If anyone were to draw up a list of gastronomic indicators of British culture, a nice cup of tea would most assuredly be up there amongst the Sunday roast dinners, seaside fish and chips and pretty much any sandwich that you might care to mention. The UK Tea & Infusions Association have a handy counter on their website for the number of cups of tea drank in the United Kingdom in a single day, and it’s just topped 47.6 million. And as I write this, it’s only 12:23pm GMT. There can be no denying then, that for many itchy-kettle fingered Brits, the notion of not brewing up on a semi-regular basis is about as perplexing as one day deciding that what your breakfast cereal really needs is a good dollop of piccalilli. According to the Tea Club, four times Victorian Prime Minister William Gladstone seemingly cemented tea drinking as the nation’s elixir of choice when he famously said:
“If you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; If you are depressed, it will cheer you; If you are excited, it will calm you.”
But from a brief trawl through the internet, it’s clear that the cultural pastime of tea drinking in Britain is, comparatively speaking; really quite recent. Twinings report that drinking tea was first popularised in Britain when King Charles II married Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza in 1662 who, having been absolutely potty about the stuff, introduced it to the royal court where it was quickly adopted as a drink of the elite which, incidentally; is around half a century after America received the first cargo of tea being traded by the Dutch. Happily though over the centuries in Britain, tea has worked its way away from being solely in the confines of the tea chests and caddies of the landed gentry (due to it’s cost and prestige) to the everyday drink that we know and love for all to enjoy in its contemporary bag form.
Of course, you could argue that around 350 years of drinking tea in this country is actually quite a long time. But when I mentioned that it’s really a relatively recent tradition, I say so because current research indicates that tea has been drunk for well over 4000 years, having first purportedly been enjoyed around 2700 BC. The origins of tea drinking are thought to have started in South West China when, according to folklore as recounted by The UK Tea & Infusions Association, Emperor Shen Nung was resting beneath a tree when he noticed some leaves drop into a cauldron of boiling water which his servant had prepared. Being something of a herbalist himself, he decided to try the happenstance concoction and hey presto – tea was born. Skip forward several centuries later, it became the national drink of China and was quickly adopted by travelling tradesman and monks from Japan and Tibet, who loved the stuff so much that they soon formulated their own tea drinking ceremonies as this most spectacular brew was assimilated into their culture – here I should of course mention our much-loved British afternoon tea, albeit the origins of this lie more in cake than contemplation. Tea in all of its varieties of course is now very much a world-wide business according to World Atlas, and although it is still greatly adored and grown in vast quantities by China; India, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Vietnam (and this is only the top 5 tea producing nations) shortly follow suit, growing hundreds of thousands of tons every year.
And because it’s so delicious, varied, lauded and pretty much a daily necessity for seemingly the majority of adults in Britain, we decided to put together our very own luxury tea drinkers hamper to celebrate this magnificent beverage. It’s been especially curated to include a range of select teas that any enthusiast is likely to consider cupboard staples, but from a brilliant set of producers that are in our humble opinion, head and shoulders above the average supermarket brands. Roqberry, who have received no less than 26 Great Taste Awards across their fabulously avant-garde range with its bold and daring flavour combinations (although I’m sure that you’ll be pleased to hear that a few classic blends feature too), are masters of their craft who make their 100% natural ingredients work hard to give a quality brew that doesn’t just taste great, but can also be evocative, refreshing and soothing all in one sip. They also strive to champion their green credentials by sourcing their leaves from sustainable sources and by using plant based, biodegradable, plastic-free teabags and packaging. Including their Bright Black English Breakfast Blend (which also won the Great Taste Award 2019) in the tea hamper was then for us, something of a no brainer. For the more routine brew, we’ve also selected Joe’s Tea Co’s Ever-So-English Everyday tea which whilst also being organic, is a no-nonsense, full bodied black tea blend designed for when speed is of the essence, but compromising on flavour is not an option. Finally, and with a nod to its intrinsic health benefits and wonderful mild flavour that sets it apart from many roasted green teas which can veer towards the astringent, we just couldn’t go without including Nemi’s Green Tea – which happily is also organic, is certified Fairtrade, has biodegradable tea bags and comes in plastic free packaging.
But of course whilst the tea in the hamper very much deserves to be centre stage, something to dunk or at the very least nibble on whilst enjoying a cup of the same is, as far as we’re concerned; pretty essential. That’s why we’ve also sourced some of the loveliest biscuit creations available, including deliciously crafted dark chocolate shortbread straws covered in white chocolate and drizzled with dark from Percy’s Bakery, and luxury cherry Bakewell themed biscuits from award winning Highland bakers, Maclean’s. But variety as they say, is the spice of life – which is why we also include a box of distinctly moreish Chocolate Covered Salted Caramel Fudge Pieces from Edinburgh’s Coco Chocolatier and of course, very much in keeping with the theme; a bar of Love Cocoa’s Earl Grey milk chocolate, made with 41% cocoa single origin chocolate from Colombia.
So, whether you’re a dipper, a dunker, a builder’s mug gulper or a porcelain cup sipper kind of devotee to tea (I couldn’t resist), we hope that however you like it, our hamper should leave any tea obsessive smacking their lips and smiling appreciatively as they inhale the aromatic vapours of a steaming hot, freshly brewed cup.