Tea: The Concise History

Ok, you caught me. I’m a royal watcher. 

I have an extra browser window open to BBC’s website to watch events unfolding in London. The Duchess of Cambridge was trundled off to the hospital at about midnight my time (now about 10:45 as I tap the keys). My guess is that she’s at the stage of labor where Prince William needs to stay close enough to hold her hand but far enough away to prevent her from doing any damage. 

So while we wait, let us contemplate that most British of institutions, tea. Not the green stuff, not herbal infusions, but real deal black tea.  Steeped for five minutes and served with a splash of milk. Or cold infused. But it has to be real tea. 

Tea was discovered many years ago in China when leaves fell into a wise person’s cup as he meditated. He found the resulting infusion delicious, and the beverage’s popularity spread through Asia. 

Dutch traders brought tea from Indonesia in the mid-1600’s, not too long before coffee arrived through Austria courtesy of the Turks. Tea made its way up to what we now know as the UK and took hold as the beverage of choice. It was perceived as a more wholesome alternative to coffee thanks to men who went to coffee houses which were fronts for brothels. They returned home without the energy or desire to perform their husbandly duties and blamed it on the coffee. The wives accepted the explanation without question, at least verbally, and banned coffee from their homes.

Tea the late afternoon ritual was started by another duchess in the 1800’s. At the time, dinner wasn’t served until eight or nine at night. She needed a little something about 4:30, 5:ish and requested a pot of tea and a little bread and butter. The cookies, cakes, and finger sandwiches were added over time.

Today, tea is the most widely drunk beverage in the world. Not surprising. Its effects are more subtle than coffee’s thanks to the lower caffeine content. Coffee’s roasting process also causes the formation of alkyd compounds that can impact moods the way caffeine can. Tea offers more comfort. The catch phrase “A cup of tea will fix anything” rings true, at least for one hypersensitive food blogger I can name.

So while the world waits, we raise our mugs, our fine china cups, and our pots to you, Your Grace and Your Highness. Blessings to the three of you as the journey begins. 

 

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