The British Cuppa

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The Brits don't mess around when it comes to their tea. It is said that today, the British drink over 100 million cups of tea daily. That's a lot of cuppas! The UK has a history filled with so much stealing, treason and war over tea; it sounds like a Hollywood hit drama. They are one of the largest tea drinking nations per capita. But, what fueled this obsession over tea? And what is the proper way to drink tea for the Brits? 

HISTORY: During the mid 1600s, the UK was unable to import coffee from the Mediterranean region due to war. This pushed the East India Company to capitalize on the importation of tea from China, starting the British love affair with the beverage. Then, in the 1700s taxes on tea were so high, that black market smuggled tea and fake tea were rampant.  The lower priced, lower quality tea allowed many workers access to the drink (even if it was just a mixture of leaves, not necessarily always tea), growing its popularity. 

TRADITIONS: It wasn't until the late 1800s that The Duchess of Bedford kickstarted the tradition of afternoon tea. She would host tea and snacks in the late afternoon as a pick-me-up and time to catch up with friends. The Buckingham Palace started to expand on this, making afternoon tea quite the social affair. This concept stuck, as it is the way most people think of traditional British tea today. Another British tradition, high tea, has nothing to do with high society, as many think. It was actually the practice of labor workers who would have a hot meal and tea at the end of a shift during the Industrial Revolution. People of all statuses drank and respected tea and the time it gave them to slow down. The Women Liberation Movement used it as an excuse to gather and discuss politics and soldiers used it as a moral booster and break from the chaos of war. 

THE PERFECT CUPPA: As with all tea, freshly boiled spring water is the idea partner for your tea leaves. There is no quick steeping for British tea, usually the leaves are left to brew for anywhere between two and five minutes. Most commonly, you'll come across Brits drinking English Breakfast Tea, a blend of black teas. Now, here's where the British bit comes in: MILK. The Brits have a long history with their love of milk in black tea that dates back to their days in India. But, what comes first - the tea or the milk? The following has been standardized by scientists at The University Of London: 

  • If the tea is brewed in a cup, the milk should be added to the cup after the tea. This ensures that the milk doesn't tamper with the brewing process.
  • If the tea is brewed separately in a pot, the milk should be added to the cup before the tea. 

TERMINOLOGY: Not only do Brits love their tea, they love their slang. Here are some common slang terms for tea lovers. 

  • Builders Brew - extra strong tea with milk and sugar. It's the way that workers historically took their tea.
  • Cuppa - shorthand for 'a cup of tea'.
  • White Without - When you take your tea with milk, but no sugar. 
  • Dunking - The act of putting a biscuit into your tea. 

Now that we've filled your brain with knowledge of British tea culture, go put the kettle on and make yourself a nice cuppa - the British way!