If you’ve visited this site before you might recall that yours truly and various other contributors have occasionally discussed (and sometimes debunked) some of the better known myths about tea. To name just a few, there’s the one about the Chinese emperor who discovered tea some centuries ago when tea leaves drifted on the wind into a kettle of water he was boiling. There’s the one about monkey-picked tea, and there’s the ever popular one about rinsing tea for 30 seconds to decaffeinate it.
All of which have been repeated so many times that they have taken on a ring of truth. Which made me think about another alleged fact about tea – the one that claims that tea first came to England sometime around 1662 when a Portuguese royal named Catherine of Braganza brought it with her upon her marriage to the British king, Charles II.
Which sounds like such a nifty story that I couldn’t help wondering if it’s actually true. I suspect that most Brits probably wouldn’t know the name of this alleged benefactor, and I don’t think the nation has done anything to commemorate her contributions to their culture, which is fine, I guess, since someone was going to bring tea there at some point, whether it was Catherine or someone else.
Given that this is a brief article and not a dissertation, I decided I’d need to limit my efforts to ferret out the truth of this matter, turning to one of my favorite works of tea history and also seeing how far back in that archive Catherine’s name turns up – in relation to tea, that is.
So the last initiative first. As it turns out there are actually several books about Catherine, including a number of biographies and a recent work of fiction called The Merry Monarch’s Wife: The Story of Catherine of Braganza. Judging from the works referenced here, it appears that Catherine was more often credited with popularizing tea drinking in England rather than introducing it there. As for the earliest reference in this particular archive, it comes on page 666 of an 1832 volume called The Book of Days.
As for my favorite and most often-cited work of tea history, Victor Mair and Erling Hoh’s The True History of Tea, those esteemed authors claim that Catherine is “credited with having brought the drink of temperance into the English royal family.” None of which really settles the question of who actually was the first to bring tea to England, but that’s a topic for another day.
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