The History of Tea

Tea drinking dates back to around 2750BC in China when, according to one popular Chinese legend,  Shen Nong the legendary Emperor of China and inventor of agriculture and Chinese medicine was drinking a bowl of just-boiled water when a few leaves were blown from a nearby tree into his water, changing the color. The emperor took a sip of the brew and was pleasantly surprised by its flavor and restorative properties.  “It quenches thirst” he noted, “it gladdens and cheers the heart”.

Although tea was enjoyed in China, then Japan, for hundreds of years, it didn’t reach Europe until the 17th century. 1662, Charles II married a Portugese princess, Catherine of Braganza, who happened to be an avid tea drinker.  She brought with her, as part of her dowry, a chest of tea, and she quickly introduced tea drinking to her friends at court.

However it took a further 100 years for tea to become the national beverage in Britain. Tea was very expensive, as it was taxed very heavily, and only drunk by the aristocracy.  Precious leaves were locked in caddies, and the brew was drunk from the new porcelain imported from the East named “China” after it’s country of origin. The tax was eventually lowered from 119 percent to 19 percent and therefore became more accessible. 

The very English ritual of taking afternoon tea was said to be invented by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, in the early 19th century.  Breakfast, in those days, was eaten at 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning and dinner, previously eaten at around 3 o’clock, was now not eaten until the evening.  One day the Duchess found that she was rather peckish at about 4 o’clock and instructed her maid to bring a tray of tea and some light refreshments to her room.  She found the arrangement so satisfactory that she started inviting her friends to join her.  Soon all of London was sipping elegant cups of tea and nibbling dainty sandwiches between 3 and 4 o’clock.

Today the ritual of afternoon tea has made a come back.  Many people are again enjoying the chance to relax in the middle of the afternoon, get together with friends and sip tea.  It can be a lavish affair with china cups, finger sandwiches and tea cakes or as simple as a mug of tea and a biscuit.