Teatime Around the World
Teatime Around the World
Tea for one. Tea for two.
Tea for me. Tea for you.
Tea is an ancient drink, originally thought to have originated in China when the accidental steeping of camellia sinensis leaves in hot water created a refreshing beverage. Over centuries, tea’s popularity remains unchanged although, at times, it has been challenged by coffee and soft drinks. Tea drinkers around the world often enjoy a relaxing cup on their own, at breakfast or as a quick “pick-me-up” in the middle of a busy day, but, sometimes, teatime is an opportunity to meet with friends for a cuppa, a sweet treat, and a visit.
Teatime Around the World is a brief history of the beverage as well as a world tour of tea’s many flavours, add-ins, modes of presentation, and cultural significance. Almost any botanical leaf or flower can be soaked in hot water thereby infusing flavour. Each page of the book offers a simple rhyme, as in above the pull quote, describing the many ways in which tea can be flavoured (“with sugar, with spice; with yak butter, or ice.”) Yak butter??? In Tibet, a brick of tea is simmered in hot water, and yak butter is added, along with some milk and salt, making the tea rather soup-like. Green tea, mint, and sugar are the constituents of Moroccan tea, and Indian tea’s masala chai is flavoured with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom. In Pakistan, baking soda is added to “a luxurious pink chai . . .made with pistachios, almonds, salt, milk, and spices” while in Iran, tea is accompanied by a type of rock candy.
Herbal teas often are used for medicinal purposes: to aid sleep, assist digestion, or “to treat fevers, colds, and sore backs”, as is common in the teas which North American Indigenous peoples brew from berries, plants, and roots. Dried hibiscus flowers, originating from West Africa, add tartness to any tea blend, and, in Jamaica, the buds from the roselle hibiscus are combined with ginger, cloves, and sugar to make a festive red-coloured drink called sorrel.
It takes time to brew tea properly, and it takes time to savour a cup of tea. The Japanese tea ceremony, chanoyu, is an important cultural ritual with precisely defined steps designed to “create a harmonious atmosphere and make sure guests enjoy the experience”. In Russia, tea is brewed in a special vessel, a samovar, and it would be rude not to provide a sweet snack, such as a cake or cookies, to accompany the tea. The British tradition of teatime began with an English duchess’s need for a something to tide her over between lunch and dinner. Now, a “high tea”, featuring sandwiches, scones, cakes and biscuits, is a mini-meal of its own, one accompanied by many a cup of tea.
Preparation of tea can be quite show-stopping. In Malaysia, the national drink is called “the tarik”, or pulled tea, because it is poured at great height between two mugs, frothing the mixture of black tea and condensed milk. Relatively new in the world of tea drinks is “bubble tea” which made its debut in Taiwan sometime in the 1980s. A concoction of powdered milk, syrup, and various teas, tapioca balls are added to form the “bubbles” in the drink.
The final two pages of the book’s round the world tour of tea shows tea-drinkers of all ages and cultures taking a moment to enjoy their favourite beverage: “Tea for one. Tea for two. Loved by all the whole world through.” It’s a drink with universal appeal.
At the end of the book in “My Tea Story”, Denyse Waissbluth provides the reader with her personal history of tea-drinking and its constant presence in her life. She states that “tea has been a natural way to connect with people and learn about new cultures. My earliest memories of tea stem from my grandparents’ farm in the Canadian Prairies, where a kettle of strong black tea was always on, ready to greet guests.” For Waissbluth, a journalist within the tourism industry, wherever she has travelled, tea has been a touchstone, offering experiences of warmth and hospitality, a reminder that, by sharing food and drink, people can share culture and customs, and find common ground.
As a tea drinker, I really enjoyed Waissbluth’s “tasting tour”. Each of the book’s 40 unpaginated pages offers an illustrated scene, depicting tea as it is typically prepared and enjoyed within a specific cultural group. Elsewhere on the same page, a short paragraph offers concise but specific details on the preparation and service of tea within that culture or country. Chelsea Byrne’s illustrations are bright, and, although simply rendered, there’s enough detail to situate that scene within the country where that version of tea is enjoyed. Teatime Around the World is primarily a picture book, and its size makes it ideal as a “read-aloud” to students in the younger age range suggested by the publisher. I am not entirely certain that the cultural content would connect with readers in the preschool/age 4 range, but they would enjoy the rhyming text. For students in elementary school social studies classes, Teatime Around the World shows that there’s plenty of difference amongst the lives and peoples of cultures and countries, but there’s also much that is shared. A love of tea is one of them.
Teatime Around the World is worth acquiring for elementary school libraries, especially those with ethnically diverse populations who undoubtedly have their own teatime traditions.
A retired teacher-librarian, Joanne Peters lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Treaty 1 Territory and Homeland of the Métis People.