Where To Discover The History And Popularity Of Tea In London

19 January 2022

Think of England and quintessential Englishness and tea usually comes to mind. London is brimming with tea heritage and there are some great experiences for you to uncover.

Whether you just want to sip a good cuppa or find out more about the history and heritage, here are some wonderful places in London to enjoy one of the nation’s favourite hot beverages.

How tea came to Britain

You may think tea was created right here in the UK. But it actually originates from China and only began arriving in Europe in the late 17th and 18th-century by the East India Company.

Tea was promoted by the wife of King Charles II, Catherine of Braganza and she promoted the drink to the English Royal Court where it became a trend, but tea was considered so valuable it was kept under lock and key.

In the early 1700s, Thomas Twining opened a tea shop for ladies at 216 The Strand. Today, the building is home to a sweet little museum dedicated to the history of tea. See if you can get your hands on a delicious free sample as you stroll around.

You can also buy tea-related souvenirs in the shop and try your hand at a masterclass in blending or simply how to make a cup.

Further along the Strand is Somerset House which was once home to Catherine of Braganza. There are free tours of the palace on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays with limited tickets on a first come first served basis – a remarkable experience to delve further into tea’s history.

Explore the Cutty Sark

When tea became a popular fixture in Britain, ships, known as clippers, were designed to bring tea from China to Britain as quickly as possible to meet growing demand.

The Cutty Sark is one of the best examples of tea clippers in the world and is now a museum in Greenwich. Cutty Sark was built in Dumbarton, Scotland in the 1860s and was one of the fastest ships of her day to transport tea.

You can visit Cutty Sark and explore this magnificent sailing ship which has been restored and kitted for you to venture the decks and cabins on board.

Even from a distance, catching a glimpse of her in the harbour at Greenwich is breathtaking. One of the best ways to arrive is by riverboat along the Thames so you can see the old London Docks where tea was unloaded.

Be sure to pre-book to guarantee a space on board.

While in Greenwich, take a few moments to explore the town with its historic pubs, the National Maritime Museum, the Greenwich Royal Observatory, and Meridian Line.

Learn about tea

You probably know a lot about tea already, but you’ll be surprised about some of the traditions behind it and how to brew the perfect cup.

Twinings offer some excellent masterclasses at their Strand shop. Another iconic place to learn more about tea is at Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly, which has a rich history of being involved in the trade.

Their Tea Tasting Adventure masterclass is an excellent way to find out how they source their teas and make the perfect cup.

Just visiting the grand shop, savouring the flavours, and chatting to the very knowledgeable staff is an experience in itself.

For something a little more off the beaten track, you can stop by Postcard Teas based in Mayfair.

They specialise in small growers and offer a range of tea tasting masterclasses – relax with a few samples of their tea from across the world including some unusual varieties and learn about the people who grow it.


Spot the landmarks

London is filled with statues and memorials to tea that you’ll come across as you explore the city.

Just outside the BBC headquarters in Langham Street is a statue of George Orwell who once worked at the corporation – he famously wrote about A Nice Cup of Tea.

Earl grey tea was originally blended by a Chinese blender for Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey to suit the waters at Howick in Northumbria, where the family lived.

At Devonshire House in Piccadilly, Earl Grey had an affair with Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire. You can see a painting of Earl Grey in the National Portrait Gallery.

The Horniman Museum is a fascinating collection of natural history and items from across the world that was donated by the Horniman family who acquired their wealth through the tea trade.

Refuel with some cups of tea and eat their iconic walrus-shaped biscuits in the museum café.  

Take afternoon tea in style

A typically British tradition, afternoon tea is a delightful treat. It was invented by the Duchess of Bedford in 1840 as something to do between lunch and dinner.

Traditionally, afternoon tea has sandwiches, a scone with cream and jam, and some cakes. Of course, a pot of tea is essential. If you plan to enjoy a traditional afternoon tea in London, we recommend you reserve a place beforehand.

The Ritz is an iconic place to take afternoon tea and the Palm Court is a beautiful setting. It’s also the only hotel in the world to have a certified Tea Master who travels the world to source teas.

Another gorgeous spot is Claridges Hotel where afternoon tea is served in the famous Foyer and Reading Room.

Fancy trying out a themed afternoon tea? The Ampersand Hotel near the Science Museum has a scientifically-themed event.

At any of these special teas, be sure to ask the staff to pack up any uneaten food as a doggy bag for later – it’s such a shame to waste it.

London is a wonderful place to immerse yourself in the culture of tea. Whether you visit a museum or participate in a masterclass, there are lots of ways you can enjoy England’s staple cuppa.