London, 5th July: Afternoon tea is the most quintessential of English customs and it is drunk daily or often many times a day. But how did this love of tea come to Britain?
While the custom of drinking tea dates back to the third millennium BC in China and became popular in England during the 1660s by King Charles II and his wife the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza, it was not until the 19th century that the concept of ‘afternoon tea’ first appeared.
In 1662, King Charles II married a Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, the daughter Portugal’s King John IV. She brought with her a very large dowry, including the territories of Tangiers in North Africa and Bombay, modern-day Mumbai, India.
It is reported that she also brought with her a supply of Chinese tea leaves as tea or Cha, as it is called in Portuguese was a popular drink in Portugal.
The tea in England was an expensive product at that time, meant for rich only, and was kept under lock. Catherine of Braganza, introduced the ritual of drinking teas to the English Royal Court and the habit was adopted by the aristocracy.
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The Queen’s habit of drinking tea in the afternoon quickly became immensely fashionable and popular at the English Court.
The first tea shop for ladies was opened in 1717 by Thomas Twining and slowly tea shops began to appear throughout England making the drinking of teas available to everyone. The British further developed their love of teas during the years of the British Empire in India.
It was the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza that proved to be a turning point in the history of tea in Britain. She was a Portuguese princess, and a tea addict, and it was her love of the drink that established tea as a fashionable beverage.
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