Today the habit of tea drinking is inexorably linked to England, despite the fact that the British were fairly late on the tea scene. Ironically the first mention of tea in English literature is a translation of a Dutchman’s travels to the
East. Tea was first brought to England via Holland on Dutch ships. As tea grew to become an “in” beverage, the British government became quite incensed that a nation as tiny as the Netherlands could control the shipment of tea to the UK. In 1651 the British government passed the Navigation Acts, which forbade the importation of any products on non-British ships. Traders and Dutchmen, being resourceful, continued the trade in the usual manner but for one little wrinkle – the tea was transferred in Holland to British ships!
Early in British life, tea was known as a health beverage and claimed all sorts of curative powers. In the 1650s, Garway’s Coffee House proclaimed that, “Tea makes the body active and lusty. Tea is declared to be the most wholesome; preserving perfect health until extreme Old Age.”
Afternoon tea was the invention of Anna, wife of the seventh Duke of Bedford. At the time custom dictated only two planned meals per day: a hearty breakfast and a late evening dinner. Anna in an effort to ease the mid-day “sinking feeling”, began instructing her servants to prepare tea and cakes in the late afternoon. Thus began a fashionable habit, which still exists today.