The History of Tea: A British Obsession

Commonly thought as being something quintessentially British, with Britain’s drinking it for over 350 years, the history of tea is something that goes much further back in time. Beginning in China, according to legend in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree whilst his servant boiled drinking water, when leaves from the tree above blew into the water. Deciding to try the water that was the result of an accident by his servant, which came from a Camellia sinesis tree, the resulting drink is now what we call tea.


Containers filled with tea have been found in tombs dating back from the Han dynasty from as far as 206 BC, but it was under the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD) that tea became established as the national drink of China. It wasn’t until the late sixteenth century that there was the first brief mentions of any tea being consumed amongst Europeans.


Since the sixteen hundreds, the British East India Company whom were master importers at the time, would bring back sailors from Britain carrying tea leaves for gifts. As the love of tea spread across the continent and into Western Europe it became increasingly popular for the Dutch to import tea from China; however, due to it’s high price it remained a drink mainly for the wealthy.


The turning point of tea in Great Britain was when King Charles II married Catherine of Bragana, a Portuguese princess and tea lover; it was her passion for the drink that established tea as a fashionable beverage amongst the upper classes. Capitalising on this, it was then that the British East India Company began their import of tea into Britain, with its first order being placed in 1664 for 100lbs or tea to be shipped from Java.


Modern day tea drinking saw the invention of the tea bag. Invented in America in the early twentieth century, the tea bag didn’t gain popularity in the UK until the 1970s, however in more modern times it would be hard to imagine life without the ease of a tea bag. And after all, there’s always time for tea.