tea-hdr

The
Fascinating
Story Behind the Brits’
Most-Beloved
Daily Ritual

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hile all the market analysts will tell you the Brits are losing their taste for tea in favor of trendy espresso drinks, you can’t deny the beverage holds a special place in the heart of English culture. After all, when a Brit invites you over for a “cuppa,” they aren’t talking about cappuccino. And on average, they all drink three and a half cups of tea a day!

Between all the tea towels and tea gardens and afternoon tea services, tea is so prominent in the UK one might imagine the English invented it themselves. That’s not the case, however. So how exactly did the Brits fall so madly in love with this delightful hot beverage? Ahead, our latest Haute History will satisfy your curiosity and inspire you to sip for yourself.

 

wwhile all the market analysts will tell you the Brits are losing their taste for tea in favor of trendy espresso drinks, you can’t deny the beverage holds a special place in the heart of English culture. After all, when a Brit invites you over for a “cuppa,” they aren’t talking about cappuccino. And on average, they all drink three and a half cups of tea a day!

Between all the tea towels and tea gardens and afternoon tea services, tea is so prominent in the UK one might imagine the English invented it themselves. That’s not the case, however. So how exactly did the Brits fall so madly in love with this delightful hot beverage? Ahead, our latest Haute History will satisfy your curiosity and inspire you to sip for yourself.

 

The Emperor’s Discovery
2737 BC

tea-1Tea was not so much invented as it was happened upon (thank you Universe). Around the time the Egyptians were breaking ground on Giza, a Chinese emperor named Shen Nung stopped for a break on a long journey to a far away province. When his servants began to boil some water to make it drinkable, a breeze blew the leaves of a nearby camellia tree into the cauldron. Now this Emperor also happened to be an herbalist and a scientist, so he was curious to take a sip of the serendipitous concoction. He loved this first pot of tea so much that he continued to experiment with brewing it from different plants, developing many herbal remedies and going down in history as the father of Chinese medicine.

Trade Winds Blow
Early 1600s

While China, Japan, India and other eastern nations had the pleasure of delighting in their signature tea traditions for millennia, it would be another three and change before the drink arrived in Europe. Around the turn of the 17th century, the various trading companies (East India this and that) established by the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British began acquiring shipments of tea bricks from China. These slabs of dried black and green tea had become super valuable currency in many parts of Asia and were for a long time only given to Europeans in exchange for gold and silver.

A Queen’s Choice
Late 1600s

tea-3From Cleopatra to Beyoncé, Queens have always been trendsetters. So naturally it took one to convert a nation of coffee and hot chocolate drinkers to tea fanatics. It was thanks to Catherine Braganza of Portugal, who married the UK’s King Charles II in 1662, that the English came to consider the merits of tea as a pleasurable beverage. According to legend, when the Portuguese Queen arrived on British shores, she asked for a cup of hot tea to calm her after a stormy voyage. With none readily available, Queen Catherine was treated to a beer instead. Thankfully her dowry included (along with Tangier and Bombay) several chests of tea, waiting at her palatial new home.

 

More British Than Gin
1700s

tea-4Before Queen Catherine, tea was known in England as a medicinal beverage. Once she introduced it as an elegant everyday must, it took on a more leisurely appeal, catching fire in royal courts and literary circles. In the early 1700s, the Brits developed their signature style of sipping tea with milk and sugar. Sweetened, creamy black tea became the drink of choice, and some suggested it was becoming even more popular than gin. Over the course of the 18th century, as imports of tea to England quadrupled, the demand for sugar and porcelain rose right alongside.

Afternoon Tea vs. High Tea

teapotAfternoon tea is the luxurious social event, featuring tiered trays of scones and finger sandwiches, and served with fine china and polished silver. High tea meanwhile, is the historic name for the main meal of the day for Britain’s working class, enjoyed right after work around five pm.

Afternoon Delight
Mid 1800s

tea-5The glamorous British tradition of afternoon tea started in the 1840s with the Duchess of Bedford. The advent of better lighting had pushed high-society’s dinner hour fashionably late into the evening. In Bedford, the time to gather was 8pm…perilously far from luncheon. To ward off hunger pangs, the Duchess developed a habit of enjoying a cup of tea with bread, butter and cake in her room every day around four. She soon began inviting friends to join her, and the practice quickly escalated to a trendy social phenomenon. In its 1920s heyday, afternoon tea in London was often a big glamorous party, enjoyed with lots of guests, live music, servants, silver teapots and elegant ensembles.

 

Fabulous & Free
Late 1800s

tea-6The Victorian-era wardrobe sensation known as “the tea gown” was a hybrid of a dinner dress and a bath robe. Originally designed for casually receiving guests at home, it was the only acceptable ladies’ outfit that didn’t require a corset, which all the women adored—as did their lovers. With no maids needed for dressing and undressing, the afternoon became prime time for intimacy. The trend even spread to France, where the average nobleman couldn’t do without his “cinq-a-sept” (five-to-seven). Meanwhile, the rise of tea houses in Victorian London finally created a space for women to go out and meet in public. Soon enough the corset-free tea gowns were being seen on the street, paving the way for freer fashions to come.

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While afternoon tea is not the everyday pageant it once was, there are still plenty of places around the world to enjoy this splendid social tradition—and some of the best are still in London. Enjoy our top 12 most luxurious picks.

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