History of Tea

10th December 2014

History of Tea

Ever wondered about how tea became such a key part of the British identity? Let's take a look through history and find out a little more about the brew we all love so much...

Discovery of Tea

The story of tea starts in China. According to legend, back in 2737 BC, the emperor Shen Nung was boiling water when leaves from the Camellia sinensis tree fell into the pot; being a herbalist, he decided to try the steeped beverage, and the drink we know as tea was born.

Tea became an important part of Chinese culture, and established itself as the national drink of the country during the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD); in fact, the first ever book dedicated to tea was written in the late eighth century by Lu Yu, named the Ch'a Ching, or Tea Classic. It soon travelled over to Japan, imported by Buddhist monks – but it was many centuries before Europe got a taste for the brew.

In the late 16th century, Portuguese writers living in the East first mentioned tea in their correspondence, and the Dutch started to import tea commercially at the turn of the century. They established a trading post on Java, and in 1606 the first consignment of tea was shipped from China to the Netherlands. It quickly became a fashionable drink amongst the Dutch and spread across Western Europe, but due to its high price remained a drink for the wealthy.

History of Tea in England

It still took a while for tea to reach our island, with the first dated reference coming from a London newspaper in September 1658. The Mercurius Politicus declared that "China Drink, called by the Chinese, Tcha, by other Nations Tay alias Tee" was on sale at a coffee house in Sweeting's Rents in the City. Thomas Rugge wrote in his Diurnell that tea was "sold in almost every street in 1659", and Samuel Pepys tasted it in 1660, writing "I did send for a cup of tee, (a China drink) of which I had never had drunk before".

"Tee" was still a curiosity until the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza. Catherine was a Portuguese princess and a prolific tea- drinker, and her love of the drink helped establish it as a popular drink at court and amongst the wealthy classes. The East India Company capitalised on this, and its first order was placed in 1664, for 100lbs of China tea to be shipped from Java. Thus began the start of our country's long-lasting love affair with tea...

Tea History Timeline

We have picked out some key dates and the most memorable moments in tea history for you:

  • 1680 - Addition of milk to tea first mentioned, by the epistolist Madame de Sévigné
  • 1706 - Twinings and Co. founded
  • 1773 - The Boston Tea Party protested taxes on tea
  • 1822 - Tetley brothers started in business
  • 1835 - East India Company starts the first tea plantations in Assam, India
  • 1856 - Tea is planted in Darjeeling, India
  • 1869 - Cutty Sark tea clipper built
  • 1903 - Tea Manufacture Experiment Station established
  • 1904 - First commercial sale of tea bags
  • 1930 - PG Tips launched
  • 1946 - Nestle USA introduced the first instant tea, Nestea
  • 1954 - Rooibos Tea Control Board established
  • 1964 - Tea tax abolished
  • 1985 - Emma Bridgewater's ½ Pint Mug shape created
  • 2014 - Britons drink 165 million cups of tea a day

How do you drink yours? Emma Bridgewater has pottery for all tea fans...

  • • Loose leaf lover? Take a look at our teapots.
  • • Teabag brewer? Our ½ Pint Mug is a classic shape.
  • • Like a lot of tea? Our Pint Mugs will satisfy even the greediest of tea-drinkers.
  • • Fancy something more traditional? Our Cups and Saucers are elegant without being pretentious.
  • • And, if you want something a little more individual, we offer a wide range of personalised items.

10th December 2014