Thursday, 2 September 2010

The history of your cuppa

All about tea
At the August meeting of Old Buckenham Women’s Institute they were taken on a journey into the history of tea. The speaker was Christine Rooke and her talk was entitled “From Tea Bowl to Tea Bag”.
Tea as a drink, was discovered, by accident, in China nearly 5000 years ago. The inventor, Shennong, happened to be sitting beneath a camellia sinensis bush when a few of the leaves dropped into his bowl of boiled water. So began the history of tea drinking.
Dried tea leaves did not arrive in Europe until the early seventeenth century, brought by Dutch and Portuguese traders. Until this time coffee and chocolate were the fashionable drinks in European cities. It took a royal marriage to publicise tea drinking in the British court and to establish it in the salons of the aristocracy. It was the wife of Charles II, Catherine of Braganza, to thank for the love of that daily cuppa.
Tea remained very expensive, leaves being used again and again in poorer households. Eventually Twinings opened a shop in the Strand in London and gradually consumers gained access to both black and green tea.
Tea of, course, was served in china. This pottery was imported from China until English potters were able to replicate the fine porcelain of the Far East. Tea bowls were replaced with cups and milk and sugar crept into the brew.
Eventually tea plantations were created throughout the British Empire to supply the ever-growing demand of the home market. It took the Americans to invent the tea bag a hundred years ago, rendering the tea strainer obsolete.
Tea is still the most popular drink in the UK and a vast range can be found to choose from on the supermarket shelves. It is no longer so expensive to buy that it is kept in a locked tea caddy and there is, remarkably, a tea plantation in Cornwall.
The Chinese tea ceremony eventually became, over the centuries, the British institution of afternoon tea.
The next WI meeting is on Thursday 23 September in Old Buvkenham Village hall starting at 7.30pm and the subject of the talk will be ‘Jack Juby and his life with Heavy Horses’.

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