Tea – Two and a Half Centuries as the U.K Favourite

Brits Drink 60,000,000,000 Cups of Tea a Year


But this isn’t as long standing a tradition as you might think. While Chinese have been drinking tea since the third millennium B.C, Brits only heard of the drink in the 17th century, 4 and a half thousand years later. As tea first left it’s Asian homeland, Portuguese and Dutch traders from 1560 had aided it’s journey to Venice. It spread slowly throughout Europe. The East India trading company only capitalised on its popularity by the 17th century. It was the coffee houses that first distributed tea to the public.


EC Brighton Tea
Chinese Tea Party


One of the first coffee house merchants to offer tea was Thomas Garway, who owned an establishment in Exchange Alley. He sold both liquid and dry tea to the public as early as 1657. Three years later he issued a broadsheet advertising tea at six and ten pounds per pound (ouch!), touting its virtues at “making the body active and lusty”, and “preserving perfect health until extreme old age”. Tea gained popularity quickly in the coffee houses, and by 1700 over 500 coffee houses sold it. This distressed the tavern owners, as tea cut their sales of ale and gin, and it was bad news for the government, who depended upon a steady stream of revenue from taxes on liquor sales. By 1750 tea had become the favoured drink of Britain’s lower classes.


EC Brighton Tea Advert
1880’s Tea Advert


The Afternoon Tea Tradition

There have always been many rituals and practices associated to tea drinking. Afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o’clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner.

The Duchess asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter (some time earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread) and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This became a habit of hers and she began inviting friends to join her. This pause for tea became a fashionable social event. During the 1880’s upper-class and society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea which was usually served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.


EC Brighton Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea


Tea Ceremony and Other Rituals

A tea ceremony is a ritualized form of making tea practiced in Asian culture by the Chinese, Korean, Japanese,Indian, and Vietnamese. The tea ceremony, literally translated as “way of tea” in Japanese, and “art of tea” in Chinese, is a cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of tea. The Japanese tea ceremony is better known, and was influenced by the Chinese tea culture during ancient and medieval times, starting in the 9th century when tea was first introduced to Japan from China.


The Vietnamese tea ceremony, also influenced by its Chinese counterpart, is only performed during weddings and other religious rituals. One can also refer to the whole set of rituals, tools, gestures, etc. used in such ceremonies as tea culture. All of these tea ceremonies and rituals contain “an adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday life”, as well as refinement, an inner spiritual content, humility, restraint and simplicity “as all arts that partake the extraordinary, an artistic artificiality, abstractness, symbolism and formalism” to one degree or another.


Japanese Tea Ceremony
Japanese Tea Ceremony


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