Tea was first introduced in England in 1657 when it was used for medicinal purposes. In those early years, English tea was heavily taxed so only accessible to the upper classes. At first, English tea was only available in coffee houses – men-only establishments. By the early 18th century dried tea leaves where available which women could purchase and brew at home.
Because of its high price, English tea was kept by the lady of the house rather than the housekeeper. The utensils for making English tea were brought to the parlor where the lady of the house would prepare it and serve it.
In 1840 the Duchess of Bedford began taking English tea in the afternoon as a way to fill in the long hours between the noon meal and the evening meal. She enjoyed it so much that she began to invite her friends to join her, and thus the English tradition of afternoon tea was born.
Afternoon tea is a distinctly English tradition, though it has spread to other countries. Americans often refer to it as “high tea,” perhaps because of its associations with “high society.” In England, however, “high tea” means a meal served around 6 pm, usually consisting of cold meat, sandwiches, eggs, and cake, all served at the same time. English tea may or may not be served.
English tea is usually blended black tea served with milk and sugar. There are several blends of English tea including Earl Grey, Irish Breakfast, and English Breakfast. Indian teas are most often used to make English tea blends.
English tea is usually made by first heating up the tea pot with hot water, adding the tea bags or tea leaves, and finally adding boiling water. If milk is used in English tea it is usually poured in the cup before the tea to prevent the milk from curdling.
Many people use tea bags to make English tea, but a much better tea can be made with loose tea leaves. Loose tea is usually of superior quality than the tea powder found in tea bags, and more flavor can be released when the tea leaves are allowed to circulate in the tea pot.
Because there are many blends of English tea, it has gained popularity throughout the world. Each blend of English tea offers a unique tea flavor so tea lovers can easily find a blend that suits their taste, and there are always plenty of new varieties to explore.