The cup of tea is a quintessential part of life in England, certainly in my family and for the majority of my British friends. The first thing people often ask when you visit their home is, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ Tea is cheap, cheerful and refreshing and a great way to unwind after a day at work, to relax with friends or when you just need some precious ‘down time’.
Tea was made popular in the English court by the Portuguese Princess, Catherine of Braganza, who married King Charles II in 1662. Portuguese traders had brought tea from the East and it was considered a stylish, exotic beverage by aristocratic, rich Europeans of the day.
Part of Catherine’s dowry to Charles was the important port of Bombay in India (now Mumbai). Because the East India Company was favoured by King Charles II, it was allowed to ‘rent’ the port from the king for £10 of gold every year, hence the British tea trade began to grow and prosper.
Even the famous diarist Samuel Pepys gives a mention to tea drinking in his diary entry on September 25th, 1660. ‘And afterwards I did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink) of which I had never drank before’.
I don’t think tea helped Catherine in her marriage to Charles, though, because it was not a happy one and they had no children. She returned to Portugal after her husband died in 1685, leaving behind her legacy of a tea-drinking nation.
‘Traditional Afternoon Tea’ was a ritual which developed much later in the 1840’s by society ladies. It was initially a small meal to stem the hunger between lunch and dinner, eaten any time between 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Queen Victoria herself enjoyed afternoon tea, relishing the finger sandwiches, cakes and pastries, creating a formal event each day at the palace.
Nowadays, in Britain, afternoon tea is not a daily occurrence, but usually an occasional treat to celebrate birthdays or special events. There are some wonderful venues for afternoon tea in and around the London area. Do indulge if you are visiting, you won’t be disappointed.
Afternoon Tea Venues
The Ritz: http://preview.tinyurl.com/l9a3zqb
Compleat Angler: http://tinyurl.com/pdscyu5
Cliveden House: http://tinyurl.com/p6wzs8t