Did you know May 21 is marked as International Tea Day. No, neither did I, but who better to write about tea than an English woman!
Tea! thou soft, thou sober, sage, and venerable liquid,…
thou female tongue-running, smile-smoothing, heart-opening,
wind-tippling cordial, to whose glorious insipidity I owe
the happiest moment of my life, let me fall prostrate.”
~Colley Cibber, 1671 1757) English actor-manager, playwright
and Poet Laureate.
Do you drink tea – how do you take it? I have mine black with no milk or sugar/
“The UK Tea & Infusions Association (UKTIA) says 84% of the UK population drinks tea every day, so there’s no doubt the nation loves it – with milk too, apparently. UKTIA say around 100 million cups of tea are consumed daily, and roughly 98% of those brews are served with milk”.
And according to the BBC, (The authority(?) on all things British) we Brits have been drinking tea for over 350 years, but the drink has been around a lot longer, and its origins are far from the British Isles. Legend has it that in 2737BC, Chinese Emperor and renowned herbalist Shen Nung was sitting under a tree while his servant was boiling drinking water. Chinese mythology states that a leaf from a Camellia sinensis, or tea plant, fell into the water and Shen Nung decided to taste the concoction. And so, tea was born.
Tea was introduced to Britain in the 1650s when Dutch traders started bringing it to Europe in large quantities. Originally, it was served as a novelty in London’s coffee houses. Tea was a rare drink that very few consumed.
In the early years, tea was hugely expensive, heavily taxed and confined to the wealthy, who generally drank it without milk and saw it as one of the marks of gentility. And it was kept in locked tea boxes to stop the servants from stealing it. But by the end of the century, after import duties were radically reduced, tea (now milky ‘and heavily sweetened) had replaced beer as the staple drink of the poor.
- The first known record of tea being imported into England was the charter granted by Elizabeth I to The East India Company.
- The first merchant to sell tea was Thomas Garway who offered it in both a dry and liquid form at his coffeehouse in Exchange Alley in London. The coffee houses proved very popular and by 1700 there were more than 500 in London. By the middle of the 18th century, tea replaced ale and gin as the nation’s drink.
- As with most customs in England, when having tea became an accepted practice of the Royals, it then spread down to the working classes.
- The diarist, Samuel Pepys wrote about his first tea experience in 1660 with the entry “and afterwards I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drank before and went away”. We don’t know if he was a fan of this new drink but he does have the honour of being the first recorded Briton to drink something which is now quintessentially British.
And from Lu Tong, 790–835 Chinese poet of Tang Dynasty known for his lifelong study of the “Tea Culture“.
The first cup caresses my dry lips and throat,
The second shatters the walls of my loneliness,
The third explores the dry rivulets of my soul.
Searching for legends of five thousand scrolls.
With the fourth, the pain of past injustice vanishes
through my pores.
The fifth purifies my flesh and bone.
With the sixth, I commune with the immortals.
The seventh conveys such pleasure I am overcome.
The fresh wind blows through my wings
As I make my way to Penglai.
LU TONG, Thanks to Imperial Censor Meng for His Gift
of Freshly Picked Tea!
And so, on International Tea Day, I ask you – Ho do you take your tea?