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It is difficult to state exactly when tea was first brought to Britain. Some would say as early as 1633, when returning men of the East India Company would present friends and relatives with a parcel of tea leaves before embarking on their next voyage to the Far East. The only trouble was that they did not give the recipients any instructions as to what to do with the leaves. Most boiled them, drained the liquor away and ate the leaves – thinking they were an exotic Far Eastern cabbage.

The first recorded mention of tea in Britain was when in 1657 Thomas Garway of Garraway’s Coffee House in Exchange Alley, London, began selling the beverage.

In 1662 the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza came to Britain to marry King Charles II bringing as her dowry chests of tea.

The East India Company, who had the monopoly under an Elizabethan charter on importing of goods from the Far East, tried making even more money from tea by withholding stocks of it from the market, thus inflating the price.

The Tea Act of 1733 gave the East India Company the same monopolistic right in the new American colonies, causing the Boston Tea Party and eventually the American War of Independence.

The first teas from India were sold at a London auction in 1834 and in 1867 were joined by teas from Ceylon.

The popularity of afternoon tea can be attributed to Anna, wife of the seventh Duke of Bedford, who created the custom when she started taking tea in the afternoon to stave off the pangs of hunger which she found attacked her during the long interval between lunch and dinner.


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