Tea Culture and Tea Traditions of United Kingdom
Tea Culture of
Historically known as the empire on which the sun never sets, the UK, has played a major role in introducing tea to many countries. In the early 17th century the British East India Company presented tea to King Charles II. Colonies such as India and Sri Lanka started to grow tea with their influence and encouragement. From the time the queen of Charles II, Catherine of Braganza, brought down the tea drinking ritual to the Royal Court of England, the tradition spread to the aristocracy, and from there, to everyone else.
Tea History of United Kingdom
A coffee house owner named Thomas Garraway saw the opportunities for tea and launched the “tea business” in England. He sold the first tea leaves as a beverage from his coffeehouse in London in 1657. However, the first “Tea shop” which opened, was for the ladies in early 18th century. Thomas Twining was the shop owner and it is still standing in London. Following him, tea shops began to appear throughout the country, making this delicious beverage available to more than just the upper classes. One important reason for tea to be so popular among the rich and the poor alike, was its availability. All colonial countries who grew tea, provided it to the UK and prices went down while the demand steadily increased. Another was the advertising and marketing; tea was labelled as a medicinal drink with wonderful “results”.
Types of Tea consumed in United Kingdom
The UK is home to more than 1500 tea variations! From green tea to lime tea, milk tea to black tea, the English have created and influenced many different teas which are popular in countries around the world. Tea goes by names such as “Earl Grey” and “English Breakfast”; many referring to black tea which is the most common and most enjoyed by the Brits. It is a common practice to add a bit of milk, however it is also taken simply black, and at times with lime. Tea is differentiated by the country or region of growth. For example, there is Darjeeling, Assam and Ceylon tea.
Even though the historical way of making tea is with loose tea leaves, what is used regularly today is the tea bag. Whilst the back tea comes dark and strong by being allowed to get oxidized, its green cousin, is light coloured and gives a more delicate feel to the tongue. Green tea is widely popular as an herbal/ medicinal tea.
In addition to these, tea infused with various spices and herbs such as chamomile and cinnamon are popular in the UK. A spicy tea, called “masala chai” has gained fame as well. It is made by adding milk and spices to black tea, while brewing on the stove itself.
Tea Customs of United Kingdom
Tea in the United Kingdom is a quintessential gastronomic experience. They have various customs and ceremonies related to tea. The famous phrase “Cuppa” originated when people began to refer to a “cup of tea”. It is common to hear someone being asked if they “fancy a cuppa” or “is it time for a cuppa”. The phrase actually goes back to early 1900s.
The UK has a designated “teatime”. It is quite formal and could be in the fashion of a tea party, known as “afternoon tea”.
Another custom in the British tea culture is “cream tea”. During this, a tea pot will be served with accompaniments such as jam, cream and scones. Here, however, the cream is not for the tea, but to be piled up on the scone with jam, which in most instances is, strawberry.
As the popularity spread, various businesses opened up; there were tea houses, tea rooms, tea shops, and tea gardens where tea dances were held. High tea was the modified afternoon tea, taken by the farmers and workers. Tea Breaks were for the workers to have a short rest and tea, before returning to work. These customs were so ingrained to the English culture that the factory owners who tried to abolish the tea breaks during the early industrial revolution times, were utterly unsuccessful.
Tea ceremonies in United Kingdom
The afternoon tea has been an invention of Anna, the 7th duchess of Bedford. She used to get hungry during the afternoons, hence ordered a tray of tea to her room. Later she invited her friends and colleagues for “taking tea” and the afternoon tea ceremony was born.
For this occasion, tea made with silver, bone china or porcelain are used. Most of the time these small gatherings will be held at the “drawing room” or in the garden. The early participants used to dress quite nicely, if not formally, for the event. Thanks to duchess Anna, “teatime” is now observed almost worldwide with a delicious cup of tea and accompanied sweetmeats. The official teatime is between 3 and 5 pm.
Today, it’s difficult to allocate time for lengthy afternoon teas with friends and family. Nevertheless, they still organise tea ceremonies for special occasions. Events such as weddings, bridal showers, birthdays and New Year’s parties could be “tea-themed”. It is also a good marketing tactic for the high-end hotels, where they advertise “High tea” for special guests and tourists. These ceremonies require the guests to be in formal attire and follow the extravagant rules and rituals when taking tea. Although the tradition was to serve a few simple treats with the tea, today you can see savories, sweet items, and even sushi being a part of it.
In the UK, tea is served with both sweet and savory items. Main snack, as very famously known by the world, is biscuits. In addition to this, scones, pastries, sandwiches, and various types of cakes are offered dueing a high tea, espcieally. They are supposed to be served, first savory items, second neutral items such as crumpets, scones, and buns and finally sweet cakes, pastries and biscuits.
Teaware of United Kingdom
For the formal “afternoon tea”, akin to a tea party, a complete set of teaware is brought forth. These sets are created with fine bone china, silver or porcelain. It includes cups and saucers, a teapot, a small jar to hold creamer or milk, and a dainty bowl for sugar. All of it fits on one tray. It is a must that these pieces are of a matching design.
Utensils such as tea caddy, tea pot, tea strainer, tea cosy etc. makes a full set of requirement in any house or shop. As the British have visited and lived around the world, especially during the colonial period, they brought down various items, traditions and practices with regards to tea, among other things. Original tea making was done in the Chinese style, in “bone china” cups and associated teaware. Although with time some of these practices transformed, still in households the “good china” comes out for a special tea ceremony.
The saucer is a special part of offering tea. It is said that in the early times, patrons used to drink from the saucer, similar to the Chinese using a bowl to have their tea. With time, it has become merely a supportive structure to hold the cup and the spoon after stirring the tea. High quality or antique tea sets have tiny tea spoons which are silver or gold plated.