International Tea Day: Let’s Talk About Tea

by Luke, 1/3 of

We Brits like to think of ourselves as the true custodians of tea: enthusiasts – perhaps even connoisseurs.

But let’s not kid ourselves. We didn’t invent it.

The stuff comes from China. It’s the national drink of Afghanistan. It’s grown everywhere south of Blighty, from Kenya to Vietnam.

Supposedly it’s Ireland which has the highest proportion of tea drinkers, and Turkey tops the list for per capita consumption.

We may have ‘English Breakfast’ in the UK. And ‘Lady Grey’ (or ‘Countess Grey’, I’m told, if you shop at Fortnum and Masons).

But I went to China this year and got laughed at when I asked for a builders’ tea.

For starters, they call it ‘chá’ (茶). There it’s all about green, red, jasmine, longjing, pu-erh and tens more fancy-sounding ones.

Real builders in China walk around with transparent flasks of home-brewed ‘lü chá’ (绿茶, green tea) with the loose leaves floating around. No milk, no sugar.

My lack of sophistication on this front was all too obvious to the Chinese.

So 15th December is ‘International Tea Day’ and I’m determined to brush up on my tea knowledge while drinking a cup of cha.

What’s the point of International Tea Day, I hear you ask? Just another way for corporations to get us to overindulge?

Not this time. It’s an annual celebration started in 2005 by trade union movements in tea producing countries like India, Kenya and Vietnam.

The day is meant to draw attention to the global tea trade and its impact on workers.

So if ever you needed an excuse for an extra cuppa, here it is. Preferably ethically traded from a business that has a personal relationship with the growers such as our friend Bev’s Tea Co (when you make an order, you can get free postage and a taster sample if you use the code ‘RTT’).

Tea’s meant to be pretty healthy for you too: antioxidants, moderate caffeine levels (compared to coffee), hydrating effects and no calories to boot.

Anyway, despite the rest of the world being pretty advanced in their appreciation of tea, all is not lost for the UK’s hopes for tea-worthiness.

There is in fact one tea-based invention that a Brit abroad can claim credit for.

It is, of course, the humble tea towel.

The English upper classes invented it to dry their crockery in the time of Jane Austen, whose birthday is 16th December.

And now the Radical Tea Towel Company has brought it to the masses:

Happy International Tea Day!

Top Radical & Progressive Events Of The 19th Century: Part 2

This is the second of two posts on the ‘Top Progressive Moments of the 19th Century’ in the UK. You can read the first part here.


7. Publication of ‘On Liberty’ (1859)

John Stuart Mill - On Liberty

Described as the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the 19th century, John Stuart Mill was a proponent of the ethical system of utilitarianism, which proposed a social system that prioritised maximising people’s happiness and reducing human suffering. In his work ‘On Liberty’, Mill emphasised the importance of individuality and discussed the dangers of a ‘tyranny of the majority’. It was an influential work, forming the basis of liberal political thought, and has remained in print continuously since its original publication.


6. Release of the Tolpuddle Martyrs (1836)

Tolpuddle Martyrs
Contemporary illustration of five of the six Tolpuddle martyrs

In 1832, six men from Tolpuddle in Dorset founded the ‘Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers’, which was in effect a trade union. They were protesting the reduction in agricultural wages brought about by increasing mechanisation. Although technically trade unions were no longer illegal following the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1825, an obscure 1797 law banning people from swearing oaths to each other meant that the men were prosecuted and sentenced to transportation to Australia. The ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’ were freed in 1836 following a mass political march and petition, and the support of Home Secretary John Russell.  Continue reading “Top Radical & Progressive Events Of The 19th Century: Part 2”

Top Radical & Progressive Events Of The 19th Century: Part 1

15. Establishment of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers (1844)

Toad Lane store
Toad Lane – the Pioneers’ cooperative store

The modern British cooperative movement traces its roots to the foundation of this Rochdale society, one of the first consumer cooperatives. The ‘Rochdale Principles’ were written by the society as a set of ideals that of form the basis of cooperative movements to this day. The 19th century movement was backed by progressive industrialists such as Robert Owen, who believed in providing good working conditions and education for the families of his employees.


14. Chartist Demonstration in London (1848)

The 1848 Chartist meeting on Kennington Common
The 1848 Chartist meeting on Kennington Common

The Chartist political reform movement had delivered several petitions to parliament following publication of the People’s Charter in 1838 (see below), but by far the biggest was in 1848 as part of a demonstration in London. Tens of thousands of workers gathered on Kennington Common in the biggest call for political reform – universal suffrage, payment of MPs and equal-sized constituencies, among other demands – to date. Continue reading “Top Radical & Progressive Events Of The 19th Century: Part 1”