Enjoy Teatimes: A World Tour and take a multicultural journey »

Around the tea regions and occasions of the globe

By Paula Wriedt
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Bay Leaf and Green Tea Martini, Gin: Shake, Muddle, Stir

Bay Leaf and Green Tea Martini, Gin: Shake, Muddle, Stir [©Hardie-Grant]

Two cups of relaxing tea, Peninsula Hot Springs & Day Spa
Tea at the Bridestowe Lavender Estate
High tea at Villa Howden
<i>Teatimes A World Tour</i> by Helen Saberi


Teatimes – A World Tour takes readers on a multicultural journey incorporating the history of tea around the world.  A delightful collection of memories, historical facts and fascinating insights into the differences in tea across the globe, Teatimes is a delightful book that will draw you in and make you want to read the entire book – of course with a cup of tea in hand.

Author Helen Saberi is a historian who has lived in a range of diverse countries during her life-time. Writing the book brought back many happy memories from teatimes after school through to traditions as an adult. But it was one particular memory from living in Afghanistan in the 1970’s that heavily influenced this book. 

One Thursday each month, a group of women living in Afghanistan who had originated from many different countries formed 'The Foreign Wives' Tea Circle'.  They were all women who had married Afghans and they took turns hosting tea parties. These provided not only an opportunity to get together and chat, but to showcase their own country’s traditions and specialities.

It was through these wonderful get-togethers that Saberi realised that the tradition of 'tea' is somewhat similar, but also completely different across the globe. But the threads that always tied the occasions together were the drinking of tea of differing varieties, and the diverse serving rituals.

So the seed was sown for Teatimes. It is appropriately divided into chapters that take us on an international journey that covers Europe, the United States, the Far East,  the Pacific and South Africa.

Fittingly, it is Britain that receives pride of place with chapter one – a location that many of us would definitely associate with 'taking tea', perhaps thanks to the British monarchy.

Tea arrived in Britain in the 1650s, having been transported from Asia by the Dutch trading companies. At first, its exorbitant price relegated it to the rich upper classes, but by the 1850s when the price became significantly lower, its enjoyment became more widespread.

On first picking up Teatimes I was slightly hesitant that a 252 page book on the traditions and history of tea in various countries could hold my attention for its entirety. Given my love of cooking I was slightly disappointed at first that it only contained a dozen pages or so of recipes.  I also had the mistaken preconception that they would be about cooking with tea as an ingredient. When I finally found the recipe section towards the end of the book my initial thoughts of delicacies such as tea-smoked duck breast, or an Earl Grey infused pannacotta, went out the window.

However I am happy to say as an avid home cook that the recipes didn’t disappoint. The book contains a collection of teatime staples from across the world, as well as some innovative ways to brew more elaborate teas such as Chai, Tea a la Russe (Russian Style tea) or even a tea punch.  

No set of teatime recipes would be complete without the obligatory cucumber or egg and watercress sandwiches, but sweet tooths can be assured they are well and truly catered for. Balmoral Cakes, Victoria Sponges, Petticoat Tails, Tea Loves, Madeleines and many more recipes are waiting to tempt us to rush to the kitchen and start cooking.

As an historian, Helen Saberi has a wonderful way of bringing the stories of teatime traditions to life in each of the areas of the globe that she covers.  For example in 21st Century Australia I had never stopped to consider the evolution of not only the teacup I drink out of, but also the use of strainers.   So it was with interest that I learned that until 1790, when the tea strainer was invented, mote spoons were used to scoop any leaves out that floated to the surface.

Similarly I had no idea that until the mid 18th century, tea was served in small handleless bowls and guests would be invited to enjoy a 'dish of tea'.  Clearly this was a tradition that was inherited from Asian regions where tea continues to be enjoyed from handleless cups or bowls. It was the British who finally changed this to cups we are more familiar with drinking tea from today.

As an avid tea drinker, who probably averages 3-4 cups per day, I was amused to read that tea was strangely once denounced as being sinful. The founder of the Methodist Movement argued for good people to abstain from tea on the grounds that it gave rise to “numberless disorders, particularly those of a nervous kind”. Even more bizarrely however was when both medical men and the clergy proclaimed tea to be “a highly improper article of diet, expensive, wasteful of time and likely to render the population weakly and effeminate”.

Probably my favourite accusation against tea originated from some Ministers of the Church of Scotland who proclaimed that tea was a “greater evil than whisky”. And here I was thinking I was doing good for my health by not drinking whisky, but the Scots believed otherwise!

Teatimes is a delightful collection of stories, memories, recipes and historical facts from around the world. It is beautifully presented and ironically would make a good 'coffee table' book to enjoy.  Delve into the world of Teatimes and I guarantee that like me, the next time you sip your favourite cuppa you won't take it for granted.

Teatimes – A World Tour by Helen Saberi
is published by Reaktion Books Ltd (London, June 2018; Hb; 252pp; RRP A$59.99) and distributed in Australia by New South Books. It is available at all good bookstores or directly from the publisher »

It can also be found to purchase online via booko.com.au »

Read the press release for Teatimes here »


About the reviewer:

Paula Wriedt is a self-confessed foodie. Whilst she loves her job running the small charity Cystic Fibrosis Tasmania, her real passion is food.  She lives in Kingston with her two teenage children who have inherited her love of cooking so her house is always filled with the welcoming smells of delicious food. 

As a former State Minister for Tourism, Paula is also passionate about Tasmanian produce and our beautiful island state. Travelling is high on her agenda but she enjoys returning to Tasmania and sharing with friends and family the many recipes she discovers on her travels.

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September 27th, 2018
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