Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tea and Books Saturday #26 - "Teas of the World"

Teas of the World
By Nancy Hyden Woodward
Collier Books, 1980

Let me just start this week's review by saying this: I give bonus points to those authors who researched their tea books pre-internet. I greatly enjoyed this week's read, "Teas of the World" by Nancy Hyden Woodward, and I must say I am very impressed that such a book was published 30 years ago. This is a tea book I've had sitting on the bookshelf for a while, one I put off reading because I assumed it would be so similar to some of the other general tea books I've read. Happily, it immediately shot to the top of my list of favorites for the year. I was pondering why this is so and decided it's simply that I really like Woodward's style of writing. The journalist in me appreciates clear, sharp writing, that in which the author says what he has to say and gets out of the way. Woodward excels at this, and her book is simply jam-packed with great information. You will feel tea-smart just for having read it!

Thanks to her book and a few others I've come across this year, I am becoming much more interested in tea's history in the East. In the section on Tea in Japan, Woodward writes about a time when respect for tea utensils was so high that when an army was about to attack a castle, "the enemy leader within lowered his family's collection of tea utensils, carefully wrapped in brocade, to protect them from the destruction about to ensue." Amazing!

Earlier this year I read that the French were the first to introduce the idea of adding milk to tea. Woodward provides even more information, noting that "1680 was the year in which the first mention of milk being added to tea was made in Europe. The reference appeared in one of the 1500 letters ... written by the witty and acute observationalist of social history, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sevigné. Her friend, Mme. de la Sablière, had poured milk into her tea."

I enjoyed reading about English tea smugglers, and I enjoyed reading that William Ewart Gladstone, who served Queen Victoria as prime minister, "probably was the only resident of London who went to bed every night with a hot water bottle filled with tea at his feet." To warm his feet? No, Gladstone wanted to make sure he had tea to drink when no one was around to prepare it for him!

If you've read much tea history at all, you know that the coffee blight in Ceylon in 1869 resulted in the loss of coffee plants that paved the way for many tea plantations. Woodward says that "finally the dead coffee trees were cut up and turned into legs for tea tables." That's the very definition of irony, isn't it!

Woodward also dedicates a chapter to Tea in War. Although I'd read about the importance of tea breaks and tea canteens during World War II, I was delighted to find out more about tea's contribution to the war efforts in both WWI and WWII. The book also includes a few recipes, a list of tea vendors (some of whom are indeed still in business), and, helpfully, an index. I am especially grateful for that index, as I can tell I will be referring to this fine book again and again!


  1. Thank you, Angela McRae, for your most gracious review of my book "Teas of the World". The original title was "The World of Tea", subtitled the history of tea and its role in history.

    The substitute editor, whose name I never knew, did not understand the book or, he (she?) was one of the individuals at the time who were into alternative mood swings. He/she kept rewriting opening lines of chapters, turning the book into fiction until I finally complained to the editor in chief!

    By the way, if you send me your email address, I'll send you a tidbit about tea's arrival in the town where I live.

  2. This sounds like a wonderful book. I'll see if my local library has a copy. And to have the auther comment, what an honor.

  3. It is hard to imagine doing all that research without the internet. Sounds like another interesting tea book to add to my wish list.

  4. This sounds like a wonderful book! I will be looking for it!


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