The East India Company was one of the very first regular importers of tea to Britain and, as such, was instrumental in popularising it across the nation. Brought by The Company as a gift for King Charles II, these tea leaves were passed on to his wife, Queen Catherine of Braganza, who had grown up with tea in her native Portugal. She then slowly introduced this curious drink into aristocratic and noble societies, beginning a tradition that would last for centuries.
Initially tea leaves arrived in small quantities and were so expensive, that only the upper class could afford them. It took time for it to become more than just a luxury. In fact, tea was once considered so valuable that it was kept locked in caddies.
Soon it was realised that this new drink had some special qualities, as was said later, it is “The cup that cheers, but does not inebriate”. Exactly what was needed, since the drinks then in use, even when watered down, were all alcoholic. On top of that, the water was often foul-tasting and even dangerous – but tea required that it should be at boiling-point before being poured over the leaves, which made it a much safer drink, as well as a better-tasting and warming one. Tea was soon imported in ever-increasing quantities, and the price dropped enough to make it the “drink of choice” of the ‘working-class’ by the industrialised 19th Century.
The annual “Tea Race” from Canton to London with specially-designed, very fast ‘Clipper’ ships (‘Cutty Sark’ is preserved at Greenwich) became a Victorian sensation. As stocks of tea in England diminished each year, the price rose, and the first ship carrying in the new crop of the year could sell it at the highest price. Also, tea in sacks didn’t “travel well” in the new steamships – until someone came up with the idea of wooden chests lined with metal foil – beloved for house-moving in bygone days.
A commonly used saying in Britain is that a cup of tea makes everything better, its warmth is comforting in a northern winter and iced teas are refreshing on a very hot Summer day! It is easily-made and tradition has it that it can be drunk at any time of the day early morning tea to help with waking up; elevenses as a quick break at half past eleven; afternoon tea at 4 o’clock, with delicious cakes; at proper tea-time around 6pm, and when it’s time for bed there’s a lot to be said for a relaxing cup of tea, then of course in the middle of the night, if suffering from insomnia!
Hardly surprising that this hot drink is so popular, try one of our fine teas today!