All of the pub-quiz style facts you ever wanted to know about tea...
Strictly, proper tea (i.e. not fruit or herbal) comes from one variety of plant, the 'Camellia Sinensis'.
The art and practice of tea drinking has its roots in ancient China. The start date for tea consumption is often referred to as 2737BC, with the legend that some stray leaves of the Camellia Sinensis tree fell into emperor Shen Nung’s cauldron of boiling water and he (obviously!) loved it.
The first dated reference to tea in the UK is from an advert in a London newspaper in 1658.
However, tea really took off here with the marriage of King Charles II to Portugese princess, Catherine of Braganza, in the 1660s. Princess Catherine was obsessed with tea, establishing it as a fashionable beverage at court and then among the rich. Tea stayed the preserve of the rich for some time due its high price, which was, in part a result of punitive system of taxation levied on the tea leaf.
Indeed, the high price of tea gave rise to tea smuggling which, due to the popularity of the drink, later became a vast organised crime network with lots of very suspect ‘tea’ being traded.
Eventually, in 1784, the government slashed the levy on tea, making it affordable, putting an end to smuggling and allowing for widespread consumption.
It is estimated that around 165 million cups of tea are drunk every day in the UK and tea drinking still out-strips coffee consumption by three cups to one.
Despite gaining popularity in post-war Britain, the first commercial production of the humble teabag began in America in the 1920s.
Teabags were invented, quite by accident, when tea samples in silken bags were sent by American tea merchant, Thomas Sullivan, to his customers in 1908. Rather than infusing in the normal way, some customers put the whole bag in the pot and the teabag was born.
Following feedback from those who had used this method, Sullivan developed sachets made of gauze which were the first mass-produced, purpose-made, tea bags, very much like the ones we use today.
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