A Brief History of Tea in Britain
Tea as we know it today can actually trace its history all the way back to China in the third millennium BC – making it around the same age as the pyramids at Giza.
Britain had its first taste of the drink in 1662, when Catherine of Braganza brought tea with her from Portugal as part of her dowry payment to Charles II. The dowry may also have included Tangier and Bombay, but neither of those seemed to impress the British quite as much as this new-fangled hot beverage.
In fact, tea proved so popular that the government of the time began to grow worried about the security of its revenue income from taxes on liquor sales. Charles then tried to clamp down on tea sales to protect this revenue and counter sedition, incurring the wrath of his newly tea-obsessed countrymen. His anti-tea measures proved to be deeply unpopular and almost impossible to enforce. The British people had developed a taste for tea, and they weren’t about to give it up.
From then on, tea became an integral part of Britain’s shared history. Attempts to place high taxation on tea imports in the 18th century were met with widespread tea smuggling, while tea rooms found themselves becoming the unofficial meeting rooms and safe havens of the women’s suffrage movement. The destruction of a shipment of tea owned by the East India Trading Company at the event that became known as the Boston Tea Party Company was enough of an outrage to spark the American Revolution.
In every corner of society, and including figures as diverse as Dr Samuel Johnson, Agatha Christie and Tony Benn, the rich tapestry of British cultural life is teeming with obsessive tea drinkers.
Tea in Britain today
Today, tea remains as central to Britishness as it ever was. On average we each get through 3.5 cups of tea a day – that’s 130,000 tonnes a year.
We’re a nation so obsessed that we never stop coming up with innovative types of tea. From bold new fruit flavours to Green Lady’s sparkling twist on the traditional benefits of green tea, we’re always on the lookout for new ways to enjoy the drink.
Tea offers a smoother caffeine boost than coffee and it has a whole range of health benefits, but it’s the inextricable link to our national culture that keeps the British sipping their cuppas. The nation’s favourite hot non-alcoholic beverage is here to stay.
Impress Your Friends with a Modern Tea Party
The tradition of afternoon tea dates back to the year 1840, when Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, made it a habit to invite friends over to enjoy tea, bread and butter in the late afternoon. These gatherings became fashionable and grew in popularity, and today tea parties are a classic part of British culture.
We all know the elements that make up a traditional tea party: black tea, tiny sandwiches, scones, ornate china and silver tea pots. Traditional tea parties can be charming, but they also have a reputation for being stuffy and formal. The next time you want to have friends over for tea, consider taking a more contemporary route. Here’s how to throw the ultimate modern tea party—one that’s sure to impress your guests.
Show off your modern sensibilities by veering away from traditional hot black tea, which can easily become over-brewed and bitter. Instead, serve a chilled tea like Green Lady Sparkling Tea. Flavoured with carob fruit, nutmeg and rose oil, Green Lady has the same calming effect as hot tea, plus a lovely effervescence that pairs perfectly with modern tea party snacks.
Swap typical tea sandwiches for something more exciting. Tartines—open-faced toasts—make a great alternative, and they can be beautifully plated to match the modern theme. Prepare a few different options so that your guests can try a range of toppings. Try these mushroom tartines and these English garden tartines for a mix of big flavours and beautiful colours.
No tea party is complete without a sweet treat. Ditch the traditional tea biscuits for gorgeous mini cakes instead! Decorated with sprinkles and brightly coloured icing, they offer a fun, fresh alternative to crumbly biscuits and scones. Assemble a plate with a few different types of homemade cakes to really amaze your friends: hazelnut mini cakes, chocolate-raspberry mini loaf cakes and mini Victoria sponge cakes are all great options.
The Table Setting
The way you set the table for your tea will take the modern theme to the next level. Embrace a minimalist vibe for your table setting, letting the vibrant tartines and colourful cakes take centre stage, along with a bit of greenery. Start with a basic, light-coloured linen tablecloth—if your table is made of an attractive natural wood, show it off without any covering. Traditional teas often use flamboyantly painted china and fancy flatware, but for a modern tea, go with white plates, glass tea cups and simple, straight forks and spoons. Place the tartines on an understated white serving platter in the middle of the table, and set your mini cakes next to them on a marble cake stand. Arrange tiny potted succulents around the food for a striking centrepiece.
Keep the tradition of the tea party alive by giving it a modern makeover. Throwing a stylish tea with a contemporary theme doesn’t have to be difficult. With a few tweaks to a typical afternoon tea, you can hold a gathering that will excite forward-thinking tea enthusiasts and tea party traditionalists alike—even the Duchess of Bedford would be proud.