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Tea in Britain - A Brief History On #nationalteaday

April 21, 2016

Tea Plants

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. 

The Teabag

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.

The Future

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?





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