Tea is a time of day, a meal, an excuse for frequent breaks, something to occupy your hands, a social signal leading to conversation, an addiction, a lubricant for the British mind, an impetus for discovery and trade, a sign of hospitality, a relaxant and (I suppose) a beverage.
The word tea is itself a linguistic mystery. It is what is called a wanderwort (German word, plural is wanderworter), which means that no one is exactly sure of its origin. Some etymologists have made a strong case for it being Chinese, but it can’t quite be proven. This is because tea–both the word and the object–has been carried across Asia and Europe so many times that we can’t be certain where it came from originally.
The average Brit is capable of consuming upwards of 27 cups (give or take) in a normal workday. This will include breakfast, midmorning, lunch, midafternoon, tea-time, evening and night consumption more or less on schedule, as well as unplanned tea breaks at any time during the day when a little rest and a short chat seems appropriate.
Tea is generally taken with milk and sugar, and often with enough of both to mask the actual flavor of the tea leaves and produce a kind of mushy, sweet milk-like drink. The steam from this mixture is very pleasant and serves to provide an atmosphere of congeniality and civilization, without which it is doubtful if the British would ever talk to each other at all.