Twenty Fascinating Facts and Tea Trivia
Tea, the quintessentially British drink has been with us for over 350 years. In fact we Brits consume a whopping 150 million cups a day.
However, the story of tea actually begins in China.
According to legend in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was relaxing in the shade of a tree while his servant boiled some drinking water. In a twist of fate, some leaves from the tree blew into his pot.
Mr. Nung, a renowned herbalist, decided, quite bravely to sip this serendipitous infusion and hey presto! It was reassuringly delicious. The tree was a Camellia sinensis and the resulting brew was what we now call ‘tea’.
It is impossible to confirm whether there is any truth in this story but we can offer you are some of our favourite facts.
So, brew yourself a cuppa, sit back, relax and enter the magical world of tea:
1. Tea drinking certainly became established in China many centuries before it had even been heard of in the West. Containers of tea have even been found in tombs dating from the Han dynasty in 206 BC – 220 BC.
2. Tea was only introduced to England in 1662 when Charles II married Portugal’s Catherine of Braganze. Her dowry included chests of tea and the regions of Bombay and Tangier.
3. It’s argued that the spread of caffeinated beverages in the 17th century made the Industrial Revolution possible by allowing large numbers of people to coordinate their work schedules and work longer hours. Before tea was widely available, beer was actually the European breakfast drink of choice!
4. However, the British were not always heavy tea drinkers specifically. They only switched to tea after an introduced plant rust wiped out most of the world’s coffee crops in the late 1800s.
5. Meanwhile in Sweden, King Gustav III in a bizarre experiment, commuted the death sentences of a pair of twins on the condition that one drank 3 pots of coffee, and the other tea, every day for the rest of their lives.
6. In 1848, the British East India Company sent Botanist Robert Fortune on a trip to China’s interior, an area forbidden to foreigners to steal tea seeds from China to India. He succeeded and within his lifetime, India surpassed China as the world’s largest tea grower.
7. In the Victorian era, there were special tea cups that protected your moustache from getting dunked in your tea!
8. The English even invented a machine that functioned as both an alarm clock and a kettle. They were designed so the user would have a freshly made cup of tea at their bedside as soon as they woke up in the morning.
9. Until World War II, tea was still used as a form of currency in Siberia.
10. Meanwhile in Europe, tea was so important for morale in the British army that in 1942 the UK bought the entire world’s crop of tea.
11. The first automobile used in a war was a steam car and yes, you guessed correctly – The British preferred it because they could tap the boiler to brew a cup of tea.
12. In fact, British tanks are required to have a tea brewing station.
13. Lady Astor, the first female British MP, was constantly at odds with British PM Winston Churchill. During a debate, she declared that if married to him, she’d have poisoned his tea. Churchill responded ‘Madam, if I was your husband, I would drink it.’
14. ‘Root beer’ was the name chosen over ‘Root Tea’ because root beer’s first promoter felt miners were “more likely to drink a manly beer than a wimpy tea.”
15. And in more recent news, F1 driver Damon Hill had cold black tea loaded into his car rather than water so it would heat up during the race giving him a hot beverage.
16. Today, tea is the most popular manufactured drink in the world in terms of consumption. Its consumption equals all other manufactured drinks in the world.
17. White, green, oolong and black teas come from the leaves of the same tea plant species, Camellia sinensis.
18. However, herbal teas like peppermint are chamomile tea, aren’t even really tea. Instead they are tisanes (pronounced ti-zahn).
19. There is a special name for when tea leaves uncurl as hot water is poured over them. It is called ‘the agony of the leaves”.
20. Finally, ‘Low Tea’ and ‘High Tea’ are not to be confused. In fact, ‘Low’ and ‘High Tea’ actually refers to the tables they are eaten on, not how fancy they are. ‘High Tea’ is a basic, bigger meal eaten off a regular height dining table whereas ‘Low Tea’ is a classy event taken on a low table.
As for ‘Afternoon Tea’ that was always a very sophisticated event which also shouldn’t be confused for ‘High Tea’.
However, here at AfternoonTea4u we obviously think that subject deserves an entire blog post all to itself. So keep a look out next month for our next blog, “The History and Etiquette of Afternoon Tea”.
Images Sources: Wikimedia Commons; Haneburger, Nightingale, MortimerCat, China World Hotel, Beijing