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It is no understatement to say that tea has had a huge impact on the British and their history. Since it arrived on British soil in the seventeenth century, its presence has been felt everywhere, from the country houses of the rich to the ‘one up, one down’ cottages of poor. Although at first a luxury drink, affordable only by the wealthiest, by the twentieth century tea was one of the cheapest refreshments available. Over the last two hundred years, tea has become one of life’s simple pleasures: from morning until evening, it revives the weary, relieves the thirsty and reassures those in need of solace.

The social history of tea and tea drinking tells us much about the British, including their culture, industry and sense of aesthetics. From fashion, decorative arts and even garden design to manufacturing, tea has made an appearance in almost every sphere of British life. At times it has even altered the course of history. Thanks to the replacement of gin with tea as a popular and increasingly affordable drink during the eighteenth century, people’s life expectancy underwent a significant rise. During the nineteenth century, the temperance movement relied on tea as an attractive alternative to alcohol when persuading people to ‘sign the pledge’. Some historians also believe, along with Winston Churchill, that tea was crucial in maintaining morale during the Second World War and may even have helped defeat Germany. Above and beyond these specific examples, tea has fundamentally shaped the British way of life. The ‘nice cup of tea’ has become something of an institution.

This enlightening book explains how – and why – this had happened. It paints a clear picture of tea’s eventful history, highlighting some of its most absorbing or quirky aspects. For instance, you will find out about the curious invention of the tea bag, discover when tea gowns were worn and why tango teas became popular, and see how teapots varied from the functional to the fashionable. Ultimately, you will gain a vivid picture of how tea has affected the lives of so many people. More than a social history of tea, this is a celebration of Britain’s favourite drink.


The Waitress (1872), an oil painting by John Robert Dicksee.

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