First let’s distinguish between the idea of tea drinking in England, and the more elaborate ritual of taking afternoon tea (a light meal), which evolved much later.
When and how did tea become so popular in England? Portugal was probably most responsible. In 1662, when Charles the II married a member of the Portuguese royal family, Catherine of Braganza, she brought tea with her as part of her dowry, and tea soon became the official court beverage in the 1660’s. At that time, tea was scarce, expensive and highly taxed – a rare luxury good that only the aristocracy and upper classes could afford.
The powerful East India Trading Company began providing King Charles II with small gifts of tea from China for Catherine in order to curry his favor and perhaps win special rights and privileges for the company, which may have included a near monopoly on tea imported from China. Continue reading