Tuesday, December 13, 2011

British Tea Culture

We cannot speak about British tea culture without starting with how tea became so popular in the UK. Tea was first introduced in Britain around the Stuart Restoration in 1660. At this moment Chinese tea appeared in London’s coffeehouses. At the beginning tea was only drunk by fashionable and rich people like Samuel Pepys. When it was first introduced into the court in 1662 thanks to Catherine of Braganza, tea started to spread rapidly into the rest of the court and into the bourgeoisie. In the 1660’s the first English factory to make tea was created. In the same period efforts have been made to imitate the Chinese porcelain bowls in which tea was drunk. More than two hundred years later, between 1872 and 1884, the prices of tea rose because the supply of tea spread in the empire. Fortunately thanks to new innovations in making tea, the prices became low again. London is nowadays the international center of tea. The increasing popularity of this drink is in parallel with the increasing demand in porcelain cups or bowls in which people drink tea.

What is typical about the UK is a tradition called “afternoon tea”. It was not until the 17thcentury that this concept first appeared. It is in 1840 that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, introduced it in England. There is a story in which it has been told that the Duchess became hungry around four o’clock in the afternoon. The evening meal was served at eight o’clock, which was quite late and left a long period of time between lunch and dinner. As she was tired of being hungry, the Duchess asked for a tea tray, bread, butter and cake to be brought to her room during those late afternoons. She became used to it and she began inviting friends to join her. As time passes, this became a fashionable and social event and especially among upper-class women. During the 1880’s, they dressed very classy to go to their afternoon tea which was usually served in the dining room between four and five o’clock. That is how afternoon tea became a tradition. It consists of a selection of dainty sandwiches and includes the mythical thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches, scones served with clotted cream and cake and pastries. However, the tradition is no longer the same and is now considered by some as a sacrilege in the sense that it usually consists of a mug of tea and a teabag, with a biscuit or a small cake. A well-known example of cream tea is the Devonshire Cream Tea.

Now that drinking tea has become popular for everybody, some anecdotes and traditions have been created. We can therefore point out that 98% people drink their tea with milk, but only 30% of them take sugar in their tea; 96% of cups of tea drunk daily in the United Kingdom are brewed with tea bags; in the middle of the 18th century tea replaced ale and gin as the drink of the masses and it is recommended to drink four cups of tea a day.

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