If you ever visit England, live there, or have British friends you will know that we love drinking tea. It is basically a British institution. So if you are planning a move to the UK, or going there on vacation, this is everything you need to know about tea drinking.
A Brief History Of Tea In The UK
Before tea arrived in Britain, it had been enjoyed in Asia for thousands of years. Records suggest that it may have hit British Shores as early as 1598, or it may have been first introduced in 1615. But the first recorded sale of tea in Britain wasn’t until 1657 when it was purchased by Thomas Garaway, a tobacconist and coffee house owner.
The tea plant is only grown natively in China and Northern India and it was the Chinese who first sold its tea to Britain. To begin with, only Chinese green tea was sold in the coffee houses of London.
During the early 1800’s the discovery of the Camellia sinensis plant in Assam, Northern India by the East India Company was the beginning of the famous tea trade between India and Britain. Gradually Indian tea became more popular than Chinese tea thanks to this Indian-British trading relationship.
What Did The British Drink Before Tea?
Before tea was introduced, the British drank coffee, beer, and gin depending on their class status in society. Many lower-class Brits home-brewed their own beer and gin. Coffee on the other hand was seen as a luxury product that was served to the higher classes.
When tea came along, it was sold in coffee houses in London as an alternative to coffee before tea rooms started to open.
Gin was extremely popular in Britain. In the 1700’s people drank an average of 2 pints of gin per week. This period in history is often referred to as the ‘gin craze’. There were more than 7000 legal gin shops in London, and numerous illegal gin sellers and brewers as well. In 1751 the Gin Act was passed which meant that gin production now attracted high taxes so people switched their attention to the new and exotic tea in the country.
How Is Tea Made?
Tea is made from leaves from the top couple of inches of the Camellia Sinensis plant (tea plant). The leaves are harvested and then withered by steaming them. Then they are shaped and oxidized by rolling and crushing them before being dried and packaged.
Which Queen Made Tea Popular In England?
It was the queen-consort of Charles II of England, Catherine of Braganza who was very influential in making tea fashionable and popular.
Why Do The British Drink More Tea Than Coffee?
Tea became more popular than coffee as well as chocolate and alcohol due to the British East India Company. They had a monopoly over the tea industry in Britain. Tea was seen as inherently British and the British government encouraged its people to drink it because they gained revenue from tea taxation.
Why Brits Love Tea so Much
In British households, the kettle is put on very regularly. For us, there is nothing better than elevenses or afternoon tea for a pick me up.
Tea contains caffeine so it’s great for an energy boost or to aid an afternoon slump. It’s also known to have health-boosting benefits like antioxidants. But I think one of the main reasons that the British love it so much is that tea is a very soothing beverage. It contains L-Theanine which is known to be calming while keeping us aware and focused.
Taking time out of the day to enjoy a cup of tea is very therapeutic, and for many Brits, it is a go-to way to handle any crisis. Something bad has happened ‘have a cup of tea’, feeling upset or sick ‘have a cup of tea’. It is also a very social drink, so just like in centuries passed, Brits will catch up over a cup of tea and a biscuit or two.
How Much Tea Do The British Drink?
More than 80% of the British population drink tea every day. In fact, over 100 million cups of tea are enjoyed every day in the UK. Black tea with milk and sugar is the most popular way to enjoy tea, and about 98% of tea drinkers in Britain enjoy it with milk.
How Are Tea Bags & Loose Leaf Tea Different?
The main difference between teabags and loose-leaf tea is the quality of the tea. Teabags are made from tea “dust,” which are small particles of low-quality tea that are inexpensive and easily available whereas loose-leaf tea is made from whole leaves of tea, which are much better quality. So tea brewed with loose-leaf tea has a more nuanced flavor than tea bags.
What is England’s Favourite Tea?
The most popular tea in England is black tea which you will find in all supermarkets. It is the most common tea beverage at home as well as in cafes and tea shops.
What Is The Most Popular Tea Brand In England?
If you go to any British supermarket you will see that there are lots of different types of tea and tea brands to choose from.
There are popular brands such as PG Tips, Tetley, and Yorkshire Tea as well as supermarket own brands. For convenience, Brits tend to prefer drinking their tea in tea bag form rather than as loose-leaf tea.
The nation’s favourite brand of tea is Twinings which has a Royal seal of approval from the Queen. Twinings became the Royal tea supplier back in 1837 when Queen Victoria was on the throne and it has retained their royal warrant since then. Pg Tips is the nation’s second favorite tea brand followed by brands including Yorkshire Tea and Tetley.
What Is Elevenses in England?
Elevenses is an informal short break in England at 11 a.m. for a cup of tea or coffee, and biscuits.
Why Do Brits Put Milk In Tea?
Back in the 17th and 18th Centuries, tea was drunk in fragile china tea cups. People added milk to the cup before the hot tea was added to prevent the hot drink from cracking the cups. Even today many people add milk before the tea whereas many others add the milk last.
Adding milk to tea also began to balance out stronger, darker black tea blends like English Breakfast. For the lower classes, it became popular because it also reduced the cost of drinking tea. Tea was extremely expensive so adding milk and sugar meant that fewer tea leaves were needed per cup of tea. It also masked the less desirable taste of using cheaper lower quality tea leaves. Finally, some people are sensitive to drinking tea on an empty stomach so a dash of milk eases any nausea that tea can sometimes cause.
How Do British People Make Tea?
There are two main ways to make a cup of tea. You can either brew the tea in a cup or in a teapot. The key is that you allow the tea bag or loose-leaf tea to brew.
To make it in a cup, boil water in a kettle, put a tea bag in your cup, and pour hot water once boiled into the cup. Leave the tea bag in the cup in the hot water for a few minutes depending on how strong (dark) you would like it. Give the tea bag a squeeze in the cup with a spoon and take it out. Then add any milk or sugar to taste.
To make a pot of tea, simply put one or two tea bags into the teapot (dependent on the size of the teapot) and pour in hot water. Leave it to brew for a few minutes, then pour it into cups and add any milk or sugar as desired.
That is a basic rundown of everything that you need to know about tea drinking in the UK. So the only question that remains is how do you drink your tea?
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Gemma Lawrence is the creator of This Brits Life. Born and raised in England, she has been living in British Columbia, Canada as a permanent resident since 2016. A solo traveler for the past 9 years, she hopes to inspire and help others to enjoy solo adventures too. As someone who has always struggled with her self-confidence and mental health, she also shares tips and inspirational stories relating to self-love, self-care, and mental health.