How do you take your tea? © David Burnetts

This is a quintessential British question and a ritual with more than just a hint of ceremonial pomp. As you raise your cup towards your mouth and take a sip of the steaming infusion of tea leaves, it hits the nostrils with an aroma of satisfying comfort and makes you feel you can handle anything the day throws at you. It is, may I suggest, Britain’s favourite hot bev- erage, the go-to drink that we turn to in times of crisis, comfort and celebration.

Tea had been grown in China for at least 4,000 years and people thought of it as having medicinal properties. Eventually it found its way to Great Britain via Europe by courtesy of the East India Company. In 1662, Queen Henrietta of Braganza (Charles II’s Portuguese wife) is said to have enjoyed tea as her favourite temper- ance drink while entertaining other ladies of the royal court, thus making it the fash- ionable drink of the day. It became a popu- lar drink especially in the coffee houses in the tiny courtyards and alleys of the City of London. Tese coffee houses were a bas- tion of male chauvinism and domination, where business and important matters of the day were discussed and decided – cer- tainly not considered an appropriate place for women at the time. Tea was popular not only in the coffee

house but in the upper echelons of well-to- do private homes. It became so ingrained in British society that it affected the sales of beer and gin in the taverns which meant that the government was losing out on a valuable source of tax. Subsequently, a tea tax was introduced, which reached an as- tounding 119%. Tis heavy taxation en-

4 FOCUS The Magazine January/February 2020

couraged tea smuggling. Cargo ships would be met by a fleet of smaller boats or even rowing boats off the shores of Britain where the contraband would be unloaded in tea chests. Te captain would account for the loss of the tea by saying it was spoiled at sea. In 1783, when William Pitt the Younger became prime minister he lowered the tea tax to 12.5% and smuggling ceased virtually overnight. Tea consumption increased as well as the gov- ernment’s revenue – a win-win situation. In 1701, Tomas Twining started to

work for a City of London merchant deal- ing in tea and quickly gained knowledge that would stand him in good stead. Later, he worked at the East India Trading Company importing new, exotic products from the Far East, including tea. By 1706, the young Tomas Twining, eager to start his own business, bought Tom’s Coffee House at 216 Te Strand. Tis is where it stills stands today. Tom introduced tea into his shop and by 1717 he had created London’s first tea shop, the Golden Lion – known today as Twinings tea shop on the Strand. Over its entrance sits a golden lion and on either side of it, two Chinese

gentlemen – a gentle nod to China, which is the country of origin of tea. Te journey by sea from Shanghai to

London could take up to a year to trans- port tea and it was often not in the best of conditions when it finally arrived in London’s docks. So, a new type of vessel, the clipper, was designed to speed up the journey. Te most famous clipper was the Cutty Sark, regarded as one of the fastest ships in its class. It was a streamlined ves- sel built in 1869 in Scotland, with three huge raking masts capable of cutting the journey time down from almost one year to just 107 days. Today, the Cutty Sark stands in a dry dock in Greenwich and has an amazing history to tell. It’s well worth a visit. During the 18th century, London had a

proliferation of tea gardens. Te site of Jack Straw’s Castle on Hampstead Heath was very popular, as were others in Marylebone and Vauxhall. It became very fashionable for ladies and their compan- ions to take tea in idyllic gardens with scented flowers and beautiful manicured lawned areas. During Victorian times, the cabman’s working conditions weren’t great and they

© Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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