Tea is seen by many people around the world as being a very typically British drink. Most people think that we drink tea more than any other nation in the world although Turkey is actually the world’s largest consumer of this beverage with Britain in third place after Ireland.
Tea first became fashionable in Britain in the late 17th century after the Portuguese Queen Catherine of Braganza: the wife of King Charles 11 promoted drinking tea regularly among her court and the British aristocracy proceeded to follow this fashion in the 1680’s. The first tea room was opened by Twinings in 1706 on the Strand (between Waterloo and Embankment) and this establishment is still open for business today.
In the 18th century tea became an increasingly patriotic choice of drink due to the fact that the British East India Company was the monopoly importer of this commodity. Although it was not produced in Britain, it was only provided by Britain to Britons. Moreover, the British East India Company was able to keep the price of tea down because it alone controlled the supplies of this export and this meant that tea became more popular than coffee, chocolate and alcohol. It was also seen as a drink which encouraged and expressed polite civilized behaviour: a symbol of national character.
In 1784 the tax on tea imports was cut from 119% to just 12% and by the beginning of the 19th century it had become cheaper than beer, making it more and more popular among Britain’s working classes. The teabreak became an increasingly important tradition among Britain’s labourers especially because it was a hot, sweet, cheap non-alcoholic mass-produced drink which enabled workers to keep going all day in cold, wet, grey weather conditions.