I read an article in today’s Independent entitled Napoleon’s piles: How footnotes changed history. It’s about a new book. The section that caught my eye was this one:

Tea breaks made a nation

A Cambridge professor put forward a theory in 2000 that the Industrial Revolution took off in Britain, rather than anywhere else, because of the unique influence of tea. While many other countries shared Britain’s levels of technology and skills, it was the Britons’ affection for the drink that tipped the balance in providing a steadily increasing and healthy population. For the increase in activity associated with industrialisation, it was essential to gather people together in towns and cities in proportions quite unlike anything seen before. But when populations conglomerated on this scale, they tended to succumb to disease. Curiously, in Britain there were steady reductions in child mortality and in common diseases, especially the water-borne infection, dysentery. Professor Alan Macfarlane discovered an association between these trends and the increase in tea-drinking. His theory was founded on the fact that tea was drunk with boiled water, which killed off disease-carrying bacteria. Tea also possesses, in tannin, an antiseptic which made mothers’ breast milk the healthiest it had ever been. No other nation drank tea on the same scale as the British.