Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson, a Book Review

Tea with Jane AustenCome, come, Miss Prissy, make it up,
And we will lovers be,
And we will go to Bagnigge Wells,
And there will have some tea;
It’s there you’ll see the lady-birds
Upon the stinging nettles,
And there you’ll see the waiters, ma’am,
With all their shining kettles.

“The Prentice to His Mistress” - 18th Century Song

Tea with Jane Austen is a charming book, a lovingly told tale, of the importance of tea in the life of those who lived in the Regency Era. It is all here: How to make tea, tea and toast for breakfast (the usual breakfast fare for all but the wealthiest households), seeping the tea leaves, tea caddies and miscellaneous utensils, shopping for tea sets, and the different types of teas. In Austen’s time, tea was a valuable commodity that was kept under lock and key. In the Austen household, Jane was the keeper of the keys to the tea chest.

But, for me, the most interesting part of the book was Jane’s excursions into London to buy the best tea from Twinings warehouse. “[Jane] would have walked through a doorway that looked virtually the same as it does today... Once inside, she would have been greeted with the aromatic scent of many different sorts of teas… [S]he would probably have smelled the tea to judge its fragrance and character before she bought it.”

This was the most expensive way of buying tea, but there was a reason for buying the best. Tea was regularly adulterated with things you don’t want to think about. Dregs were sold out the back door by kitchen maids. After being dried, they were mixed with “leaves, twigs, and sometimes floor sweepings.” That’s if you were lucky. “The dyes used on adulterated tea were often quite poisonous.”

Although the afternoon tea we associate with the British belongs to the Victorian Era, there were rituals aplenty in the Regency Era, and this book shows how important tea was to Jane Austen and her contemporaries. Five stars.


  1. This is a great review, Mary! I'm glad you liked the book. It is very useful. The funny thing is that I eat the same sort of breakfast as the majority of Regency population did, haha.
    I also liked the recipes. Except for the syllabub, ugh.;)

  2. Excellent review, Mary! Wow, be wary of unadlterated tea! That sounds frightening! It sounds like a delightful book, I bought it for my mom two years ago because she likes tea so much, but I don't think she has read it. Perhaps I will "borrow" it from her!

  3. That's really interesting, and I didn't know much about that at all. This sounds like something I would like to read, how scary "adulterated" tea sounds! Thanks for the review, Mary!

  4. Thank you, ladies, for your nice comments. As Meredith said, there are lots of Regency Era recipes, simplified for use with modern conveniences.

  5. P.S. Thanks, Irena. I bought this book after reading your review.