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Tea isn’t dead in Britain—it has just taken on a new life

If tea culture blooms again in this country, it will not be the tea we know—but something else entirely

By Jonathan Nunn  

Today it’s hard to imagine the idea of tea not being a British drink. But what is much easier to understand from our vantage point is the rising cultural power of east Asia. Photo: Jens Kalaene

It was that chronicler of the plague, Samuel Pepys, who was likely responsible for the first mention of tea in the English language. Writing in his diary in 1660, he recounts a business meeting where “afterwards I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before.” Europe was then in the grips of Sinomania—tea was just the latest craze in a long line of Chinese exotica that fascinated the west. Out of the ports of Canton and Amoy flowed not just tea, but raw and woven silks, bright porcelain and decorated…

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