We drink around 165 million cups of tea every day in the UK – that’s enough to fill about 20 Olympic swimming pools. Yet despite that, as a nation, we are still behind Turkey and Ireland when it comes to having a cuppa. Here, as National Tea Day (21st April) approaches, are some fascinating facts about Britain’s favourite brew…
1. According to legend, tea was discovered in China in 2732 BC when leaves from a wild tree blew into a pot of boiling water being drunk by Emperor Shen Nung.
2. Black tea – ie tea without milk - is good for heart health. ‘There’s a large body of evidence indicating that drinking black tea could benefit markers of heart health, including high blood pressure and blood vessel dysfunction,’ says Dr Tim Bond, tea expert from the Tea Advisory Panel. ‘Green tea is good for those worried about high cholesterol too. One analysis of 1,136 participants, found that green tea significantly reduces levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (sometimes referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’) in the blood.’
3. One of the most famous tea clippers in the world – the Cutty Sark in Greenwich – could carry 10,000 tea chests at a time. That’s enough to make 200 million cups of tea on one cargo.
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4. Tea is good for brain health. Drinking (green and black) tea is associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. A study of 676 people found that higher tea consumption was associated with a significantly better ability to focus and complete complex tasks.
5. Tea contains 4,000 bioactive compounds and provides 80 percent of the healthy antioxidants consumed in the UK.
6. Tea or milk first? Now scientists have the answer. Dr Andrew Stapley of Loughborough University conducted research and found that it’s actually better to pour your milk in before the water. This is because the proteins in the milk will alter and could cause ‘floating bits’ in the top of the mug if poured into piping hot tea. The milk will also heat unevenly.
7. In the year to June 2021, tea sales rose five per cent in the UK to £713m but that was mainly thanks to increased demand for expensive herbal and fruit infusions. Everyday teabag sales remained stable.
8. Around 96 per cent of cups of tea in the UK are made with a teabag rather than loose tea leaves.
9. Black tea is the most popular choice in Europe and the United States and accounts for about 75 per cent of the world’s tea consumption. In Japan and China, green tea is the most popular tea of choice.
10. Drinking green tea as part of a weight loss diet has been found to result in an extra 3.3 kg (1/2 stone) lost over 12 weeks.
11. Britain’s favourite brew, PG tips was launched in 1930 as a ‘Pre-Gest Tea – a supposed ‘digestion aid’. Grocers called it ‘PG’ and by 1951, the abbreviation was formally adopted and the word ‘tips’ added, referring to the fact that only the top two leaves and bud of the tea plants are used in the blend.
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12. The makers of PG tips claim their factory in Trafford, Manchester is the biggest tea factory in the world. It makes approximately 20,500 bags every minute – that’s 1.23 million bags every hour, 29.5 million bags every day and 200 million bags a week. Meanwhile, its rival Yorkshire Tea makes slightly fewer with 20,000 bags every minute.
13. According to the Tea Advisory Panel, drinking tea is associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. In another study regular tea drinking was associated with a 38 per cent lower risk of osteoporosis – a serious disease which causes bone fractures.
14. Switching to tea instead of cordials or sugary fizzy drinks could make a significant sugar saving over the year – equivalent to just over 1 kilo in primary school aged children, and more than 3 kilos in teenagers – helping to protect teeth and lower the risk of obesity.
15. When British astronaut Tim Peake visited the space station in 2015, NASA scientists bagged up pouches of his favourite Yorkshire Tea. He tweeted a photograph of the pouch saying: ‘Probably the most important item ever to be launched into space…’
16. Tea protects your teeth! This is thanks to the polpyphenols - inhibitors of oral bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans that cause dental decay and gum disease. These also neutralise sulphur components in the mouth that lead to bad breath.
17. HM the Queen’s preferred choice of tea at the breakfast table is Assam and Earl Grey.
18. Over 50 per cent of our tea in the UK comes from East African countries such as Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabew. The UK imports and consumes 140 thousand tonnes of tea per year.
19. Around a quarter of the milk that Brits consume is in a cup of tea
20. There are estimated to be around 1500 varieties of tea in the world.