The British tendency to turn to tea to get through times of trauma seems so deep-rooted that it is hard to believe that it was not always there.*from The Guardian, April 2007
But by the standards of the far east, a habit that was only acquired in the 17th century is a novel fad. An 800-year-old Japanese book promoted the beverage as the "ultimate mental and medical remedy", while in Korea it was thought to help Buddhist meditation.
But it is only now that science has confirmed what experience has long suggested: tea calms us down. Researchers at University College London gave one group of volunteers a plain fruit infusion, while another enjoyed a fruity brew which also contained tea. Although the drinks tasted the same, those imbibing the real thing recovered more quickly from testing situations: their levels of stress hormone cortisol dropped off nearly twice as fast.
Still, the tranquil brew’s history has been far from mellow, as shown by Britain’s resort to aggressive opium marketing to finance its appetite for Chinese cha. It has also had its share of critics, including patriotic Americans who, after the Boston Tea Party, snubbed the drink of the hated Brits.
More recently sales have suffered as tea has struggled to hold its own against bewildering range of caffeine-free rivals and an ever-expanding coffee-bar culture.
But with its soothing properties apparently established beyond doubt, there has never been a better time to see refuge from a stressful world in a simple warming cuppa.