Europeans love black tea. Each region has its own cultural preferences for black tea, such as Germany’s “three-tier” tea, Russia’s tea with sugar and lemon, or Britain’s “builder’s tea” that is strong black tea with sugar and milk.
The reason for black tea’s popularity in Europe can be traced back to tea trades between China and the UK around the 18th century. Contrary to popular belief, tea first made its way from Asia into Europe through Holland and Portugal. Britain only joined the fray when Charles II married Catherine, a Portuguese princess and tea addict.
Early on in Britain, both green tea and black tea were served during tea parties hosted by wealthy families. Tea’s popularity began to spread. The only problem was the high cost resulting from heavy taxes on tea, which lead to a period of tea smuggling.
Tealeaves that were smuggled bypassed taxes, and were therefore sold at a cheaper price. This practice grew so rampant that more illegal tealeaves were brought in compared to legal tealeaves. Since illegal tealeaves did not go through quality control, tealeaves were sometimes tainted and even poisonous.
That was where green tea met its downfall. Some smugglers added toxic chemicals to make green tea the right color, causing it to be harmful to the body. While black teas were also tainted through processes like adding sheep dung, its effects were less obvious. Black tea could also last longer without going bad, which made it the choice of tea considering the long voyages involved.
By 1785, the British government drastically lowered tea taxes, which made tea much more affordable and effectively ended the tea smuggling business. By then, green tea had lost its place among Europeans. Recently, however, there has been a movement to rediscover tea, and people are opening up to loose leaf teas. Perhaps, this is the time for green tea to prove itself again and become Europe’s next well-loved cup of tea!