Early History of Tea in England

By Courtney Van Evera

Tea began making its way into England around 1610 with Dutch and Portuguese merchants, and was quickly adopted by London coffeehouses for public consumption. This trend began to spread through England especially thanks to Thomas Garway an English merchant and entrepreneur who began marketing tea in England in 1657 around its health benefits.

“It maketh the body active and lusty. It helpeth the headache, giddiness and heaviness thereof…It is very good against the [kidney] stone and gravel…being drank with virgin’s honey, instead of sugar.”

Garway listed 14 health benefits on his first advertisement of tea from China, all as vivid as the excerpt above. View the whole advertisement here.

At this point, tea was known in England as an expensive, exotic drug. Garway was the first to pitch the marketing angle of health. In today’s world, the health benefits of tea are well studied.

Portuguese Queen of England, Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II brought the tradition of afternoon tea into the English court around 1662, taking it from the coffeehouses to the home. This habit took hold of England, and King Charles II secured the tea trade for England by granting the East India Tea Company a monopoly on the tea market. Good move, Charlie.

In the 18th century, tea was a common item in wealthy households and widely consumed as a treat before and after meals. Women often drank it after dinner, instead of alcohol, and quickly a culture of serving and enjoying tea socially was born.


By 1800 tea was more commonly consumed, now sweetened with milk and sugar. Anna Russell, 7th Duchess of Bedford, is credited with starting the English afternoon tea tradition. The story goes that she became hungry between the morning meal and evening meal, as only two were eaten during the 1800s. Anna started to request tea, sandwiches, and cake to be sent to her room in the late afternoon. She first did this in secret, fearing others would look down on her. Later, she began inviting friends and created a social event. By the 1840s much of what we consider high tea was established into British culture. By the 1880s, women dressed in gowns and current fashion for this high-class affair.

The English afternoon tea includes small sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and preserves, cakes and pastries. Indian or Ceylon tea would typically be poured from a silver pot into bone china teacups.

Ceylon Silver Striped loose-leaf tea from Happy Lucky’s emphasizes dark flavor notes, which are full of depth and slightly sweet. This tea complements the sweetness of the foods and balances them with astringency.

Glenburn First Flush Darjeeling Black tea from Happy Lucky’s is harvested to taste like spring. As an afternoon pick-me-up, the light, floral taste of this tea enlivens spirits and lightens the mood.

Glenburn Second Flush Darjeeling loose-leaf tea declares a decadent afternoon, with a honey flavor and color that quite frankly should be reserved for nobility.

Tea has come a long way since its beginning in England as a drug/health beverage. Nobility or not, a little careful thought about flavor of exceptional tea might just be the indulgence we all need in the afternoon.












Thomas Garaway quote


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