1610 saw the introduction of tea to Europe by Dutch tradesmen, but it wasn’t until 1658 that it first entered the British market.
An ad from the Mercurius Politicus, the precursor of the London Gazette, on Sept. 30, 1658 reads:
That excellent and by all pysitians approved China drink called by the Chineans Tcha, by other nations Tay, alias Tee, is sold at the Sultaness Head, a Cophee-house in Sweetings Rents, by the Royal Exchange, London.
Over the next 100 years tea became the drink of choice in the country. Even so, a third of a skilled worker’s weekly wage could only buy a pound of the cheapest tea.
Heavy taxation was the cause for the price hike; in mid-18th century, tea tax had reached 119%. This led to a black market as tea smugglers took advantage of the high demand by mixing fresh product with used tea leaves or other substances, unbeknownst to buyers.
Only when the tea tax was reduced to 12.5% in 1784 did tea smuggling finally end.
The social ritual we know today as afternoon tea is said to have been started in the early 1800s with one person: Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford. She choose to have tea in the late afternoon as dinner in fashionable circles was often served around 8pm.
And in case you’re wondering how that Epic Tea Time has evolved to this day, here’s Alan Rickman’s interpretation: