Tangled Tea History
One story in Tea’s deep history. How a foreign duchess gave England their tea.
According to Chinese legends the first cup of tea was brewed entirely by accident in 2737 B.C. Emperor Shen Nong was boiling water in his garden when a tea leaf fell into his pot. Like all of us, the emperor recognized how special this accident was and thus began the early days of tea.
Over the following centuries tea grew in popularity. It was exported from China by the Dutch and Portuguese and made available to the European elite in very limited quantities. In 1600 Queen Elizabeth I of England granted a charter to the now famous East India Company granting a monopoly over the tea trade. Many believe that this is the moment the English recognized the value of tea and became the tea infatuated country that exists today. But if you know about a little lady named Catherine, you know this is not true.
Catherine of Braganza was a Portuguese duchess who married Charles I of England during the 1600’s. The Portuguese were invested in the tea trade long before the English because of Portugal’s early trade routes to China. For this reason, many in Portugal had already recognized the wonders of tea.
When Catherine of Braganza landed in England on the eve of her wedding to Charles, she found her self in a strange land with strange customs. Due to her religious and cultural differences with those at court, Catherine initially struggled in England. As a way to sooth herself she drank tea, as reminder of Portugal. The longer Catherine stayed in England the more of a trend-setter she became. Her habit of drinking tea caught on at court and began a craze in England. This is actually where the English love affair with tea truly began. Yes, a young, homesick duchess from Portugal popularized tea drinking in England.
When Catherine of Braganza popularized tea drinking in Europe she generally drank black tea, as was the general Portuguese custom. Over time the English began the custom of adding sugar and milk to their cups as a way to protect their customary fine china tea cups from high temperatures which could cause the cups to crack. The British also developed the concept of “afternoon tea”. After England’s first major exposure to tea through Catherine, the country embraced tea and made the drink their own. The duchess would be amazed at how deep-rooted her custom has become in English culture.
Catherine of Braganza’s story is interesting in the sense that a foreigner brought one of England’s greatest traditions to the country. But her story also illustrates the way tea can evolve and transform to be enjoyed in many different ways.
The best way to prepare your cup of tea in your preferred style is to craft it yourself! Teawrights lets the drinker control their cup of tea from start to finish. You can prepare it in the traditional English style or any other style you enjoy, and maybe start some traditions like Catherine of Braganza.