In honour of #NationalTeaDay and the actual birthday of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, this Friday 21st April, we look at the history of England’s love affair with tea and it's connections with royalty.
Tea drinking in England became a popular pastime back in the 1600s, when the wife of King Charles II, the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza, introduced tea drinking to the English Court and made it acceptable for the well-born ladies of society to drink tea. Traditionally, tea had been served in men’s coffee houses, so with her drink of choice came respectability and acceptance of tea drinking throughout English society.
Black tea became more popular than green tea in the 1700s when adding milk and sugar to black tea became “the done thing”, differentiating tea drinking in the UK from the ancient traditions of drinking green tea in China that have endured since the Third Millennium BC.
However, Afternoon Tea was not introduced to England until the 19th Century. The now very famous story of a somewhat peckish Duchess of Bedford, who could not wait until late for her dinner, so ordered some cakes and biscuits, bread and butter, and a pot of her favourite teatime tipple, Darjeeling, to be served in her drawing room. When Queen Victoria heard about it and was invited to tea, she loved the idea, and it soon became a tradition, usually teamed with what was purported to be Her Majesty’s favourite light raspberry and buttercream sponge cake, now known as Victoria Sponge. It’s thought that Battenberg cake was also invented under the auspices of Victoria and Albert, so it seems that they liked their tea and cake!
So began the long and illustrious tradition of Afternoon Tea, as we know it now, with a selection of dainty sandwiches, cakes and sweet treats, served with a pot of top quality tea. It became a real sense of occasion, with ladies dressing up in their finery to gather in the drawing room and enjoy a selection of tea, cakes and dainty sandwiches. Traditional Afternoon Tea is still served in the royal palaces to this day, enjoyed by our own Queen Elizabeth II at around 4pm.
We’re told Queen Victoria was rather partial to a good cup of Earl Grey and was very particular about her teas, as well as the proper manners and code of conduct befitting such an occasion. We think she would have approved of our Earl Grey blends – either the Classique Earl Grey for that refined Earl Grey taste (is slightly lighter so best enjoy black), or perhaps instead the smooth and light Prince of Earl Grey (enjoy this with or without milk) to enjoy a cup with Prince Albert?
We also hear that Her Majesty the Queen is rather fond of a cup of Earl Grey with a slice of lemon, so let’s raise a cup of our finest Earl Grey to Queen Elizabeth on her birthday – and very fittingly – National Tea Day!
High Tea was quite a different affair altogether, with working class people gathering between 5pm and 7pm after the working day for a hearty meal of several courses – along with a good pot of tea, naturally. For a warm, organic cuppa, we recommend the English Breakfast No. 27 Blend – a full-bodied yet smooth blend of a unique combination of black teas; all blended, tried and tested here in London.
Tea has been talked about across the globe for centuries for its health benefits. In the coffee houses of London, some of the first places to sell tea in England, they sold it based on its age-defying and energy giving properties – something we still rave about today! These days, you don't need to look far to find the next magic weight-loss or detox tea that guarantees you 'eternal youth'. We prefer to take a more pragmatic approach, we concentrate on sourcing the best 100% natural ingredients, made by real people who really care about quality food, then make sure the loose leaves are correctly infused (in a beautiful teapot if you can) and just let the tea do the rest!
Tea gardens hosting shows ended the evening with tea, and this became such a popular pastime that tea gardens were cultivated all over England. This seems like fitting inspiration for the National Tea Day Festival at Kensington Roof Gardens on Friday 21st. Conjure up your own delicate and perfumed tea gardens even when you don’t have any outside space with our Butterfly Lovers Organic Loose Leaf Tea.
However you plan to celebrate National Tea Day, whether curling up at home with a good cuppa, out enjoying a ladylike afternoon tea, or downing your three or four cups to get you through the working day, we do hope you enjoy it. And Happy Birthday, Your Majesty!
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Seán Farrell – Founder, Chateau Rouge