To Brits, tea is so much more than just a warm beverage. Having a cuppa is deeply ingrained in our social and cultural tradition. It is a comfort, a ritual, a moment to connect with others or a time to re-centre yourself. So let's find out a little bit more about this most delicious of brews.
A (very) Brief History of Tea
It is believed that China was the very first consumer of tea with tea caddies being found in tombs dating back to the Han dynasty. However, legend puts the first cup of tea to 2737 BC when the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting under a tree whilst a servant was boiling water to drink nearby. A gust of wind blew some leaves from the tree into the water and the curious Shen Nung decided to have a taste. The tree was Camellia sinensis and the drink was, you guessed it, tea.
However, tea didn’t make it to Europe for a good long while after that. In fact, it came to Portugal then Holland before it was introduced in Britain in the early 17th century by the East India Trading Company. It was then King Charles II’s Portuguese wife, Catherine de Braganza that introduced the ritual of tea drinking to the Royal Court and the aristocracy swiftly followed the trend. And the rest is, as they say, history.
In the 1800's, the East India Trading Company's monopoly on Chinese trade ended and they decided to try their hand at large scale tea cultivation in India, starting in Assam, due to the fact that not only their operational base was located there but the company also had an important stake in government. This move along with the creation of a huge fleet of independent tea clippers allowed tea to be much more affordable and accessible to not only the higher echelons of British society and tea consumption soared.
By 1860, the East India Trading Company had handed over control of India to the British government who clearly recognised the importance of tea production and expanded it from Assam to cover other areas as well as Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) which was also a British colony.
The tea trade went from strength to strength and according to the UK Tea and Infusions association, Britain now consumes over 100 millions cups daily!
There are apparently over 20,000 different teas in the world including green, white and yellow but only black tea is considered to make a proper British cup of tea.
India is one of the leading tea producers worldwide and provides the UK with a few of it’s favourite teas. Darjeeling from the north of India, produced a light, delicate cup which is great in the afternoon or early evening. Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka is slightly stronger, bold and citrusy. Assam is stronger still, with a deep aroma and rich colour that lends itself so well to English breakfast blends.
The other favourite types of tea come of course from China where you can find smoky Lapsang Souchong and the rich and earthy Yunnan which is also popular in breakfast teas.
The Perfect Cuppa
Now we get to the good stuff: how to make that perfect cup. Obviously, we start with the tea. It has to be black and purists insist that only loose leaves will do, not tea bags and absolutely (God forbid!) not powdered. Freshly boil some water and swill some around your teapot to warm it. And speaking of teapots, the pot you use also makes a difference. Traditionally these would have been made of some sort of metal or silver which keeps the infusion warmer for longer. China, however, gives a cleaner, less tainted taste.
Next add the tea. The rule here is a teaspoon of leaves per person and an extra for the pot. Now, top up with BOILING water and leave to steep for about 5 minutes. Pour through a strainer into bone china teacups.
Milk was traditionally added to the tea cup first to cool the tea immediately and so prevent the delicate (and pricey) china cups from cracking. I, personally, like to add milk after so as to judge the strength better. But I also use tea bags and drink it out of mug whilst dunking Hobnobs in it, so clearly am a heathen and shouldn’t be trusted.
And now, sip, relax, enjoy a moment of calm and comfort before setting back to the daily grind.
Get your own set of our blueberry pyjamas to get cosy in here.
If you want to find out more about the history of tea as well as some great tea facts (did you know that tea is a natural source of fluoride? I certainly didn’t!) visit the Tea Council website.