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What is English Tea?

English Tea: some definitions.

English tea is an ambiguous term. It has gained many quite different meanings over England\’s long association with tea. Here we try to provide you with some definitions.

Only a few acres are under cultivation in England for growing tea and this is largely for novelty value as the climate in terms of temperature, humidity and rainfall is not well suited to tea growing. The soils too need to be acidic for camellia sinensis to grow, being native to mountainous areas with poor soils. The cost of labour here is also prohibitively expensive for the time consuming, skilled task of picking and processing tea. For these reasons English tea is defined more broadly as to what is grown here!

A global reputation

For over a century England has gained a global reputation for the skill of its tea tasters in creating superb blended teas. This stems from its long history of importing black tea from China. This is initially thanks to Dutch traders in 1658. It was not until 1689 that England was allowed to import tea direct from China. However, unable to gain a monopoly of trading with China itself, Britain then planted its own gardens in India: Darjeeling in 1859, Assam in 1823 and Nilgiri; in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon, in 1866) and later in Kenya.

These Empire-grown teas were then blended to create teas with popular characteristics. Some of these then became well-known brands packaged and promoted throughout the Empire and today, across the world. These teas have names such as English Breakfast, Afternoon Blend and Earl Grey, named after the British Prime Minister at the time. England is one of the largest tea exporting nations yet virtually none of it is grown here! These blends are based upon black teas, for these oxidised teas are less perishable and can therefore be stored well. Today however shipping transit times are much shorter so blended green teas can be exported reliably too.

Of course England has been associated with tea for a not entirely positive reason. In 1773 the inhabitants of Boston in America revolted against tea imported exclusively from England and subject to high levels of taxation imposed by the Crown. The Boston Tea Party culminated in ship-loads of tea being thrown into the harbour with the refrain ‘no taxation without representation!\’

The culture of English Tea

Tea became associated with England since the early 18th century when Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford invited her society friends to enjoy tea, sandwiches, cakes and biscuits at that vacant stage of the day between lunch and dinner when she was feeling in need of a little sustenance and social company. While the presence of cucumber sandwiches and elegant pastries are now rare, a cup of good afternoon tea is still a mainstay of the English psyche. It is also an aspiration which keeps many good hotels busy and a few have even become famous for the quality and atmosphere of their civilised tea-time traditions. The Ritz, Dorchester and Claridges would not be quite the same without their celebrated afternoon teas. Yet for most occasions English tea is consumed in vast quantities anytime, anywhere in a mug with milk and even sugar much to the disgust of the Chinese who have of course been consuming and growing tea for millennia – drunk green with neither milk nor sugar!

English Tea Abroad

English tea is therefore best regarded for its brands of blended teas. These can be mass-market bagged teas such as PG Tips, Tetley and Typhoo or brands of packaged teas such as Twinings, Taylors of Harrogate or ourselves, Grey’s Teas, packed to order from a large range of loose, speciality and unblended teas. England is now a source of highly innovative tea blending bringing other flavours, Chinese, Indian and other national influences to bear and so expanding the appeal of this traditional beverage. These can include jasmine, rose, masala chai and mango flavoured teas.

Today, England is pioneering organically grown teas to internationally recognised standards, such as Soil Association. It is also active in ensuring that big brands and small packers alike source their teas ethically. Growers must pay their workers fair rates of pay and ensure that their families have access to good standards of healthcare and education, even in the remote areas where tea is often grown.

See our website catalogue section for English Blended Teas.

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