this article is from:BBC – Travel – The true story behind England’s tea obsession
Imagine the most English-English person you can think of. Now I’m fairly certain that no matter what picture you just conjured up, that person comes complete with a stiff upper lip and a cup of tea in their hand. Because that’s what the English do. They carry on and they drink tea. Tea is so utterly English, such an ingrained part of the culture, that it’s also ingrained in how everyone else around the world perceives that culture.
And while it’s fairly common knowledge that Westerners have China to thank for the original cultivation of the tannic brew, it’s far less known that it was the Portuguese who inspired its popularity in England – in particular, one Portuguese woman. Think about that next time you’re sipping steaming oolong from delicate mugs at the Ritz, or standing under the portrait of Earl Grey in the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Travel back in time to 1662, when Catherine of Braganza (daughter of Portugal’s King John IV) won the hand of England’s newly restored monarch, King Charles II, with the help of a very large dowry that included money, spices, treasures and the lucrative ports of Tangiers and Bombay. This hookup made her one very important lady: the Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland.
When she relocated up north to join King Charles, she is said to have packed loose-leaf tea as part of her personal belongings; it would also have likely been part of her dowry. A fun legend has it that the crates were marked Transporte de Ervas Aromaticas (Transport of Aromatic Herbs) – later abbreviated to T.E.A.
That last bit probably isn’t true (etymologists believe the word ‘tea’ came from a transliteration of a Chinese character), but what is for sure is that tea was already popular among the aristocracy of Portugal due to the country’s direct trade line to China via its colony in Macau, first settled in the mid-1500s
When Catherine arrived in England, tea was being consumed there only as a medicine, supposedly invigorating the body and keeping the spleen free of obstructions. But since the young queen was used to sipping the pick-me-up as part of her daily routine, she no doubt continued her habit, making it popular as a social beverage rather than as a health tonic.
When Catherine married Charles, she was the focus of attention – everything from her clothes to her furniture became the source of court talk,” said Sarah-Beth Watkins, author of Catherine of Braganza: Charles II’s Restoration Queen.
“Her regular drinking of tea encouraged others to drink it. Ladies flocked to copy her and be a part of her circle.”
Hot poet of the time, Edmund Waller, even wrote a birthday ode to her shortly after her arrival, which forever linked the queen and Portugal with the fashionable status of tea in England. He wrote:
“The best of Queens, and best of herbs, we owe
To that bold nation, which the way did show
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.”
To be fair, tea could be found in England before Catherine arrived, but it wasn’t very popular.
“Waller is recorded drinking tea in 1657, which is a whole six years before Catherine turns up,”
said Markman Ellis, professor of 18th-Century Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, and co-author of Empire of Tea: The Asian Leaf that Conquered the World.
“He is a well-known afecionado for tea, which is unusual because it was so expensive and everyone was drinking coffee at this time.”
The reason for the cost was threefold: England had no direct trade with China; tea from India wasn’t around yet; and the small quantities that the Dutch were importing were sold at a very high premium.
“It was very expensive because it came from China and it was taxed very heavily,”
explained Jane Pettigrew, author of A Social History of Tea, winner of the 2014 World Tea Awards’ Best Tea Educator and director of studies at UK Tea Academy.
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