The British were not the first people to drink tea and they were not even the first Europeans to do so. They have never grown tea on their own soil, except in very modest amounts at one or two plantations, nor do they drink the most tea on a per capita basis. And yet when we think of great tea-drinking nations Great Britain is probably one of the first ones that will spring to mind. It would be beyond the scope of an article like this one to list all of the great British tea pioneers responsible for this state of affairs, but here are a few noteworthy ones.
Catherine of Braganza
It’s not completely certain when tea first appeared in England. It may have been a decade or more before the marriage of Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza to Englishman Charles II, in 1662, but it’s Catherine who’s typically credited with popularizing the drink among English royalty and upper classes.
Charles Bruce/Robert Bruce/Robert Fortune
While the British could supply their need for tea by dealing with the Chinese as time passed it became more and more to their advantage not to do so. In the early nineteenth century, the British decided to grow their own supplies in India and it was largely thanks to the efforts of Fortune and Scottish brothers Robert and Charles Bruce that it all came to pass. Read more about Fortune’s exploits in China, here.
Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford
It may be one of the many myths and legends of tea or it might just be true, but it’s the Duchess of Bedford who’s credited with coming up with the distinctively British custom known as afternoon tea.
While there were undoubtedly British tea merchants doing business before Thomas Twining started a tea shop in 1706, it’s probably a good bet that none of the companies they started have survived and thrived to this day, as is the case with Twinings of London. (See products.)
Arguably one of the most recognizable names in the tea business, the man who lent his name to Lipton tea was a relative latecomer to tea selling. Read a brief overview of his exploits here and get more on the whole thrilling saga in his most recent biography, A Full Cup: Sir Thomas Lipton’s Extraordinary Life and His Quest for the America’s Cup.
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