The history of tea in England

The history of tea in England

If you think about the English way of life, then chances are that one of the first things that comes to mind is a good old fashioned cup of tea.

Whilst tea has been claimed as an utterly English drink, it did not start in England. In fact, whilst the Chinese were enjoying tea as early as the 3rd Millennium BC, it didn’t make its way over to England until the mid 17th century. Tea drinking spread across Europe from China but it was a slow process. It eventually landed in Venice around 1560, and we have to thank both Portuguese and Dutch traders for first introducing and importing our precious tea into Europe.

London, the home of tea

It may be a surprise, but England was first introduced to tea via London coffee houses. One of the very first merchants who offered tea was Thomas Garway in around 1657. He sold not only dry tea, but also liquid tea to the public and he even created advertisements selling tea to help with keeping the body “lusty” and “active”. It comes as no surprise to those who love a nice cup of tea that it soon became a popular choice at those coffee houses. By 1700 over 500 coffee houses were known to offer it to their customers.  However, not everyone was a big fan of the introduction of tea, tavern owners in particular, were irritated and frustrated that their sales of gin and ale were reduced due to the availability of an alternative (and non-alcoholic) drink. By 1750 tea was the drink of choice for the lower classes, and the government noticed that their revenue from liquor sale taxes were significantly reduced.

Tea tax

After noticing the lack of sales for liquor, the government realised that they needed to get on board the trend for tea. Before this, however, they decided that they would try to halt the growth of tea sales, by first forbidding it to be sold in private houses. When this never took off, a 1676 act was put in place to tax tea and also make sure that anyone selling it would need to apply for a licence. As it rose in popularity, so did the tax that was charged. In fact, by the mid 18th century, when tea drinking was to become an increasingly common habit, the tax duty was a rather ridiculous 119%. This tax was not dropped until 1784, when it was realised that tea smuggling was a much larger problem than the loss of money from tax and the level was dropped from 119% to a much more manageable 12.5%.

No matter where tea came from, it has become a part of everyday English life. Relaxing after a busy day, catching up with friends, or simply waking up in the morning has all been made better thanks to the delicious cup of tea that we are all more than happy to have!