Laura Porter – Tea in London
Tea in London – Laura Porter
Considering how tea seems such a part of British culture you may be surprised to hear that coffee actually arrived in London first by about five years. Coffee houses opened for men to socialise and conduct business while trying the new exotic flavours.
Tea came to London in the 1650s; imported by the Dutch East India Company as the drink was already gaining popularity across Europe. It was promoted as a health drink with wild claims that it could cure headaches, loss of memory, scurvy, insomnia and much more.
Catherine of Braganza helped the tea cause when she married Charles II in 1662 and brought with her from Portugal a casket of tea. By 1669 the English East India Company ordered its first tea cargo but prices were high due to huge government taxes. The lady of the house would keep the key to her locked tea caddy, away from her servants, and ladies drank this precious and fashionable drink at home while the men went out to the coffee houses.
Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-84) who produced the first English dictionary declared himself “a hardened and shameless tea drinker”, and once the costs came down it became a drink for the masses and tea breaks were introduced in the workplace and continue today.
Tea drinking is increasing again as the understanding of the variety and quality becomes known. Just as I once thought wine could only taste like German Liebfraumilch and spent years turning down the offer of a glass at parties I now know tea is more than a humble teabag of ‘dust’. It’s a drink that defies social classes and finds common ground with new acquaintances. Tea is how we welcome new guests to our home and the sound of a boiling kettle is able to calm many fraught situations. Tea is our stress reduction answer – just note how many times they “put the kettle on” in Eastenders – and we deal with shock by offering hot sweet tea. Even ambulance and hospital staff bring cups of tea to make us feel better because of its calming influence.
When times are tough tea is morale boosting and it’s how we celebrate (when not turning to alcohol). Having tea with a friend means you are not only offering a refreshing drink but are giving your undivided attention to them and your time to listen.
I won’t drink tea in paper or any disposable cups so am grateful for the trend in quality tea cafes in London. Many now display an array of loose leaf teas and serve your choice in a teapot for one with a cup and saucer – not a mug. Even when drinking alone there’s something highly satisfying in the ritual of waiting for your tea to brew then pouring yourself a cup. It feels like an indulgence but one that is affordable and good for you from the health benefits to the time to slow down, be relieved of your stresses and to recharge.
Even cafes that do not offer loose leaf tea are aware of the need to stock more than one variety and at the very least I can usually find Earl Grey available. And with the increase of popularity of afternoon tea we now have the chance to accompany quality tea with quality cakes. What could be better?
Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site and is also a VisitBritain Super Blogger. She fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen’s. Laura is @AboutLondon on twitter and @AboutLondon Laura on Facebook. You can find out more about her at about.me/LauraPorter.