Posted in Kafevend Blog
Today the British and their tea are synonymous, but those amongst you who don't keep up with their history might be surprised to learn that this hasn't always been the case. A couple of weeks ago, we had a look at the history and legends behind the origin of tea. Today we are going to see how it finally made its way westward to Great Britain. We've mentioned before that the British East India Company began the widespread cultivation of tea in India, but whilst they brought in the lion's share of tea for a time, they were not the first to do so.
Before tea itself came to Europe, word of the drink spread, initially due to the many reports from adventurers and travellers, amongst whom was the famous Marco Polo. Nevertheless, despite his writings in the late 13th century, and those of others that cropped up through to the beginning of the 17th century, tea never really seemed to garner much interest.
In 1557 the Portuguese, following their successful seaborne navigation to India, carried on to Macau and there established a port. They became aware of tea and news of its existence spread quickly amongst the colonists, though initially no attempt appeared to have been made to take any back to Portugal. Instead, tea made its way into Europe via Venice, although only in very small quantities.
By the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, traders from both Portugal and the Netherlands had introduced tea back in their own home countries. Several other European nations such as France, Germany and Russia also got their hands on tea soon after. It wasn't until around the middle of the 17th century that tea finally made its debut in Britain, thanks to trade with the Portuguese and Dutch. It first appeared in the many coffee house establishments around the country. It was met with interest by the British and did well amongst the population- or at least, with those who could afford it. In 1662, the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza married Charles II. She brought tea with her and introduced it to the English court. This formal event met with success amongst the upper classes and helped to boost its popularity in Britain even more.
At around the same time, the British East India Company began to import tea to Britain from China. Over the next century the market for tea boomed, and by 1766 around 6 million pounds of tea was making its way from China to Britain each year, thus becoming the country's favourite drink after coffee's spell at number one, though coffee has of course made a convincing come back in latter years.
Today, tea still plays a big part in British culture, though sales of traditional black tea have dropped in recent years as herbal teas and espressos have taken a foothold. We imagine that almost everyone still keeps a few teabags handy though, so even if tea isn't your cup of... tea, there's a good chance that your family and friends will want to enjoy a mug when they come to visit!