If you buy something through a link in our posts, we may get a small share of the sale.
The British have a long term love-affair with drinking tea. Many people across the United Kingdom drink tea on a daily basis, adhere to a specific teatime etiquette, and some even drink many cups each day. You might be asking yourself, exactly what kind of tea do they drink in England?
There are over 1,500 different types of tea in England with different tastes, colors, and styles. Black Tea is by far the most popular and is a staple in most English homes. Earl Grey, Oolong, and herbal teas are also popular choices.
Tea is also popular across neighboring British countries such as Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, and tea preference changes accordingly.
The History of Tea in England
In the early 17th century, tea was first introduced to the British by the infamous East India Company. At the time, various types of tea (namely black tea and masala chai) were incredibly popular in India, and they were brought back to the United Kingdom when the British Empire expanded to India.
Throughout the next century, the popularity of tea only continued to grow exponentially. The British began cultivating and trading tea in huge quantities – which helped to establish drinking tea as the unofficial national pastime that it has come to be in England.
Originally, it was a delicacy reserved for the very wealthy. The ritual of tea drinking became a favorite pastime in the Royal Court soon after and quickly spread throughout the aristocracy, and then, to the common people.
The first tea shop was opened in 1717 by a man named Thomas Twining. It was immediately successful and soon other tea shops were popping up all over the country.
The Duchess of Bedford is credited with creating the ritual of Afternoon Tea, which is still a popular practice throughout the United Kingdom. It often involves light snacks and treats served alongside the freshly brewed tea as a way to hold people over until supper.
Originally, the Duchess created this ritual by mistake. She noticed that between breakfast and supper, she would get incredibly hungry – and presumably, so would everyone else. So she began to take small snacks in the afternoon and invite her friends over to share, and over the years, the light treats and a delicious cup of tea became commonplace.
As the British Empire expanded to India, the popularity of tea only continued to grow exponentially. The British began cultivating and trading tea in huge quantities – which helped to establish drinking tea as the unofficial national pastime that it has come to be in England.
What Are the Most Popular Types of Tea in England
The most popular tea in England is Black Tea. You may have heard it referred to as English Breakfast or Breakfast Tea. Black tea varieties include Kenyan and Assam.
Black tea is often purchased in tea bags in England, which makes it quicker and easier to brew than loose leaf tea. It is a very economic way of drinking tea, and you will find a box of Twinings, PG Tips, or Yorkshire Tea in every household.
It’s very flavorful and contains caffeine. The British usually drink it with milk and sugar. Traditionally, black tea was consumed without milk, but then the higher members of society realized that the heat of the tea was cracking their finest china. As such, they began to add milk, which came with the added benefit of also balancing out the bitterness.
Tea is significantly more popular than coffee in the United Kingdom, and many people drink multiple cups each day.
Earl Grey got its name from Prime Minister Charles Grey when he received it as a gift from China in 1830. Earl Grey’s are similar to black teas and contain Bergamot, a citrus oil from the bergamot orange.
As the story goes, Earl Charles Grey was sailing to China when one of the men aboard became ill, and he rushed to his aid. To say thanks, the man gifted some bergamot-scented black tea to the Earl, who took it back to England.
However, there is some controversy around this story. This is due to the fact that some believe Earl Grey never actually travelled to China. Furthermore, bergamot does not grow in China, so even if he had received black tea, it wouldn’t have been flavored with bergamot.
Regardless, Earl Grey is incredibly popular in the United Kingdom, regardless of whether or not it actually had anything to do with Charles.
It has more health benefits than black tea and is steeped for longer. The British typically drink it without milk, but might sometimes add sugar. There’s also the distinction between Earl Grey and Lady Grey to take into consideration.
Masala Chai Tea
In 3,000 BCE, King Harshavardhana would enjoy the tea as an Ayurvedic drink, using it to stay awake through long court days. Along with that, it was used to cure various ailments – and that is where the popularity spread.
The name translates to ‘spiced tea’ and its modern-day variation typically includes black tea combined with delicious warming spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and even black peppercorns.
However, there are many different variations of Masala Chai across Asia and Britain. For example, there is a type of chai called Noon Chai which is made from pistachios, almonds, salt, milk, spices, and baking soda, rendering it a beautiful pink colour.
There is also Karak Chai which is made with a stronger ratio of tea leaves and evaporated milk. These types of chais are spreading across the UK in both loose leaf form and powder form.
It has a variety of health benefits and is combined with milk and sweetener for a flavorful treat. It’s traditionally served hot, but cold Chai drinks are growing in popularity in Britain as well as throughout cafes around the world.
Green Tea originated in China and due to its health benefits its popularity has increased drastically over the past decade in Britain. It is light green in color and contains caffeine. It has a very fresh earthy aroma and is consumed without milk, but many enjoy adding a bit of honey.
There are two main types of green tea consumed in Britain: roasted green tea (usually from China) and steamed green tea (usually from Japan). Whilst steamed green tea is especially delicious in loose leaf form, you will find that the majority of green tea drinkers in the UK drink roasted green tea in teabag form.
Oolong is another Chinese tea that is semi-fermented. It is often prepared using loose tea leaves and has a smoky and fruity flavor.
Oolong can be pricey, so it isn’t consumed as often as some of the black tea varieties discussed above.
Herbal teas include various combinations of herbs and flowers that are prepared with boiling water into a tasty tea-like beverage. The varieties are endless, with options ranging from peppermint, chamomile, and hibiscus. They have a variety of health properties and many drink herbal teas medicinally in Britain to help with everything from nausea to anxiety.
Many people choose to consume herbal tea in the evening due to the lack of caffeine content in many varieties. Some herbal teas even contain ingredients that will help you relax and drift into a deep, restful sleep.
How to Make the Perfect Cup of English Tea
The preparation of the perfect cup of tea depends largely on the individual, and the nuances involved with tea tasting. Tea lovers often have their own specific rituals and everyone claims theirs is the best, but some basic rules for making tea are generally agreed upon. For a perfect cup of tea, follow these simple instructions.
- Fill a kettle with cool water and bring to a boil
- Warm the teapot with some boiled water and then put it out.
- Place one teaspoon of fresh loose leaf tea into the teapot per person.
- Cover the tea leaves with boiling water. You will want one cup of water per person and a little extra for the pot.
- Let the tea infuse for 3-4 minutes (for English black tea, as steeping time and temperatures vary for other types of tea).
- Pour the tea into cups through a tea strainer. For those who take milk with their tea, add the milk to the cup before pouring the tea.
- Add sugar to taste!
However, this depends greatly on the type of tea, the preference of the person drinking it, and the style of brewing. For example, loose leaf green tea is best served at 158°F.
Following these instructions will ensure that you brew a delicious cup of tea that would impress even the most expert tea connoisseur.
Enjoy sipping your tea alongside a packet of Jaffa Cakes or Chocolate Fingers and you’ll feel as though you could be right at home during an Afternoon Tea at the Royal Court.
Scott is the founder of TeaMinded. He enjoys tasting and discovering teas from across the globe, with green teas and ceremonial matcha from Japan being among his favorites. He’s grateful to be immersed in the tea community, always learning and sharing along the journey.