Although Britain was never a country to grow tea, English people are known to be a tea-drinking nation. The British tea history starts from 1660s. In 1662 Charles II from the English House of Stuart married the princess of Portugal Catherine of Braganza and tea, which at that time was very rare and expensive, was a gift from the English East India Company for their marriage. It became a really popular beverage and quickly replaced ale. Since then tea became something that is always associated with England.
Although tea drinking became popular in the 17th century, the afternoon tea as a social ritual appeared only in 1840s, almost two centuries later. The origin of this tradition is usually associated with Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. At that time the dinner was usually served late in the evening at 8:30 - 9 p.m. It is said that growing hungry by mid-afternoon she had asked her servants to bring tea, bread and butter to her boudoir. Soon that was revealed and the afternoon tea became a custom in English households.
Along with the tradition of the afternoon tea came special tableware and even the tea gown. Five O'Clock Tea became an event full of classic British grace and style, a symbol of fashion and elegance. Since the late 1880s grand hotels have been offering afternoon tea to their guests. Such world famous hotels as The Savoy, The Waldorf Hilton, The Ritz Hotel, The Lanesborough Hotel are still keeping those traditions. Each year The Tea Council Inspectors inspect tea rooms and hotels in order to recognize and award those who serve the very best tea. The Tea Council presents members of its prestigious Tea Guild with the highly sought accolades of Top London Afternoon Tea and Top Tea Place. Afternoon tea is usually served from 3.30 to 5 pm. You will need an advance reservation in many places. As for the tea gown there is a dress code in most places and if a gentleman has forgotten his own tie he should ask the hall porter to lend him one.
The tradition of drinking tea has influenced the English language as well. For instance, if you do not like something you can say that it is not your cup of tea and "being mother" means pouring the tea from the teapot into the teacups.
To make a proper cup of tea, the teapot should be warmed by pouring in some of the boiling water, swishing it around and emptying it again. The tradition requires one spoon of tea-leaves per person and one for the pot. After pouring the boiled water onto the tea the pot needs to be left for a few minutes (five or so). The milk has to be put in the cup first and then the tea can be poured in. After that more boiling water is added to the teapot for the extra teacups and the pot is covered with a special tea-cozy so that the tea does not cool. Sugar is usually added by taste. Thinly sliced sandwiches, smoked salmon, eggs and fruit tarts are the things that go along with the English afternoon tea. Sticking to all these rules makes the taste of your tea more like that of the tea that the English people drink at the London afternoon tea ceremonies. So if you are not in London just follow the instructions and enjoy your cup!