The History of Great British Tea in 14 Points

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The History of Great British Tea in 14 Points

Interested to learn how tea has become such an iconic British brand?

Want to learn more about what makes your brew so special?

AfternoonTea is here to help you have a tearrific day.

Read on below to find out more about how tea has played a big role in defining British identity!

 

 

“I frequently dream of having tea with the Queen,” confessed one Hugh Grant to a news reporter twenty years ago. Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that one of the most visible icons of British culture should be paired with an even more iconic beverage: tea.

It has its rightful place in probably nearly every home in the UK. Whether you store yours in a box or in a jar, we’ve come to almost worship our tea-making stations as a shrine. It also has a respected place on our screens, too. We’re all familiar with the PG Tips Monkey as well as the endearing Tetley Tea Folk.

Its place in popular culture is timeless, featuring largely in the Mad Hatter’s garden party, as well as in Mary Poppins.

With its omnipresence defined by its simplicity, taste, and variety, it comes as no surprise that we identify tea as one of the nation’s favourite drink. It is estimated that 165 million cups of tea are made in the UK alone – that’s just over 60 billion a year.

That’s a lot of tea bags.

In fact, around 3 billion bags are produced for the global market annually, representing a value of roughly $50,000m. That’s expected to rise to $67,000m by 2023.

It’s more than just a few tea leaves and a teapot, however. Tea has been a defining characteristic of what it means to be British for generations. It’s one of the first things we associate the UK with, other than the Queen and popular landmarks, of course.

The de facto arbitrator of family disputes as well as a comforter during difficult times, tea drinking is a ritual that plays a large socio-cultural role in our lives, often without us even knowing.

What is the story of this classic beverage? And how did it end up being our go-to drink?

Ever since the 18th century, tea has always been popular in Great Britain. Supplying tea from China to India, the British Empire was instrumental in popularising the beverage that became more and more available to the lower and middle echelons of society.

Traders and merchants who operated as representatives of The British East India Company were especially integral to the tea supply chain, transporting it across the empire to the various merchant outposts stationed around the world. This helped spread the appeal of tea, and increased demand.

From the 17th to the 19th century, in addition, the rise in popularity of tea had great structural implications for Great Britain. First and foremost, it began to define respectability and domesticity in the household, becoming a socialised ritual amongst the various classes.

Second, the popularity of tea ultimately drove and fuelled the industrial revolution by providing capital for factories, as well as nutrition for their workers.

These processes encouraged the production of more tea, which helped to bolster its reputation at home.

Of course, the direct root of the popularity of tea is contested amongst historians. Some argue it stems from its presence in medicinal discourse (promoted as a healthy alternative to ale), whilst others point to coffeehouses as aiding its accessibility. Others suggest it only became the popular drink we know it as today when sugar became more readily available.

Whatever the reason, tea grew to become a staple commodity in most domestic settings, and played a large role in curating social relationships.

Did you know?
During World War II, the rationing of tea restricted families to 2oz a week! This finally ended in 1952, bringing a collective sigh of relief across the nation.

Benefits of drinking Tea:
Aside from being a nourishing source of fluids, drinking (mainly white/green) tea brings with it many health advantages that you may not have been aware of.

Tea contains many antioxidants, helping to flush the body of nasty chemicals. Furthermore, several studies suggest that drinking tea is linked to better heart, immune, and bone health.

Further, boasting a 0-calorie content means it’s a suitable alternative to other drinks (as well as for keeping you warm!)

So – the next time you pour a cuppa’ for a loved one, say a little thank you to all those little bags of joy that make our brews so great!

Have a tearrific day!

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