Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tea & Books Saturday #35: "My Cup of Tea"

My Cup of Tea
By Sam Twining
2002, James and James, London

Any serious tea lover is acquainted with the name Twining, and Sam Twining's delightful book about tea is certainly one tea lovers would do well to seek out. I don't know if you have a favorite Twinings tea, but mine is undoubtedly the Earl Grey in the familar golden tin, and it is the Earl Grey by which I judge all others!

"My Cup of Tea" is based on the tea lectures Sam Twining has given, and its friendly, chatty tone makes it a particularly pleasant read. For instance, he notes that tea was first imported by the East India Company in 1669 and then says, "The next part of the story is hard to believe. Tea had many enemies, in the form of the clergy, doctors and brewers. The clergy said, as tea came from a heathen country, it was a sinful drink. Doctors said it was bad for you. And far, far worse, brewers lobbied the government and claimed that tea would replace ale at breakfast!"

Twining also offered a little more insight into the "raised pinky" symbol that most of us now know is an affected gesture, not a sign of proper tea etiquette. Noting that English ladies had fallen in love with China's translucent white teawares when they hit the market, he says the women were "even being painted with a tea bowl in the hand, held by the thumb underneath and two fingers on the rim, leaving the little finger, the pinky, at an affected angle." If you've ever held a guywan (a handle-less cup and saucer with a lid), it's easy to imagine that pinky sticking out!

If you like to see lots of images of teawares, this book will not disappoint. I loved seeing the Worcester tea service from 1795-1800, a set which featured handle-less teacups and also a teapot with its own special saucer. Other items pictured include mote spoons (for unclogging leaves from a teapot's spout) and sugar nips (for breaking off pieces of sugar).

Do you know who Anna Maria Stanhope was? I'm not sure I'd ever heard this complete name of Anna, Duchess of Bedford, who gave us the tradition of afternoon tea. She is believed to have introduced the young Queen Victoria to afternoon tea, and the book includes a photo of the queen and her family at tea in 1887.

The book winds up way too quickly, and I even enjoyed Twining's final chapter on "How to Make a Really Good Cup of Tea." He says, "Never take sugar in your tea as it numbs the palate and takes away the taste of tea. Change to a fruit tea if you want something sweeter." I found that ironic since I love a little sugar and milk in a good strong cup of Twinings Earl Grey! That small disagreement aside, I greatly enjoyed hearing from a man who is truly a household name in tea!


  1. Great review, as always!

  2. What a beautiful book cover, Angela! It sounds like a must-read, thanks for the review, Joanie

  3. That sounds like a good read. Thanks for the review.

  4. thecover would make a great framed picture!

  5. Thanks for the lovely review. I've read this book in the past and enjoyed it too. I hold a soft spot for Twinings teas, not really sure why. I too use their Earl Grey to judge others.

  6. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember the cover of this book is a painting in the V & A Museum....

  7. Another new book to me. This one does sound interesting and one I would like adding to my collection.


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