Kerrie Woodhouse

Whimsical Watercolour

Is the national drink of Britain actually Portuguese?

Fascinating factsKerrie Woodhouse

Tea is such a British institution.

But is the national drink of Britain actually Portuguese? I think, perhaps it just might be.

The very first account of tea was recorded by Samuel Pepys. Pepys was a naval administrator and Member of Parliament whose diary has become a most important source of British history. In 1660, Pepys notes that he sent for a cup of tea - a new drink from China. Tea probably entered England by ship, from Amsterdam, thanks to the Dutch East India Company.

In spite of the timeline, it is usually not Samuel Pepys who is thought of as introducing tea to England. That title goes to the wife of King Charles II. Catherine of Braganza was born into the most senior noble house of Portugal and was the Queen of England Scotland and Ireland from 1662 to 1685.

is the national drink of Britain actually Portuguese

Tea reached Portugal in the 16th century, being first introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China. Catherine of Braganza was an established tea drinker when she married King Charles II. Her dowry included a chest of tea!

It was Catherine’s tea drinking habits that strongly influenced the aristocracy. In place of wine, ale and spirits, tea gradually became the court drink. Before long, drinking tea became universal among the English upper class. Tea was soon being sold in markets, and became a part of the regular trade of the English East India Company.

She was an interesting woman, Catherine. A devout, but private Catholic. She did not bear any heirs and had several miscarriages. She spent her life separated from her family and had to contend with her husband’s many mistresses. Her inability to produce an heir brought Charles under pressure to divorce Catherine - but he did not. He is said to have sided with her against his mistresses and insisted that she be treated with respect. (Do as I say and not as I do, perhaps….?)

It doesn’t sound too terrific for poor old Catherine, does it? But, as they always say…

You can’t buy happiness but you can buy tea and that’s kind of the same thing

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