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English tea: main blends, history and traditions

Let’s take a look at the different blends of English tea and find out about the history of the famous classic drink; let’s learn to make tea the English way and delve into the atmosphere of the traditional British tea-party!

English tea: main blends, history and traditions

Everything changes: times, generations, fashion, the language we speak, art. But one thing is perpetual: English people and their tradition of drinking tea up to six times a day. English tea is a keystone of the nation’s cultural code and one of the main symbols of Great Britain as important as Big Ben, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, the Liverpool Four and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth herself.

Tea is a very popular drink in Britain despite the fact that it’s not produced in England. English people consume about 2 kg of dried tea-leaves per capita each year, which is one of the highest consumption rates in the world.

Morning tea (an essential start to a successful day) is taken twice: the first cup at maybe 5 or 6 am and the second an hour or two later at breakfast. It is always served with milk which makes it revitalizing and gives people energy for the day ahead.

A third cup might follow at midday with lunch. Indeed, it’s a great way to refresh oneself in the middle of the day. A bit later comes the perfect moment for a tea break, which is not a tea-party of the traditional kind, but a short break from work.

The undeniable pièce de résistance, the icing on the cake that makes English tea-parties famous all over the world, is five o’clock tea. The key role in the ceremony belongs to the hot beverage with milk or a lemon slice. In both cases it’s a strong, dense, slightly bitter drink, full-bodied and inspiring, that should be enjoyed slowly as an oasis of calm . Each sip should be savoured and enjoyed. Tea-time is usually accompanied by pastries, tarts, biscuits and jam.

The sixth cup marks the end of the day: high tea, the favourite of noblemen. This last cup of the day provides a great occasion for a pleasant conversation with friends and family or can be enjoyed alone with favourite book and helps you to relax and rest.

The most popular blends of English tea in England are as follows:

  • Ceylon tea;
  • Kenyan tea;
  • English breakfast;
  • Earl Grey;
  • Green tea.

Ceylon Tea

Formerly, the main agricultural produce from the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka these days) consisted of coffee and cinnamon. But by the middle of the 19th century local coffee plantations had deteriorated and the sales of cinnamon were no longer economically profitable.

That was when the British colonists showed up on the island. Great Britain was involved in the Opium Wars against the Qing Empire, leading to tea no longer being procured from China. As a result, tea cultivation was introduced into Ceylon, an ideal environment with a perfect climate and vast amounts of available land. That’s how the English acquired their own plantations. The development of the industry and its transport and economic infrastructure resulted in increased travel routes, with tea shipments to England greatly increased compared to the Chinese era.

English tea: main blends, history and traditions

Nowadays tea is cultivated on several plantations in Sri Lanka. The strength and density of various blends depend on the characteristics of the soil. The “thickest” teas are Ruhuna, Kandi and Dimbula; middle density tea blends are Uwa and Uda Pusselawa, and the elite Nuwara-Eliya blend is characterised by its mild taste and low-level density. It’s one of the rarest and most expensive blends of all the tea blends available in England, a true gem for gourmets and collectors.

There are no secret rules for brewing Ceylon tea. It is done in accordance with the general principle: tea (preferably loose) should be steeped in hot water (not lower than 94°C). The drink should be ready in 5 to 7 minutes. Most blends are consumed hot, but some (like Uwa or Kandi) taste nice cold as well.

Richard Royal Ceylon black tea has a velvety and sophisticated taste and is famous for its slight bitterness and rich flavour. This blend is energising and exhilarating.

Kenyan Tea

By the end of the 19th century, and following the path of Christian missionaries, English colonists established settlements in the Kenyan lands. The colonisers started out developing local infrastructure, transport routes and agriculture in East Africa, and tea plantations near Nairobi were a part of these agricultural changes.

Kenya became independent in the second half of the 20th century and the country has developed its own industry ever since. Tea comprises one fifth of all Kenyan exports.

Kenyan Pekoe tea is considered one of the strongest in the world. Its taste is dense, bright, bitter, sophisticated and delicate with a sweet after-taste. Its flavour is fine, fresh and fruity. You can add a slice of lemon to your cup of Richard Royal Kenya tea to add a savoury, slightly sour taste. People who prefer gentler tastes can always add a drop of milk.

English Breakfast Tea

One of the most popular and beloved blends in England is English Breakfast. Actually it didn’t originate in England as it is a blend of Indian, Ceylon and Kenyan teas. The mixture of cultures created a balanced, golden coloured, soft and energising drink that is ideal at breakfast time. It’s one of the most popular tea blends in the world.

Morning tea-time in England invariably involves some preparation. To brew tea for a traditional English breakfast one should rinse the teapot with boiling water before putting in some Richard Royal English Breakfast and pouring on the boiling water. Then the teapot should be covered with a napkin or tea-cosy so that the tea becomes dense and strong. The traditional element of English tea drinking is milk. It can be added to soften the taste of the beverage. As a final step one can serve slices of toast with jam or marmalade and join in the traditional discussion about whether sugar is a requirement for traditional English tea (or not).

Earl Grey

Which blend of tea is served at any time of the day in England? It’s the blend that has gained all the glory on every continent due to its unique aroma of bergamot —  the famous Earl Grey.

The origin of this blend is still a mystery for researchers. Most historians think that the fragrant drink got its name from Charles Grey, the British Prime Minister during the 1830s, and the development of British trade connections of the same period. According to the most popular and pretty romantic version, there once was a ship carrying English tea and bergamot oil which ran into a bad storm. The glass bottles broke and the fragrant oil seeped into the bags of tea leaves. The sailors dried the tea and then brewed it up. The taste appeared to be irresistible.

Richard Earl Grey tea is a blend of Ceylon tea with a bitter bergamot taste and subtle citrusy aftermath. This fresh, soft, sophisticated and fragrant tea combats tiredness and energises the drinker.

Green Tea

Green tea has been becoming more and more popular in the Western world since the end of the 20th century. England was no exception to this trend. The popular tea made of minimally fermented leaves appears to be a great anti-oxidant and, because of its beneficial properties, it is the drink of choice for people who follow a healthy lifestyle. Numerous scientific and medical studies have proved green tea to provide great health benefits: it decreases risks of cardiovascular events, imbalances of the endocrine system, and tumours. This beverage is characterised by a sophisticated and delicate taste. The Richard Green Tea line includes Classic Green Tea and Green Tea with jasmine and lemon balm.English tea remains a perfect example of devotion to national traditions and is a symbol of timeless and truly inviolable values for the whole world. It really doesn’t matter if it’s black or green: for a true Englishman, tea is not merely a drink of preference: it’s a way of life.