Oh! To Be In England

My earliest memory of drinking tea, was when I was a young girl and had been taken on a special visit to Lion’s Corner House in London. My eyes boggled at the site of cream cakes, piled high on a 3 tiered silver cake stand, and tiny sandwiches cut beautifully into all sort of shapes, just waiting to be devoured by my insatiable appetite. When the waitress came, dressed in her white starched cap and black dress, with a white lace pinafore, I sat very quiet and contemplated which cream cake I was going to have. Before I could get that far, however, there was a grown up discussion on what kind of tea we would drink. My Mother opted for English Breakfast, but my Grandmother decided we would have her favorite “Earl Grey”.

It is hard to imagine, at one time, tea was considered distasteful and unhealthy in England, and was also highly taxed, but Queen Elizabeth saw tea as a very profitable investment. She chartered the East India Co. in 1600 and granted it the monopoly of trade in the East. For over 250 years the company was a crucial player in the rise and fall of the British colonial empire.

The queen introduced tea as a breakfast drink to replace ale. The idea that tea could accompany food was quite abhorent to some, they even added salt and spices to it. The ignorant few, decided to chew on the leaves!. It wasn’t until the Duchess of Bedford devised a ceremony of tea in the middle of the eighteenth century, that tea became an English institution. By the end of the seventeenth century, tea was England’s national drink. Tea gardens abounded in many places, where the drink became an excuse to meet friends and maybe lovers!.

Until this time China had been England’s sole source for tea, but the East India co. discovered the Indian tea plant in the early eighteenth century, however obsession with growing Chinese tea was prevalent but China was not about to give away any secrets as to the propagation and drying methods that had been for centuries, kept behind the Great Wall. India tried to tell the company that their native herb was worth all the tea in China, but the company stubbornly insisted on planting the Chinese seeds.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the East India company had produced approx 170million pounds of tea, three quarters of which kept the English busy boiling water!!

During the early 1900’s something happened to change the way the Western world looked at tea. In 1904 the St Louis world’s fair took place on a very hot day in a humid…

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