The British institution of tea drinking – how it all began

teaWe’ve always wondered why us Brits love our tea so much and when our love affair with the humble brew began.

So, we’ve done some research and have discovered that tea was first traded in Britain by the merchant Thomas Garway. He offered it in dry and liquid form at his coffee house in Exchange Alley in the City of London, holding his first public sale in 1657.

In 1658, the first tea advertisement appeared, announcing the sale of ‘China Tcha, Tay or Tee’, in the newspaper Mercurius Politicus. The advert was taken out by the owner of The Sultaness Head Coffee House

In 1660, Garway is recorded as selling tea at up to £10 per pound, which was a huge amount of money in those days. He claimed tea was “wholesome, preserving perfect health until extreme old age, good for clearing the sight,” able to cure “gripping of the guts, cold, dropsies, scurveys” and that “it could make the body active and lusty.”

By 1700, tea was on sale at more than 500 coffee houses in London. Tavern keepers were dismayed as the coffee houses became more and more popular, as was the Government by the decline in revenues from alcohol sales.

The popularity of tea spread further still and it became an essential part of people’s entertainment outside the home.

By 1732, tea would finish off an evening spent dancing or watching fireworks in Vauxhall or Ranelagh Gardens. Following this, tea gardens opened all over the country on Saturdays and Sundays, with tea being served as the high point of the afternoon.

Dancing was included as part of the day’s festivities, so from the tea gardens came the idea of the tea dance, which remained fashionable in Britain until World War II when they lost popularity. However, more recently tea dances have seen a bit of a revival, along with all things considered vintage, are still held in Britain today.

By the middle of the 18th century, tea had replaced ale and gin as the drink of the masses and had become Britain’s most popular beverage.

But where did the idea of afternoon tea come from? Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, is reputed to have created afternoon tea in the early 1800s. She decided to have something to eat at around four or five in the afternoon to ward off the hunger pangs between lunch and dinner.

Sometime earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread. Tea and sandwiches were combined and soon became a good reason for social gatherings, starting a trend that is still very much a part of British life.

With thanks to the Tea Council for the use of their facts.