Whilst drinking tea is often seen as a very British thing, we have to admit that we didn’t invent it. Legend has it that 5000 years ago, leaves blew into some water that exiled Chinese emperor Shen Nung was boiling for himself. A keen herbalist, the curious emperor tried it and was immediately relaxed. This may be a story, but the rest is history.
Containers of tea have been found in tombs dating from the Han dynasty from 206 BC. But the real age of tea drinking began in the Tang dynasty from 618 AD.
Tea first began to trickle through to Europe when the Dutch imported loose tea in 1606 from China to Holland where it then spread to Western Europe. As it was so expensive, it became a luxury reserved for the wealthy.
In the early to mid seventeenth century, the marriage of King Charles II brought Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza to the UK. Her love of tea spread amongst the upper classes who quickly took to ‘taking tea’. Its popularity filtered down through coffee houses and spread to the middle classes, though taxation of tea made it too expensive for the working classes.
Smuggling was rife and, at one point, more tea was brought into Britain illegally, than legally. No quality control meant used tea leaves or leaves of other plants were added to bulk out. If it didn’t look convincing, sheep’s dung or even poisonous copper carbonate were used to disguise the color. To end this madness, William Pitt the Younger cut tax from 119% to 12.5% and smuggling stopped.
Tea was cultivated in India, first in Assam, then spread to other regions and in 1888, production was so great, imports from India overtook that of China. Increased competition and greater supply saw tea consumption in Britain leap to 6lbs per head. In fact, tea became so entrenched in the British way of life, during the First and Second World Wars, the British Government took control of the importation of tea to ensure supplies of the morale-boosting brew continued to flow.
Our place in history began in 1886 when Charles Taylor began creating bespoke blends of tea to suit different regions’ water using quality teas from around the world. Since then, we’ve seen the introduction of teabags first in America, then Britain, as well as decaffeinated teas and all manner of wonderful blends and flavors.
Today, we export our speciality teas to over 35 countries worldwide. We also own a priceless treasure, the very last chest of tea sold in the London Tea Auction – Hellbodde Estate Ceylon Flowery Pekoe – which now resides in what many regard as the spiritual home of great tea… Yorkshire.