It is said that Anna Russell, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford (1783 -1857), established the British custom of afternoon tea. The Duchess reportedly found the time between lunch and supper too lengthy, so she instructed her staff to bring her some snacks with a cup of tea in the afternoon. The Duchess of Bedford found this new activity so enjoyable that very soon she invited her friends around to enjoy what was now becoming something of a ritual. Word quickly spread, and afternoon tea became enshrined in British culture.
High tea is slightly different, in so far as it involves rather more food than its afternoon equivalent. It is a meal, including a mix of cold meats, salads and cakes, which is served with a cup of tea in the early evening. Tea itself is thought to have come to the UK much earlier than this, courtesy of a group of Dutch mariners. As ever for Great Britain, it was royalty that put it on the map, however: first of all when a Portuguese princess brought supplies with her when marrying King Charles II, and later when Queen Anne decided to drink it with her breakfast in place of the more usual beer.
Ted was introduced into the French court in the mid-17th century after Louis XIV ordered it to be drunk by his courtiers. This was despite the warnings of his medics who feared for the wellbeing of vintners if this new drink took off. As the last 400 years have demonstrated, tea, champagne and wine can happily coexist, with lovers of one often developing an appreciation of the other.
The 17th and 18th centuries were when tea took hold as the drink of choice throughout Europe. Dutch companies imported it to the mainland, and its popularity grew in spite of resistance from people such as the Prussian King Frederick. He sought to prohibit tea in 1778, but was forced to abandon his efforts two years later when it became clear they were failing to make any difference to his subjects' drinking habits.
Tea also arrived in Russia in this period, having followed tough overland routes to get there. By the 18th century, it was established as Russia's national drink: a status it retains to this day.