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    Time for Tea!

    'Tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation in this country and causes violent disputes over how it should be made.' George Orwell Tea has been ranking as the nation's most beloved drink for several hundred years now. In this text we will try to explain its big breakthrough, whereby it literally stole the show from all other beverages and became a truly quintessential British drink.

    Faraway countries in the East had an established tea consumption culture long before it was introduced to Europe. What or who brought tea to the UK, then?The UK's international trade routes and ties with China and India surprisingly had very little to do with tea's growing popularity in the early days. Tea is believed to have been introduced to England by Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II. It was among other goodies in her dowry chest and the only one she sought upon her arrival in England after a rough, stormy crossing . The afternoon tea, most certainly a typically British establishment, came to life thanks to the 7th Duchess of Bedford, Anna, following upon her wish to enjoy a meal between lunch and late dinner, when she would start feeling somewhat 'peckish'.

    Humorously enough, it was British coffee house owners who introduced tea to the masses. One of these tea pioneers described the new hot beverage as 'making the body active and lusty'. Nowadays we can consider ourselves lucky for not having to drink the tea served in these coffee houses back then. Namely, first it had to be brewed early in the morning, then taxed in the liquid state by an officer, only to be kept in barrels afterwards, and reheated all day long. By the end of the 17th century the taxation system was changed, and so did tea preparation.

    The 17th century British high society saw a distinctive turnaround and, along with the blossoming of commerce and banking, quite naturally, came also the increase in their wealth. Such prosperity was reflected in all spheres of life - housing, pastimes and also choice of foods. Subsequently, interest slowly shifted to new, exotic products and all sorts of new fashions would spread like wildfire. Women were not frequent visitors of coffee houses. On the other hand, they could buy tea leaves in a loose form and brew them at home. The high price of such tea led it to being limited for the consumption of rich families only. Women from the upper society would gather together and enjoy their cup of black or green tea served in extravagant china pots, made with boiled water from silver kettles. So elaborate were these tea gatherings that even manuals on etiquette and special conduct related to tea drinking needed to be thoroughly studied beforehand!

    Tea was served only with sugar, while milk had to wait for the turn of the century to become an integral part of this iconic drink. Servants would prepare everything needed for the party while hostesses would brew and serve the tea themselves. And so the famous tea parties were born!In the late 18th century there were attempts to ban tea on the grounds of its unhealthy characteristics. However, this abstinence, much wanted by certain religious movements, never took off.

    No one can really explain why tea has gained such enormous popularity and became an intrinsic element of British identity. It could be the taste, the whole beautiful tradition of serving it with delicate finger food, both mouthwatering and visually appealing , or it could be something completely different. One thing is for sure though - no other drink beats its popularity nor is so deeply interwoven in British culture as tea is.

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