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Why is Britain Obsessed with Tea?

Let’s face it, we are a nation of tea lovers – it’s ingrained in our profile as Brits to love it and anyone who doesn’t is generally regarded as a little weird… The population of the UK drinks 62 billion cups a year and over 25% of the milk consumed goes into our cuppas. So where did this fascination stem from and what does tea really mean to us?

We totally get it, Julie.

A brief history of tea…

Despite being known as quintessentially British, tea was first consumed in China, many hundreds of years before it reached our shores. In fact, it was such a popular drink by the late 8th century in China that there are known books written at the time entirely about tea…

The first mention of tea in Britain was an advert for a coffee house in London in 1658. However the drink didn’t catch on from this, but from a tea-addicted Portuguese princess who happened to marry King Charles II of England. The princess, Catherine of Braganza, first made tea popular at court and then amongst the wealthier classes, until the East India Company capitalised on this and organised for tea to be imported to Britain in the 1660s.

As times changed and English links with India became stronger, tea was grown and imported more cheaply from there and by 1901 it was a popular drink amongst all levels of society. By  World War I, the government made importing tea a priority as a way to boost morale, which is perhaps where our reliance on tea as a calming and necessary drink sprung from.

Since the invention of the teabag in the 1970s, the ease of making a good old cuppa has made it so popular that even today, despite the great decline of any empirical control in India, British companies still dominate the tea industry. Anywhere in the world, if you really crave your Tetley or PG Tips, you can most probably find it tucked away in the local shop.

So what does tea mean to us today?

Tea is a great social filler, that’s for sure. Any awkward or difficult situation, we make a cup of tea… You can take time out while you boil the kettle, grab a teabag and decide on the quantities of milk and sugar and it’s also great to sip through any awkward pauses.

The varieties of tea and the different ways they can be prepared means that you can almost have a brew totally unique to you! Whatever your brand (I’m a Twining’s kinda gal, but I totally get the love for a good Yorkshire) or whether you opt for plain black, with a dash of sugar, how long you brew it for or the age-old question of milk before or after, there is a tea for everyone and every occasion.

Many of us wake up to a brew in the morning… It’s the only way to start the day in my opinion, but you can also go for afternoon tea, have it with a teacake or go on a tea break at work and  you can even have a builders brew. Tea has infiltrated every inch of our lives and even our language.

So next time you reach for the kettle and make your tea (however you have it, I won’t judge) you can now marvel at the centuries of innovation and the bizarre social etiquettes that surround the humble British cup of tea.

Edited by: Sarah Holmes









Student at the University of Nottingham studying English and French. Spending a year in France doing sport, sailing and marketing.
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