by Sam Bilton on August 22, 2018 No comments

What is the essence of the book?

What could be more British than the practice of taking afternoon tea? Helen Saberi’s latest book reveals that we Brits are not the only ones who love a nice cuppa. Teatimes: A World Tour does just that. It explores the history of tea drinking and customs associated with it around the globe from the Far East to the US naturally stopping in Britain en route going far beyond the formal practice of taking afternoon tea.

About the author

Helen Saberi is a London-based food historian and writer. She is the author of a number of books on food, including Noshe Djan: Afghan Food and Cookery (2000).

Who will like it?

This is a great read for anyone into the cultural aspects of food and travel. If you’ve previously bought or read books on the history of tea as a beverage this is a refreshing approach to the subject. I wouldn’t call myself a tea lover (coffee is far more my thing) but I really enjoyed this book.

Who won’t like it?

To appreciate this book you really need to be intrigued by other cultures. If you’re not that fussed about discovering the history of yum cha and dim sum in China or what a puftaloon is (something between a damper and a scone eaten by early settlers in Australia) then this probably isn’t the book for you.

Whilst the book does include some recipes, if you are looking to expand your afternoon tea sweet and savoury repertoire with step by step full colour recipes then you may be better off with a different book.

What do I like about the book?

Teatimes is interspersed with fascinating little asides like the history of reading tea leaves, triggering distant childhood memories. After reading this piece I recalled how my grandmother would invite a Mrs P to tea, a well dressed lady sporting the same hairstyle as Queen Elizabeth II (I’ve never ascertained whether P was the initial of her surname or whether she shared the name with the vegetable). The best china was retrieved from the back of the cupboard and my grandmother suddenly adopted a faux upper class accent (or at least her version of it). After exchanging polite small talk Mrs P would read my grandmother’s tea leaves. I don’t remember any of Mrs P’s ‘revelations’ being particularly exciting or controversial although at 101 my grandmother still insists that ‘the leaves’ told her on numerous occasions she had been diddled out of a significant sum of money.

It’s wonderful to read a book that makes you think beyond the subject whether it be a question it raises in your own mind or taking you on a detour down memory lane. Not every author has this knack but Saberi does it well.

Is there anything I’m not so keen on?

In terms of content this book is spot on for me. If I wanted to be ultra picky I would say it’s current hard back format and size makes it a bit unwieldy to carry with you if you’re on the move (which I often am) although that’s no reason not to buy it.

Would I cook from it?

It’s not really a recipe book per se although there are a few interesting items in the back of the book like Hertzoggies (love that name) that I’ve never come across before and would be tempted to try.

Where can you buy it?

Teatimes: A World Tour by Helen Saberi (Reaktion Books, £25)


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