Next stop of our journey in exploring tea cultures and traditions in different countries of the world is England, the country of tea lovers.
Whilst many countries love their tea, UK citizens, and the English in particular, are particularly proud of being ‘tea people’. This reputation is not just a typical stereotype either – the average UK citizen consumes nearly 2 kilograms of (dry) tea each year. When you take into consideration that quite a few grown-ups (and most children) drink little or no tea, the amount of tea a British tea drinker actually consumes is even higher.
The stereotype of the British tea drinker is generally considered a positive one, and even those who don’t partake will happily use phrases like ‘as English as a cup of tea’, and describe something they like or are well suited to as ‘just my cup of tea’, and things they don’t like as ‘not my cup of tea’.
History of tea in UK
Tea only made its way to England in large quantities in the first years of the 17th century. Dutch and Portuguese traders were shipping tea from China and a few other Asian countries to Europe regularly by 1610.
Tea was being sold more widely in England by 1657, in London’s existing coffee houses, but it was called Tcha, China Drink, Tay or Tee, and was generally sold as a remedy to cure all ills; from fatigue and lack of virility to overall poor health and diseases of all kinds, and it was expensive. Nonetheless, it was available on almost every street in London by 1659. When Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, introduced the custom of taking tea to the royal court in 1662 it became more than just addictive, it became fashionable. By the mid-18th century, Canton was exporting nearly 7 million tons of tea to Europe each year; nearly half of it on British owned ships.
Afternoon tea refers to a British tradition of enjoying a pot of tea with a selection of small cakes, scones and sandwiches in the late afternoon. While originally a private social event that occurred within residential spaces, these days you’re most likely to find an afternoon tea in a hotel.
The practice has evolved to become less of a daily ritual and more of a special indulgence, sometimes used to celebrate a particular occasion.
In UK, a tea party is when family and friends get together for a special occasion like a birthday for example. The table is laid out with sandwiches, cold snacks, cakes and biscuits and tea of course! Small children often play at tea parties with their toys and their own mini plastic tea set!
Popular types of tea
There are many varieties of tea in the UK. The four main types of tea in UK are black tea, green tea, oolong tea and white tea. Among them, black tea is the most popular in Britain and you will find English Breakfast tea in most homes. Earl Grey and Lady Grey are also becoming more popular and are more fragrant than the standard Breakfast tea.
Everybody loves tea
Tea drinking in Britain is a social activity enjoyed at almost every occasion. People love to get together and ‘catch up over a cuppa.’ When you visit someone in Britain you will usually be offered a cup of tea and if you invite a British person round, make sure that you have some tea to offer them!