Tea is a drink steeped in tradition and meaning. It can be bought and drank all around the globe. Many countries have their own traditions surrounding tea; from the tea ceremony in Japan practised in small rooms with a tatami floor to the more recognisable tea and biscuits served with a splash of milk that us Irish know all too well. But why do we add milk and sugar? And where did tea actually come from? And why is it so special and comforting to us?
Tea originated in China and is dated back to the 3rd century although there are myths and legends dating it even further back. It is said that Emperor Shennong took a rest under a camellia tree. While there he boiled some water to drink. Leaves from the tree fell down into his cup and infused his water creating the first brew. It was then used as a medicinal drink although some could argue it still is today. Nothing beats a hot cup of tea when you’re suffering from a head cold or just feeling a little under the weather.
It spread from China to Korea, Vietnam and Japan and is still widely popular in these areas. Each with their own customs and cultures surrounding the practise of tea drinking.
While many people view tea as quintessentially British the habit and custom of drinking it in England is actually credited to Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza wife of King Charles II. It was still quite an expensive product so was only drank by those of nobility who could afford it.
It wasn’t until the 1720s when the cheaper alternative to green tea, which was black tea, overtook green tea in popularity that milk and sugar was added into it. It’s popularity was such that soon everybody began drinking it and it became the British National drink replacing ale.
The story goes that the name Builder’s Tea (the tea we drink) came to be due to the fact that construction workers would take their tea break and would add milk and lots of sugar to their tea in order to give them energy to continue on with the work.
Tea is incredibly important part of Irish life. Secrets and stories are told over cups of teas, laughter shared and tears shed. Nobody refuses a cup of tea and if they do they are met with Mrs Doyle’s iconic line “go on, go on, go on, go on”. The only thing we Irish can’t settle when it comes to tea is which is superior: Barrys or Lyons? What do you think?