The term high tea is sometimes used in the United States to refer to afternoon tea or the tea party, a very formal, ritualized gathering in which tea, thin sandwiches and little cakes are served on the best china. This usage comes from misunderstanding the term high to mean formal. This form of tea is increasingly served in high-end U.S. hotels, often during the Christmas holidays and other tourist seasons, and a rising number of big-city teahouses.
High Tea (also known as Meat Tea) is actually an early evening meal, typically eaten between 5 and 6 o'clock in the evening. It would be eaten as a substitute for both afternoon tea and the evening meal. The term comes from the meal being eaten at the ‘high’ (main) table, instead of the smaller lounge table. It is now largely replaced by a later evening meal.
It would usually consist of cold meats, eggs and/or fish, cakes and sandwiches. In a family, it tends to be less formal and is an informal snack (featuring sandwiches, biscuits, pastry, fruit and the like) or else it is the main evening meal.
On farms or other working class environments, high tea would be the traditional, substantial meal eaten by the workers immediately after nightfall, and would combine afternoon tea with the main evening meal.