coffee table vs tea table

A coffee table is a short, often rectangular table which sits in front of a sofa. A tea table is a tall, round table, often placed near a sofa or chairs where a tea service set is placed to serve guests.

Tea Table

Round Tea Table with Scalloped Top
: United States, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, circa 1765
: Furnishings; Furniture
: Mahogany
: Height: 45 7/8 in. (116.5 cm); Diameter: 32 1/8 in. (81.5 cm)

Coffee Table

Rustic furniture: coffee table with cedar and mountain laurel branches

The coffee table is an evolution of the tea table commonly used in Europe for centuries. The first version wooden tables created in England designed for and called coffee tables were made during the late Victorian era. There is a table designed by E.W. Godwin in 1868 and made in large numbers by William Watt and Collinson and Lock which is listed as a coffee table in ‘Victorian Furniture’ by R. W. Symonds & B. B. Whineray and also in ‘The Country Life book of English Furniture’ by Edward T. Joy.

There doesn’t seem to be any known examples of coffee tables made before the mid to late 19th century, as we know them today. A coffee table defined as a low wide table placed in front of a sofa or couch.

Tea gained popularity, in part, due to the British East India Company negotiated trading rights with Canton merchant. The price for various types of the leaf fell over the following years. Tea became the drink most commonly served at social gatherings in the homes of middle- and upper-class English people. This tradition follows to the colonies. 

In the beginning, when the first coffee houses opened in London. They were so popular more coffee houses soon opened all over Europe. Coffee houses were also known as Penny University because the cost to enter was a penny, which included your first cup of coffee. Short tables were used, which were about 27 inches high, to set patrons coffee down – about knee high. Speculation suggests they were tea tables used for coffee.

Today, when you see a smaller round top table next to sofa or chair, it is most likely a tea table. When you see a short rectangle table in front of the sofa, this is a coffee table.

Tea tables generally have one main use, serving tea or other hot drinks, including coffee. Coffee tables are used for their namesake, placing coffee. However, the modern coffee table is often styled for decoration or made into a practical piece of furniture used in a common room, such as a T.V. Room.