As the eyes of the world turn toward London and the city fills with athletes and visitors from all corners of the globe, I can't help but turn to thinking about one of my favorite aspects of British culture: their intense, often parodied love of tea. While often seen as a stereotypical hallmark of the way in which the world views Britain, the unassuming drink and the UK's love for it has played a big role in history. It's estimated that approximately 165 million cups of tea are drunk daily in the UK, but what are the origins of this drink in the countries? How did it find its way past the White Cliffs of Dover?
While tea is considered a quintessentially British item, it was actually due to a foreign princess that the drink itself actually made its way to England. Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess who came to England as queen to Charles II of England, brought the drink as part of her wedding dowry and it soon became popular in the royal court, a high priced exotic commodity. She is pictured below, courtesy of Wikipedia.
Poet Edmund Waller wrote of the princess and her love for tea in 1663:
Venus her Myrtle, Phoebus has his bays;
Tea both excels, which she vouchsafes to praise.
The best of Queens, the best of herbs, we owe
To that bold nation which the way did show
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.
The Muse's friend, tea does our fancy aid,
Regress those vapours which the head invade,
And keep the palace of the soul serene,
Fit on her birthday to salute the Queen.
The marriage also lead to Charles II favoring the East India Company as a trading partner, which would go on to expand the tea trade across the world.
And that, my fellow tea fans, has been your daily dose of tea history. Drink away!