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The history of Tea in Great Britain

Posted by Olivia Hague-Delves on

Even though tea is the most quintessential of English drinks it was actually a late comer in the UK.

Whilst it is impossible to know exactly when the first cup was brewed, legend has it that Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sat beneath a Camellia sinensis one day in 2737BC when a few leaves were stirred by the wind. As his servant boiled drinking water in a pot, the leaves fell in and so accidentally resulted in the world’s first cup of tea.  To this day, every cup of tea enjoyed around the world comes from the same plant; the Camellia sinensis.

From its earliest recorded use, tea was widely believed to refresh the spirit, alleviate tiredness, fight off depression and illness, and boost energy. It is for many of these reasons that we still enjoy tea today, and in fact it is the world’s number one beverage after water. Tea is a drink that penetrates all cultures and continents.

And even though it can date back to the 3rd Millenium BC in China it actually never arrived into the UK until the mid-1600. It was introduced by our then Queen, Catherine of Braganza, the wife of King Charles II.

Samuel Pepys first mentioned drinking tea in his diary entry 25th September 1660.

It was simply described as ‘China drink’.

To keep the illegal trade protected smugglers went to murderous lengths. They used to do this in order to avoid paying tax on such a newly popular trend.

Tea was more popular in the smuggling. More so than Gin or Brandy.

Despite Britain being a culture obsessed by class or ‘station’, tea had shaken off its exclusive label by the mid eighteenth century to become to favourite beverage of all classes. Whilst it was still enjoyed throughout the palaces and stately homes of Britain, it could be found on the breakfast and dinner tables of poorer classes and throughout places of work. It even formed part of a worker’s wages, and is used as an enticing extra when included in the ticket price of London’s visitor attractions.

On average over 100 million cups of tea are consumed in the UK a day.

You can actually use tea leaves to predict the future. This is called Astrotea.

Tea has become the drink we know and love today; to wake us in the morning, to get us through the working day, and to calm and refresh us during the evening. To enjoy alone, or in company as part of an elegant and extravagant feast, or the simplest of suppers. Quite simply, it is the drink that fuels Britain.


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