Do Brits Really Drink a lot of Tea?

British people are renowned for their rather posh tea drinking habits, but do Brits really drink a lot of tea?

The culture of drinking tea in Britain has been around for centuries. I’m British and I do drink quite a bit, ok a lot, ok probably too much tea. I want to know, are there many other tea loving nerds just like me?

  • How many Brits actually drink tea?

  • What is it is about tea that us tea-loving-Brits love so much?

  • What tea is the most popular tea enjoyed in the UK?

  • And how and why exactly did we start putting milk into our tea?

British Tea Drinking Culture: Why do Brits Love it so Much?

100 million cups of tea are enjoyed daily!

How Much Tea Does a British Person Drink?

Apparently 84% of the UK population drink tea every day. A whopping 100 million cups of tea are enjoyed every day! If you go to The UK Tea & Infusions Association you will see a live counter of the number of cups enjoyed each second in the UK. It’s midday here and already I can see that 51.5 million cups (or mugs!) of tea have been made. That’s ALOT of tea.

Tea can be enjoyed at any time of the day and many Brits will have their kettle on the go morning, noon and night. The most popular way to enjoy a hearty cup of strong black tea is first thing in the morning with a dash of milk and sugar. In fact, of the 100 million cups of tea enjoyed daily, 98% of those cups are with milk.

When did the British Start Drinking Tea?

Tea has been enjoyed for thousands of years in Asia but has only been enjoyed in the UK for the past few centuries. Tea arrived in Britain from China in the 17th century but records show that tea may have hit our shores as early as 1598. Other references show that tea may have first been introduced a while later in 1615, but the very first recorded sale of tea in England was in 1657 by Thomas Garaway who was a tobacconist and coffee house owner.

The tea plant is native to only two regions of the world, China and Northern India. Chinese green tea was the first type of tea to be sold in the coffee houses of London. Then, during the early 1800s, the Camellia sinensis plant was discovered in Assam, Northern India by the East India Company. A tea trade was soon established between India and Britain. Indian tea gradually became more popular than Chinese tea due to the Indian-British relationship.


English Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea is a very British affair, first introduced by the Duchess of Bedford in 1840 as a way to get through the afternoon in between lunch and dinner. The Duchess of Bedford came up with the idea of tasty savourites and sweet desserts served with cups of hot tea. Afternoon tea quickly became a hit and was an extremely fashionable way for the high society to get together, enjoy tea and exchange hot gossip. Over time, tea became an indulgence had by all classes, not just the upper class.

Us Brits are a known nation of tea lovers but surprisingly the UK is NOT the largest tea drinking nation. We come fourth after Turkey, Ireland and Iran. 5th place goes to Russia and 6th place go to Morocco. Tea is a popular drink all over the world, such as in the Netherlands, afternoon tea is just as popular as in the UK, and drinking a ‘koppke tee’ in Germany is as popular as bratwurst and beer. In Tibet, a special tea named ‘Po Cha’ with yak butter and salt is traditionally served. Taiwan is famous for boba tea. Boba, or bubble tea is a sweet milky tea made with little tapioca pearls. There are so many unique tea traditions from around the world.

Read more: Is afternoon tea the same as high tea?

What did They Drink in England Before They Drank Tea?

Thank goodness for tea in England! Before tea was introduced, coffee, beer and gin were the most popular choices, all dependant on class. Many of the lower classes even homebrewed their own beer and gin. Coffee was seen as a luxury product served to the higher classes and tea was introduced as an alternative to coffee. Tea was first sold in many coffee houses in London before tea rooms started to open.

Gin was so popular that in the 1700s an average person drank 2 pints of gin per week, this time was known as the ‘gin craze’. There were more than 7000 legal gin shops in London and so many more illegal gin brewers and sellers too. The 1751 Gin Act was passed in order to put an end to the craze. The act meant that gin production attracted high taxes and people started to turn their attentions more towards new and exotic tea rather than gin.

Once the East India Company had established a tea trade between India and Britain, tea slowly but surely became a popular choice among all classes and soon replaced gin, beer and coffee.

Why do the British Love the Taste of Tea so Much?

It’s no secret that most Brits love the taste of tea with 84% of the UK choosing to pop the kettle on daily. Tea is known to have certain health boosting benefits including wonderful antioxidants. Tea also contains caffeine which is great for a morning hit of energy or to aid in the dreaded afternoon slump. Afterall, there’s nothing better than elevenses or a spot of afternoon tea for a pick-me-up.

Tea is a super soothing beverage and this is due to the L-Theanine found in tea. L-Theanine is known to calm us while keeping us aware and focused. There’s also something very therapeutic about taking the time to make a cuppa and the peace that comes from taking a short brain-break.

What’s great about tea is that there are so many flavour profiles to choose from. Teas can be light and delicate with subtle peachy tones or rich and bold with smoky tones. Depending on where, when and how the plants are grown will impact the taste, texture and aroma of the leaf. The processing stage will also impact the flavour profiles and make each tea distinctive.

Tea can be comparable to fine wine and champagne. Teas come with an array of flavour profiles and complexities. Tea is grown and harvested in a tea estate, farm or garden. Tea can be from a single origin or blended with other teas. Tea can also be blended with other herbs, spices, flavours or scents.

Tea can also be enjoyed hot, iced, as a latte, with or without milk and sugar. You can even add honey and lemon slices. There are thousands of possibilities when it comes to tea, there is literally a tea to suit everyone’s taste buds.


Why do the British put Milk in Their Tea?

Just over 100 million cups of tea are enjoyed daily in the UK and 98% of those cups of tea are taken with milk. Black tea is the choice of tea to be enjoyed with a dash of milk and a spoonful (or two) of sugar.

Originally, tea was not designed to be taken with milk, however, when tea was first introduced to Britain, it was poured into fine china tea cups. These cups were not designed to take such hot temperatures and they would crack from the heat. By adding milk, the temperature would be reduced which avoids damaging these dainty tea cups. This is why many people put milk in their cups before adding the tea. Other’s will add milk after their tea has been fully steeped. But that’s a whole other debate!

Adding milk into tea was first introduced for practical reasons, however, adding milk can balance out any astringency from darker and bolder black tea blends such as English breakfast, which makes perfect sense for making a tasty cup of hearty tea.

Adding milk to tea was also a popular choice for the lower classes as tea was extremely expensive. Adding milk and sugar reduces the amount of tea leaves required and therefore reduces the cost of the cuppa. It also allows for the use of cheaper tea leaves as by adding extra ingredients such as milk and sugar, it will mask the less desirable taste of lesser quality teas.

In fact, it was the British that introduced India to the concept of adding milk and sugar to masala chai. Before the tea trade, masala chai was an ayurvedic medicinal tea made from herbs and spices. The British owed Indian Tea Association encouraged tea breaks with tea, milk and sugar as that is how the British enjoyed their tea. The masala chai spices were paired with the tea, milk and sugar and thus creating the masala chai that we know and love worldwide today.

Another good reason to add milk to your breakfast time tea is that some people are sensitive to drinking tea on an empty stomach. Adding a dash of milk helps ease any discomfort such as nausea that tea can sometimes cause.

Read more: What is the best milk alternative for tea?

What Tea Brands do British People Drink?

There are so many different types of tea to purchase in the UK from PG Tips to Tetley and even supermarket own brands. Brits do seem to prefer black tea and in convenient tea bag form over loose leaf.

Twinings is the nations favourite brand of tea. Twinings also gets the Royal seal of approval by our very own dear Queen. Twinings were first appointed as the Royal tea supplier in 1837 by Queen Victoria and have retained their royal warrant ever since. PG Tips comes in second followed by Yorkshire Tea, Tetley and Pukka.

I’ve often wondered which tea the Queen favours and apparently it’s a secret! No one knows for sure exactly what types of tea the Queen prefers, however, there are rumours that the Queens enjoys Darjeeling, Earl Grey & Assam all with a dash of milk and never any sugar.

If you would like to learn more about tea, loose leaf in particular, start by reading about how to taste tea. My complete guide to going out of your comfort zone, trying something new and tasting tea like a pro!


How do you take your tea? I would love to hear from you, leave a comment below :)

Read More of my Blog Articles About Tea

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