• Tastes Of History

On This Day: Catherine of Braganza and tea

Updated: Jan 5

December 31st, 1705: Catherine of Braganza, widow of Charles II whom she had married in 1662, died in Lisbon, Portugal.

Most notably, from our food history perspective, Catherine is said to have brought the tea drinking habit to the Royal Court. The history of European interactions with tea dates back to the mid-16th century. Several years later, in 1615, the earliest known reference to tea by an Englishman occurs in a letter between two agents of the British East India Company, one in Japan and a counterpart stationed in then-Portuguese Macao, China. The latter is asked to send 'a pot of the best sort of chaw', probably a phonetic approximation of the local Cantonese dialect word for tea, 'chàh'.


It would be several more years before tea was actually sold in England. Given the Catherine of Braganza connection, it is interesting to discover that green tea, exported from China, was first introduced in the coffeehouses of London shortly before the 1660 Stuart Restoration. In 1657, for example, a tobacconist and coffee house owner, Thomas Garway, was the first person in England to sell tea as a leaf and beverage at his London coffeehouse in Exchange Alley. In 1660, Samuel Pepys, ever curious for novelty, tasted the new drink on September 25th. He recorded the experience in his diary, writing: 'I did send for a cup of tee, (a China drink) of which I had never had drunk before'.

Imports of tea into Britain began in earnest from this point onwards as the drink's popularity filtered downward from the highest echelons of polite society to eventually become a common drink. Indeed, since the 18th-century, the United Kingdom has been one of the world's largest tea consumers, with an average annual consumption of 1.9 kilograms (4.2 lb) per person.

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