As with coffee, tea began to take on symbolic meaning in the instant that it became a European beverage (it was symbolic long before that in Eastern cultures, but Standage touches on this very little). The British fondness for tea is world-famous, and in Six Glasses, tea can be said to symbolize not only Britain but the British Empire as well. Indeed, the Empire fought more than one war with the goal of ensuring the flow of tea from its colonies into Britain. Even today, tea is most popular in countries that were once colonies of the British Empire—a reminder of the strong cultural and symbolic association between the beverage and the nation that consumed it.
Tea Quotes in A History of the World in Six Glasses
In some European nations, and particularly in Britain, coffee was challenged by tea imported from China. Its popularity in Europe helped to open lucrative trade routes with the East and underpinned imperialism and industrialization on an unprecedented scale, enabling Britain to become the first global superpower.
For the poor, tea gradually became an affordable luxury, and then a necessity: tricks such as stretching a small quantity of tea with the addition of more water or reusing tea leaves, finally brought the drink within everyone’s reach, in some form at least.
Just as deskbound clerks, businessmen, and intellectuals had taken to coffee in the seventeenth century, the workers in the new factories of the eighteenth century embraced tea. It was the beverage best suited to these new working arrangements and helped industrialization along in a number of ways. Mill owners began to offer their employees free “tea breaks” as a perk.
Britain has remained a nation of tea drinkers ever since [the glory days of the British Empire]. And around the world, the historical impact of its empire and the drink that fueled it can still be seen today.