As a nation, we have been drinking tea for more than 350 years. We love our mugs of builders’ brew or our delicate blends in china cups with saucers.
It was first traded in Britain by the merchant Thomas Garway. He offered it in dry and liquid form at his coffee house in Exchange Alley in London, holding his first public sale in 1657.
By 1700, tea was on sale by more than 500 coffee houses in London. Tavern keepers were dismayed, as was the Government by the decline in revenues from the sale of alcohol.
By the middle of the 18th century, tea had replaced ale and gin as the drink of the masses and had become Britain’s most popular beverage.
Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, is reputed to have originated the idea of afternoon tea in the early 1800s. She conceived the idea of having tea at around four or five in the afternoon to ward off the hunger pangs between lunch and dinner.
Sometime earlier, the Earl of Sandwich had the idea of putting a filling between two slices of bread. These habits soon became a good reason for social gatherings and started a trend that is still very much a part of British life.
The popularity of tea spread. It became an essential part of people’s entertainment outside the home.
By 1732, tea would finish off by the upper classes by an evening spent dancing or watching fireworks in Vauxhall or Ranelagh Gardens. Following this, tea gardens opened all over the country on Saturdays and Sundays, with tea being served as the high point of the afternoon.
Dancing was included as part of the day’s festivities, so from the tea gardens came the idea of the tea dance, which remained fashionable in Britain until World War II.
If you love your afternoon tea, check out some of our teapots and cups, as well as napkins and side plates for those all-important finger sandwiches and slices of cake.