While Brits are renowned worldwide for their penchant for a cuppa, the origins of this tradition are, in historical terms, pretty recent. Here's our very brief history of tea in the UK in honour of National Tea Day today.
Tea Comes to Europe
The Chinese are believed to have been drinking tea for around 5,000 years and far from the British being the first Europeans to bring tea to our continent, it was in fact the Portuguese and the Dutch in 1610!
Tea was then exported to the England by these nations and, as we explain in our Tea FAQs section, the first reference to tea being sold in London wasn't until 1658. Indeed, it was not until 1669 that the East India Company started to order tea directly from China.
The First British-Grown Shipment
It was during the worsening of relations with China in the 1830s, due to the ongoing opium trade, that the East India Company decided to try and grow tea themselves. The tea plant had been discovered growing natively in Assam in the 1820s and, after overcoming some teething problems, the first shipment of British grown black Assam tea was sold in the London auctions in January 1839.
A century later and the next big revolution occurred in British tea history - the machine packed paper teabag. A controversial invention for tea connoisseurs but a vital cupboard item for most, the teabag gave rise to a need for smaller tea particles which led to the creation of the CTC machine - "cut, tear, curl".
The CTC process creates substantial granules of tea like those found in our Builders' Brew blend at best, and very dusty particles at worst, and ensures that rich colour and strong flavour infuse more quickly.
This production method institutionalised the British taste for strong, less complex black tea to which milk is added and tea plantations were soon developed in East Africa (where they are not affected by seasonality) to match the demand for strong black tea.
Meanwhile orthodox production of black teas - which involves mere rolling of the leaf, either by hand or machine and is the method used for producing our English Breakfast Blend, Darjeeling First Flush and Lover's Leap Ceylon, to name a few - has continued.
The UK Tea Market Today
As The Guardian reported in 2015, UK tea tastes are changing with sales of "bog-standard" black teabags falling by more than six percent over the past five years.
Indeed, the last decade has seen huge growth in speciality tea and the number of tea companies such as ours. This demand has been driven by more health conscious consumers, wider product choice, improved manufacture and its ability to offer a simple, relatively low cost pleasure.
We are proud to be a small part of this growing market and, as diverse tea drinkers ourselves, enjoy nothing more than introducing new and exciting types of tea to people who have formed their opinion on tea based on the one style of manufacture that has monopolised UK culture for almost 80 years.
There are literally thousands of different teas produced out there in the world, even without the inclusion of blends and fruit and herbal infusions. Why not join us on a voyage of tea discovery this #nationalteaday?
It's an exciting week here at Debonair Tea Company HQ – our very first directly sourced tea is finally available to buy!
Darjeeling teas, and particularly the range produced at Glenburn, are absolute favourites of our co-founder and in-house sommelier, Louisa.
The name ‘Darjeeling’ literally means the ‘land of the thunderbolt’. The British acquired the land here in 1835, the first tea seeds were sown in 1839 and following bumper harvests, private growers had more than 2,000 plants growing in the area by 1853. It was not until 1856 that the first commercial tea garden was established.
Given that some of the very finest tea producing regions are seasonal so that the tea plant only grows in warmer temperatures, Spring is a very exciting time in tea production. Indeed, the plucking season in India, China, Japan and even Europe – including England’s Tregothnan tea gardens (pictured) – run from March through to November.
Following harvesting and processing, the very first of the new season’s tea leaves begin to make their way across the world from Asia in time for early summer.
It's been a lot of work behind the scenes but we are proud to finally be unveiling our latest offering - our high quality, Ceremonial Grade Japanese Matcha!
While we at Debonair Tea Co. enjoy all that the Japanese matcha tea ceremony has to offer, matcha has become quite the superfood darling in recent years and for good reason; it has 137 times more antioxidants than regularly brewed green tea!
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