Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A little bit of Tea History

Bat Rabbit's is above all things, a lovely little tea room based on the Tea Rooms that have been and continue to be so popular in England.  With that in mind, I thought some of you might like a short, quick history lesson on how tea became so popular in Britain.

History of Tea

17th Century

In 1600 Queen Elizabeth l granted permission for the charter of the British East India Company on December 31, 1600 to establish trade routes, ports, and trading relationships with the Far East, Southeast Asia, and India Trade in spices.  The tea trade didn’t begin until the late 1670s.

East India Company Coat of Arms

In the 1660’s, King Charles II, while in exile, married the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza. Catherine's dowry was the largest ever registered in world history. Portugal gave to England two million golden crusados, Tangier and Morocco in North Africa, Bombay in India, and also permission for the British to use all the ports in the Portuguese colonies in Africa, Asia and the Americas thus giving England their first direct trading rights to tea.

Catherine de Braganza
(November 25, 1638 - December 31, 1705)

As Charles had grown up in the Dutch capital, both he and his Portuguese bride were confirmed tea drinkers. When the monarchy was re-established, they brought this foreign tea tradition to England with them. Her influence made tea more popular amongst the wealthier classes of society, as whatever the royals did, everyone else wanted to copy. Soon tea mania spread swept across England, and it became the beverage of choice in English high society, replacing ale as the national drink.

King Charles II
(May 29, 1630 - February 6, 1685)

The reign of Charles II was crucial in laying the foundations for the growth of the British tea trade. The East India Company was highly favored by Charles II. Charles confirmed its monopoly, and also extended it to give the Company unprecedented powers to occupy by military force places with which they wished to trade.

18th Century

By 1700, tea was on sale by more than 500 coffee houses in London. Tea drinking became even more popular when Queen Anne chose tea over ale as her regular breakfast drink.

Queen Anne 
(March 8,1702 – May 1,1707)

During the second half of the Victorian Period, known as the Industrial Revolution, working families would return home tired and exhausted. This lead to the invention of “high” tea, although that name was not used, in contrast with what would become known as “low” tea. 

Cotton Mill Spinning Room

19th Century

According to legend, one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope, known as the Duchess of Bredford, is credited as the creator of afternoon or “low” teatime. Because the noon meal had become skimpier, the Duchess suffered from "a sinking feeling" at about four o'clock in the afternoon.

Anna Maria Stanhope, Duchess of Bedford 

At first the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few breadstuffs.  After awhile, she invited friends to join her for the additional afternoon meal at five o'clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea. This summer practice proved so popular, the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for "tea and a walking the fields."   

Likewise, this idea was copied by other hostesses and serving tea became a common thread for almost all families in England.

And now it is time for my tea.


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