It is a widely accepted fact that tea originates from China. But it is the British people that are more commonly associated with the beverage. How did this come to be? Well, there are several factors that led to this. Tea has played a significant role in the world’s history. And it all started with these two countries.
In 1657, Thomas Garraway, a London-based coffee-house owner, became the first man in England to sell tea to the general public. However, it was a relatively new product, and the man had to provide his customers with an explanatory pamphlet about the beverage. The coffee houses were a popular haunt of the elite intellectuals and students in those days. The novelty factor of this exotic new beverage added to the atmosphere of intense but jovial discussions taking place in these establishments. Further, tea was cited as a drink with medicinal properties. There were numerous claims made about how tea could help improve memory or relax one’s mind.
Slowly, a small market for the product began to emerge.
The Royal Connection
In the year 1660, the British East India Company presented Charles II with two pounds and two ounces of tea from Portugal. Two years later, his wife, Catherine of Braganza, brought her love of tea to the court, preferring to use it as a beverage of choice, rather than as a medicine. Thus, tea became fashionable amongst the ladies of the court.
By 1685, Catherine’s association with tea had helped popularise the drink in literary circles. The tea drinking sessions in the court were somewhat exhibitionist in nature, with a purpose of showing it off.
This simple act by Catherine and her ladies also sent the message that it was socially acceptable for women to drink tea. The coffee houses in those days were frequented by only the men. Therefore, women could now gather in each other’s homes and drink tea together, much the same way as men would in a coffee-house. Wealthy ladies began putting together elaborate gatherings to show off luxury they lived in, under the guise of tea parties.
And yes, this is how the concept of the tea party came into existence.
Interestingly, it was around this time that people started using sugar along with tea – a major factor in tea’s growing popularity.
The Next Step
The British East India Company made its first order for importing tea in 1667 – 143 lbs and 8 oz. The drink was already common around Europe. Catherine of Braganza was already infatuated with it, before her marriage to Charles II.
With increasing popularity due to its taste as well as social significance, the Company decided to step up imports. Between 1720 and 1750, tea imports to Britain quadrupled. And the rest, as they say, is history.