The English are renowned for their love of tea, but Great Britain was actually the last of the main European seafaring nations to participate in the East Indian and Chinese trade. Portugal and Holland dominated the tea trade for a long time, and the first samples of tea did not reach Great Britain until the early 1650’s. Elizabeth I had founded the John Company in the year 1600 and had planned to promote trade between Great Britain and Asia, but internal problems, such as the Cromwellian Civil War, had weakened the country and made it fall behind.
King Charles II had been brought up in Hague and tea drinking was therefore a natural part of his life. While still in exile, he married Portuguese Chatherine de Braganza in 1662. Chatherine de Braganza brought Tangier and Bombay as a part of her dowry, which meant that the John Company suddenly had two excellent bases in Asia. As the British monarchy regained its strength, the John Company flourished and tea began to replace ale as favourite drink among the English.
Long before tea arrived to Europe, the British were fond of warm sweetened drinks, including highly popular possets which had been consumed since the middle ages. Possets are hot milk-based alcoholic beverages, and it therefore comes as no surprise that the British soon developed a taste for tea served with milk and sugar.
The first British coffee house was founded in London in 1652, and this establishment was soon to be followed by many others. As the interest in tea grew on the British Isles, these coffee houses started serving tea, but it wasn’t until 1706 that the first house specializing in tea was opened. During the 18th century, the British began to import large quantities of tea accessories from China, including tea cups, tea pots, sugar bowls and special milk jugs made from porcelain.