Tea: The Symbol of Britain
'Around 165 million cups of tea are drunk every day in Britain'
Jed Thirkettle | 24 January 2016

Italy … pasta, Germany … luxury cars, America … calories, and Britain … tea.

Around 165 million cups of tea are drunk every day in Britain. Assuming the average cup of tea when filled to the brim is 250ml, this adds up to 41,250,000 litres of brewed magic being consumed on a daily basis. We are a truly fantastic nation!

Tea originated in Asia and was known to be a drink that relaxed and calmed the consumer. The main producers of the product were China, so how did it get from the far side of the globe into the mugs of the British people? In 1606, Amsterdam received the first shipment of tea in Europe from China, and it quickly became the most popular drink in the country. The Dutch introduced tea to the rest of Europe but some countries did not quite warm to it. France went crazy for the concept of tea but disliked the real artifact, dismissing the idea of starting trade with China. Typical. England accepted tea at first, though it was slow to catch on. Little did people know that this was the beginning of the best relationship between man and drink that ever existed?

By the 1900s, Britain only imported 5% of their tea from China because the public preferred the stronger stuff from India. No surprise really. Strong tea for strong people. However, tea was only made popular in the country by the Royal Family and we have them to thank time and time again for making it a “fashionable” beverage to drink. In 1712, Queen Anne began to drink tea with breakfast in place of the more traditional beer, meaning that the drinking of tea became a special family affair, with the tea being locked away in a chest. Yet, as transport has improved over the years, tea has become cheaper to import, making it more common and thus removing the high status of the drink. As a result it is far more accessible to all, which we see in the invention of the classic “Builders’ Tea” we now know and love, whilst the same beverage is consumed in its other forms within the walls of Buckingham Palace.

Britain, an institution of Equali-“tea.”

“Tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation in this country” – Even George Orwell agreed that tea resembles all that is good in Britain in its own special way. We hold one of the only national stereotypes in the globe to be proud of, and our love of tea crops up repeatedly in today’s media. Agatha Christie, one of the most famous British authors, expressed her love of tea through her many characters, one of which being the much loved Hercule Poirot. Although the fictional detective was from Belgium, he was often seen with a cup of tea (with his pinky raised), whether working hard in his study, or enjoying a nice breakfast. Whether with friends at meals, or alone with his thoughts, tea was an ever present thing for him that undoubtedly was the sole reason for his success.

Probably the most (and only) significant line to ever have been spoken on EastEnders was by Pauline Fowler – “I’ll put the kettle on, eh?” These words have been said by people all over the country for years, as “a good cuppa”is the solution to all problems, whether someone is experiencing hardship, or simply looking to cheer a friend up.

Another example of tea appearing in the media has got to be in the “Tea V” series, Downton Abbey. The epitome of English culture wrapped up into a series of episodes every Sunday at 9pm on ITV. People would watch the programme and would be inspired to follow the wise words of Pauline Fowler (if they did not already have a brew in hand). You may say that tea did appear in a few scenes, but it was not an outstanding feature of the show. I wish to correct you and ask you, “when was there not a cup of tea in shot?”

Dogs … a man’s best friend. I think you will find tea is actually a better companion. World War One and World War Two saw millions of men in trenches, sat out in the freezing cold, miserable environment for months on end. I do not think dogs were loyal enough to follow them into the dugouts with the sounds of gunshots all around, but tea, ah tea was always there to relieve the soldiers’ when the going got tough. A morale builder for those fighting abroad, and a reassurance for the many women back home, tea was only a hot stove away from anyone.

Tea appears wherever you look, from the kitchen to the media, and it is this presence that has formed a large part of our culture, quintessentially British and symbolising all that it good about our nation.


Image used under a creative commons license.

James Routledge 2016