Book Review: “Tea for the British” by Denys Forrest


The subtitle of this book is “The Social and Economic History of a Famous Trade”.  I had no idea the history of the tea trade in Britain was so fascinating.  The author, Denys Forrest was a writer and journalist before changing careers and working in the tea industry.  Consequently he was uniquely qualified to write this book.

Forrest has researched the papers of the English East India Company and those of various tea companies in Britain.  He begins with recounting how tea first started to arrive in the country.  Early traders found tea in China where it was grown on bushes and then the leaves were harvested and brought to Europe in chests on ships.

At first tea was believed to have had medicinal purposes so it was found in chemist shops.  When Catherine of Braganza came to England to marry King Charles II, she introduced the drinking of tea for non-medicinal purposes at the Stuart court.  The trade grew and the EEC set up a building in Mincing Lane to receive and auction tea shipments.  The tea was sold in coffee shops and then grocers.  Demand became astronomical.  China limited how much trade could be done in their country so enterprising merchants brought the seeds of tea bushes to India and later Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and began growing it there to meet the demand.  Later tea was grown in Africa and even South America.  The EEC lost its monopoly in the nineteenth century and the trade in tea was opened up afterwards.

Forrest explains the different grades of tea leaves and how the tea came to be sold and consumed and innovations in the industry.  The story of how tea came to be put in teabags is really interesting.  There are lots of statistics in this book like how much tea was auctioned for and how much housewives paid for it in shops and stores, and how much tea was consumed per person in Britain.  There are stories about shops in Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Norwich and histories of different vendors.

Forrest really knows his tea!  And he tells us about it with a really light touch and a keen sense of humor.  This book was published in 1973 and sadly that’s where the story ends.  He laments the invention of iced tea and wonders what will happen to the drinking of tea as the consumption in Britain had declined as the book ended.  I enjoyed this book very much.

Book Review: “A Cathedrals Coffee & Tea Tour” by Simon Duffin

cathedrals book

Simon Duffin has written a quirky and fun review of cathedrals and coffee and tea shops around the United Kingdom. This isn’t your usual tour guide book. Duffin loves cathedrals and he loves the experience of visiting independent coffee houses and tea shops. He certainly has done his homework.

Duffin travelled through England, Scotland and Ireland and visited a variety of churches from the iconic monuments such Winchester and York Minster to Catholic cathedrals and other denomination’s buildings. His reviews of the churches aren’t your usual tour guide fare. He tried to find the little out of the way items of the churches to look for that make them unique. An example: the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Birmingham has a plaque in the ceiling showing where a bomb was dropped on the building during World War II that didn’t do too much damage. Duffin points out that in Oxford Cathedral there is an effigy of a fourteenth century knight who was 6’6” tall. He must have been a giant! Other information given is if there are organized tours of the buildings and if they ask for and accept donations for the maintenance and repairs of the building.

Salisbury Cathedral by John Constable

Salisbury Cathedral by John Constable

After touring the cathedrals, Duffin likes to go for a cup of tea or coffee. The ritual of drinking tea was introduced in England by Catherine of Braganza, the Queen of King Charles II in the seventeenth century and people in the UK practice it daily. This guide book gives Duffin’s favorite coffee houses or tea shops, usually within walking distance of each cathedral. He looks for independent coffee shops serving good quality coffee beans and usually run by an individual or a couple. A good barista makes the experience even better.

In looking at the tea shops, there is an explanation of the different kind of shops he looks for, such as contemporary or vintage. Important aspects are quality tea leaves, good cake and the character and décor of the shop. Duffin gives a list of some of his favorites in the beginning of the book such as his favorite coffee shops, tea shops, top five venues for cakes, etc.

Duffin lists all this information for each cathedral in alphabetical order by city. As an admirer of cathedrals and churches in the UK, I thoroughly enjoyed this guide. On my next trip, I will have this book with me to refer to and to find a good shop for cake.