The Book of Tea: Revised and Updated Edition - Review
by Alain Stella, et. al.
it comes to the unique subculture founded on tea,
there can be no chicken-and-egg argument. Without
tea—without the actual fragrant leaf—so
many beautiful rituals simply would not exist.
This unassuming little plant has inspired a wealth
of rites around the world. Brits apparently can’t
make it through the day without their afternoon
tipple, while the Japanese actually have masters
to guide their ceremonies. Moroccans drink this
beverage with mint from little glasses, and Russians dispense theirs out of Samovars. But no matter
how diverse the trappings, one thing is consistent
no matter which country you’re in: tea drinkers
have an unshakable passion. And it is this passion
that provides a unifying theme in The
Book of Tea.
a chatty, meandering preface by the quintessentially
English Anthony Burgess—you’ll find
plenty of personal commentary and asides—The
Book of Tea roams through the role that tea
plays in our lives, pausing along the way to take
in such aspects as cultivation, preparation and
presentation. While Burgess is conversational
in style, the rest of the book feels more encyclopedic.
This isn’t to say that it’s boring; it would certainly be rated one of the best-illustrated
encyclopedias around. But while the text is interesting
and informative, it’s the pictures that
hold your attention, particularly the archival
photographs, with their depictions of WWI soldiers
drinking tea in a bombed out room in London or
a tea dealer lingering at his stand in late 19th-century
Book of Tea is essentially divided up into
three main parts: “Tea Gardens,” by
Alain Stella; “Time for Tea,” by Gilles
Brochard; and “The Taste of Tea,”
by Catherine Donzel. At the back is a small reference
section, with a dictionary of tea types, some
choice recipes and a selective guide to tearooms
and shops in Paris, London and a few major U.S.
cities. You can read through the book in a linear
fashion, or—a nice touch—you can open
it to any page and pick up an interesting tidbit.
Rather than being accompanied by a simple caption,
each photo or illustration is matched with an
anecdote. For example, a photo of a woman picking
tea in Bangladesh is paired with, “Plucking
is a crucial operation that determines the ultimate
quality of the brew. It requires a great deal
of dexterity and care. The highest grade of top-quality
tea is the product of a ‘fine plucking’
in which only the terminal leaf-bud and first
two leaves are picked.” Heady stuff for
us tea lovers.
Overall, The Book of Tea is a gem for tea-philes.
It is visually appealing. It is educational. It
will look great on your coffee table. And it’s
just the sort of tome to sit down with and peruse
over a cup of...well, Earl Grey or Genmaicha,
depending on where you live.
Reviewed by Kim Fay