Great Britain’s relationship with tea goes back all the way to the 1600s, when it was first introduced and became popular among aristocrats. Compare that to today, when pretty much everyone in the country enjoys a cuppa in their own unique way. Read on for a few tea customs and traditions that are quintessentially British.
Reading the tea leaves
Before the introduction of the tea bag in the 1950s, loose leaf tea was typically prepared in a tea pot. A fun tradition that often accompanied the preparation of tea was tasseography, or the “reading of the tea leaves.” After the tea was consumed, the cup was given a final swirl, resulting in the leaves forming a pattern at the bottom of the cup. The tea leaf reader would then attempt to predict the future of the drinker by interpreting said pattern. Talk about drinking to the future!
In the early 1700s, a new form of entertainment was born: the tea dance. These events were held in public “pleasure” gardens where people would gather to meet, watch performers, dance and – of course – drink tea.
Everything stops for tea in the UK, so it only makes sense that there have been countless inventions brought to life to make the tea drinking experience more enjoyable -- and convenient. Enter the Teasmade, a device that would prepare a cup of steaming hot tea in conjunction with a wake-up alarm.
Before going to bed, the user would fill the pot with tea, the kettle with water and set the alarm. At the designated time, the tea would start brewing, and would thus wake its owner. Brilliant!
In 1864, the Aerated Bread Company began serving tea and snacks to its customers, and in doing so, essentially became the first teashop. Interestingly enough, these establishments were the only places at the time where unaccompanied women could meet friends without hurting their reputations. While coffee shops have become the new teashop of today, there are a number of them that still exist today, and should be visited on any trip to the UK.
Established to break up long days spent working in factories or toiling the land, midafternoon tea breaks have become a national institution. They also led to the creation of the role of the “tea lady,” the hero of the office who would ensure a steady supply of tea and biscuits to the workforce via a dedicated tea trolley. Over the years, changing office culture and the introduction of vending machines have essentially made the tea lady a thing of the past. Nevertheless, tea breaks remain a regular part of your average Brit’s day.