King Charles II may not be as familiar to you as Will and Kate, but he is responsible for bringing tea to the United Kingdom. His marriage to Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza included a significant dowry, much of which was to alleviate Charles’s debts—but also happened to include a chest of tea.
However, you can thank Anna Marie Russell, Duchess of Bedford (one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting), for that pot of Earl Grey steeping on the countertop at four o’clock in the afternoon. What was once a cure for pre-dinner hunger pains is now a quintessential part of many people’s day. In the nineteenth century, dinner typically wasn’t served until eight or nine o’clock at night, leaving a long lag in-between lunch and dinner. This habit that the Duchess formed in Queen Victoria’s household soon became the new norm for the aristocratic class in England.
The act of drinking tea in a fancy parlor with a tiered tray of goodies may not be a Chinese custom, but the prevalence of this drink in China dates back long before ladies-in-waiting experienced afternoon hunger spells. Since it was introduced during the Tang dynasty in 618 AD, tea drinking has been an integral part of Chinese culture. Tea flourished under the steady growth of economic and social changes, which eventually gave way to a new social norm both in court and otherwise, as it grew into a daily part of life. Everyone enjoyed tea in China after the Tang dynasty—the elite, monks, and commoners alike.
Darjeeling, Assam, and masala chai, oh my! India has an abundance of teas, and with it, a great deal of history behind their popularity. With rich, full-bodied spices and aromas that stick with you, tea that hails from this part of the world is one flavorful cup. India has been one of the largest consumers of tea in the world since 750 BC. Chai is their most famed tea, and it grows significantly in the ideal environment of this South Asian country.
From the fields of India and the streets of China to the parlors of England, tea has filtered its way through the hearts (and stomachs) of young and old, rich and poor. Drinking tea is a social event that spans generations, and it brings out the fancy side in just about everyone. Hunger pains or not, it may be time to make room for a sip or two of afternoon tea.