Since the 18th century the United Kingdom has been one of the world's greatest tea consumers per capita, with an average per capita tea supply of 4.18 pounds per year. The popularity of tea occasioned the furtive export of slips, a small shoot for planting or twig for grafting to tea plants, from China to British India and its commercial culture there, beginning in 1840; British interests controlled tea production in the subcontinent. Tea, which was an upper-class drink in Europe, became the infusion of every class in Great Britain in the course of the 18th century and has remained so.
In Britain, the drinking of tea is so varied that it is quite hard to generalize. While it is usually served with milk, it is not uncommon to drink it black or with lemon, with sugar being a popular addition to any of the above. Strong tea served with milk (and usually one or two teaspoons of sugar) in a mug is commonly referred to as builder's tea.
Afternoon Tea As A Meal
Tea is not only the name of the beverage, but of a late afternoon light meal at four o'clock, irrespective of the beverage consumed. Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford is credited with the creation of the meal circa 1800. She thought of the idea to ward off hunger between luncheon and dinner, which was served later and later. The tradition continues to this day. Tea is often accompanied with a light snack, such as biscuits, and it was the emergence of afternoon tea that saw Britain regard biscuits as something "dunked" in tea; a British custom that was exported around the globe. McVitie's biscuits are the most popular biscuits in the UK to "dunk" in tea, with McVitie's chocolate digestives, Rich tea and Hobnobs ranked the nation's top three favorite biscuits in 2009.
There is a tradition of tea rooms in the UK which provide the traditional fare of cream and jam on scones, a combination commonly known as cream tea. While these establishments have declined in popularity since World War II, there are still many tea rooms to be found in the countryside. In Devon and Cornwall particularly, cream teas are a specialty. A.B.C. tea shops and Lyons Corner Houses were a successful chain of such establishments. In Yorkshire the company Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate, run their own Tearooms. Bettys Café Tearooms, established in 1919, is now classed as a British Institution.
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