Discover the history of English tea drinking
Discover the enchanting world of English tea drinking through a focus of the designed objects used down the centuries. This tour is perfect for those who want to explore the roots of English tea drinking from its origins in China to its fashionable popularity in Georgian Britain, where it touched the English interior and forever shaped British culture.
The tour starts in the Chinese Gallery on the ground floor where we explore the origins of tea drinking in ancient China. We then move on to the Porcelain Galleries to look at examples of early Chinese and Japanese porcelain and examine the differences and similarities between the Chinese porcelain, European hard paste and soft paste porcelain and English bone China.
The British Galleries provide the next rich seam of information. We see how the medieval European dream of “the mysterious and charming land of Cathay, a continent of immeasurable extent, lying just beyond the eastern confines of the known world land”., as described by Marco Polo, has influenced British interior design and led to the embrace of tea drinking becoming the symbol of polite, fashionable behaviour. The ritual practice of the English tea ceremony provided an opportunity for those ‘in the know’ to participate in a performance of coded behaviour, the traces of which can still be found today in English life.
Tea culture began to change in the late Victorian and early Edwardian period as ‘polite’ socialising started to move outside the home and thus becoming more visible. The tour finishes in the Gamble Room with an informal discussion to ask one of the most fascinating questions of all: Why has tea become such a significant part of British life as opposed to other European countries that were also importing tea at the same time?
You will have the chance to hear the stories behind today’s customs and traditions and see their relevance to the past, as well as being able to admire and marvel at the beautiful selection of tea paraphernalia on display in the museum.
- Guided history of tea tour at the Victoria and Albert Museum
- Tour notes
- Further reading list
- A ‘Cream Tea’ in the Gamble Room at the end of the tour.
Private tours are available on request. Please contact Caroline to discuss your particular requirements. The fee is £200 for up to six people.
Please note that due to ongoing work at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the tour journey may be amended slightly to include any new galleries or work around any closed galleries.