is indicative of what may be provided and changes on a case by case basis -- Please contact us prior to purchasing tickets if you have questions.

Finger Sandwiches | filled wraps | seasonal salad | hot soup or meat stew | Dietary Canapes | GF sweet options | DF sweet options | nut free sweet options

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