Tea, Steeped In British History

tea-cultureTea originated in China 5000 years ago, at first used for medicinal purposes, later becoming part of religious and ceremonial rituals, and eventually part of everyday life for every citizen.

Tea was apparently introduced to Britain in the early 1600’s and made popular by a Portuguese Princess, Catherine of Braganza after her marriage to Charles II. As Portugal monopolized trade with China to Europe and the Indies, Catherine had acquired quite a taste for tea, preferring it to the customary ale or gin offered in the Royal Court of England. It soon gained popularity among the upper classes, yet it was too expensive for the working or lower classes until some time later.

The East India Company was formed around the same time and gained the favor of Charles II, essentially handing them the rights to all British trade formerly controlled by Portugal.

Tea remained exclusive to the well-heeled of society due to the expense of the product and the high tax placed on its import . By the beginning of the eighteenth century the whole population had taken to drinking Tea.

Tea gardens and tea dances became popular forms of entertainment in place of inns and taverns that only offered alcoholic beverages. Different classes in society adopted their own rituals of tea drinking, with the upper classes taking afternoon tea consisting of breads or cakes with hot tea to stave the hunger between meals. The working classes preferred high tea as their main meal of the day. Meats, breads and cakes are usually accompanied by hot tea.

Even employers joined the revolution, implementing tea breaks mid-morning or mid-afternoon where their workers could have something to eat along with a cup of tea.

Soon every town had a tea shop offering snacks and hot tea to its patrons in a social setting.

Cream tea originates in the West Country, and is served with a snack of scones with clotted cream or a selection of cream cakes.

There are four types of tea. Black, white, green and oolong . Most teas use blends of each type.

In Britain, tea is mostly taken with milk or lemon and no sugar. As when tea was first discovered, it is still made in virtually the same way. Loose leaves or teabags must be steeped in boiling hot water for a certain amount of time according to the drinkers taste.

It’s said that four cups of tea a day is sufficient and may have some health benefits.

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