英國人喝下午茶的方式豐儉由人，由高貴的正式茶聚（tea party），到可以不喝茶只吃點心的餐飲（afternoon tea），都可以稱為下午茶。
然而喝茶並不是主要的環節，品嘗蛋糕、三明治等各種點心，反而成了最重要的部分。正式的下午茶點心一般被壘成“三層架”（Three-Tier Petit Four Stand）的形式：第一層（底層）放置各種口味的三明治（tea sandwich），第二層（中間層）是英國的傳統點心司康餅（scone），第三層（最上層）則是小蛋糕和水果塔。這個三層架點心應從下往上、由鹹至甜、由淡到濃地吃。除了這種必不可少的三層點心，一些牛角麵包、葡萄乾、魚子醬等食品也會擺上來，來迎合賓客的口味。
在紐西蘭，他們的 Tea time （下午茶时间）習慣在早上而非下午，所以他們把“小息”稱作“Morning tea time”。
- After VS High
- Tea Customs. UK: Tea Council. [21 November 2012].
- What is the Difference Between Afternoon Tea and High Tea?. British food. About. [21 November 2012].
- English Dictionary 2nd, Oxford.
- Bender, David A. A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition 3rd. Oxford University Press. 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-923487-5.
An afternoon meal; may consist of a light meal (especially in southern Britain), or be a substantial meal (high tea) as in northern Britain; introduced by Anna, Duchess of Bedford, in 1840 because of the long interval between a light luncheon and dinner at 8pm.
- Ayto, John. The Diner’s Dictionary 2nd. Oxford University Press. 2012. ISBN 978-0-19-964024-9.
Tea seems first to have established for itself a particular niche in the day in the 1740s, by which time it had become the fashionable breakfast drink. It was also drunk after dinner, and as the usual time for dinner progressed during the eighteenth century towards the evening a gap opened up for a late-afternoon refreshment, filled by what has since become the traditional English afternoon tea, a meal in its own right, with sandwiches and cake as well as cups of tea (amongst the earliest references to it are these by Fanny Burney in Evelina, 1778: ‘I was relieved by a summons to tea,’ and by John Wesley in 1789: ‘At breakfast and at tea… I met all the Society’; Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford (1783–1857), famously claimed to have originated the fashion, but as can be seen, it was around well before she was in a position to have any influence over it). In various other parts of the English-speaking world, teatime has assumed other connotations: in Jamaica, for instance, it is the first meal of the day, while for Australians and New Zealanders it is a cooked evening meal—a usage reflected in the tea, and more specifically the ‘high tea’, of certain British dialects, predominantly those of the working class and of the North (the term high tea dates from the early nineteenth century).