While the English are known for drinking copious amounts of tea, we all know by now that they did not invent the leaf. So…how did the leaf migrate from Asia to the British Isles?
Tea first reached Europe by the way of Dutch and Portuguese traders in 1610. There is a legend that King Charles II grew up in exile in Portugal and become accustomed to drinking tea. In fact, he married Catharine of Braganza who was both Portuguese and an avid tea drinker. It is said that when she came to England to marry the monarch, she brought with her a casket of tea. She was known as England’s first tea-drinking queen.
It is also said that it was the coffee houses of London that brought the teas for the masses. One of the first was a house owned by Thomas Garway who started selling the drink and leaves in 1657. In as 35tt3e as three years, he began advertising the selling of tea at £6 and £10!
Tea gained popularity in the 1700. However, it was to the distress of the tea owners as it cut their sales of gin and ale. This was also bad news for the government who depended on the revenue of liquor taxes. In 1676, the government tried to slow the growing popularity by putting a tax on tea. By the mid 18th century, the tax had reached as high as 199%! So the Brits created a whole new industry: tea smuggling.
Once tea became more accepted and the taxes lifted, this allowed for the creation of a new tea custom: Afternoon tea. It is said that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford created the idea of afternoon tea as a bridge to gap lunch and dinner. This eventually led to the popularity of cream tea for not only the high classes but the working classes as well. This then enabled tea to embed itself into all aspects of British culture.
What a fascinating history, no? I love a good cup of Cream Tea, don’t you?