The Afternoon Tea Book by Michael Smith is out of print and I honestly don’t know why. I borrowed this book from the library when we returned from London and this book fulfilled all of my expectations. Upon our return from London, I borrowed several books about tea and afternoon tea in particular and only two of the several stood out to me. This was the first one. It is simple with illustrations that look like they come from another era.
The author begins with a brief history of how tea became so influential in British culture, its gradual preeminence over coffee, and the development of the ritual known as afternoon tea. The next chapters go into details about how tea is grown, graded, best served, etc. This all sounds potentially dull but Smith’s ability to infuse his text with personal stories and amusing anecdotes make the first part of the book easy and fun to read. It is the authorial voice that makes this book a delight to read and utterly fascinating. He is a food historian and has worked as a consultant on television shows so he knows not only food but the history behind it. Better still, he knows how to make it all interesting without being too stuck in the past.
The second part is overflowing with recipes. I won’t even pretend that I tried them all. The recipes are a blend of the traditional with the contemporary and the author takes the time to explain to the reader the history behind some of the recipes. Knowing where a recipe got its name or how it gained popularity gives even a simple bun or tart significance. I did make the basic scone recipe. It was very easy to pull it together. We had them with butter and marmalade. They were good enough that I want to try some of the other recipes. (Rob and I agreed they would have been better if our shortening hadn't turned and I hadn't been forced to make a necessary compromise in the ingredients.)
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to indulge in the best that afternoon tea has to offer, from Battenberg Cake to how to best brew different types of tea. And while you're enjoying your tea, you can read more about all the curious history that made this singular drink so significant in British culture.