A Brief Tea Literature Review

Before I began writing this blog, I had actually put off contributing to any formalized blog for the longest time. When I began attending college I had hoped to pursue a career in writing. I took Honors Composition in college and went so far as to be a Writing Tutor at my college writing center for two years. Having eventually graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature, I’ve necessarily written my fair share of lit reviews and then some. Most of my peer group who do blog, do so as lit reviews, ranging in content from manga to academia. I have myself occasionally contributed to the body of lit crit via GoodReads and LibraryThing reviews. However, this was most decidedly not what I wished to do with this blog. Writing for me is a creative and freeing process and I am hesitant to write on a subject that boxes me into conformity. I settled on writing about tea as it felt like the furthest thing from literature i could get and still have some idea what i was talking about.

All that being said, I do feel remiss in not including a suggested readings list for audience. Make no mistake, this is not a syllabus, nor would i expect you to have the smallest interest in reading any of the books I recommend. Still, if someone wanted to gain a deeper insight into tea, I’d feel terrible not offering them something to go on.

Oh, and i always link to Amazon. Sure the publisher deserves recognition, but where will the vast majority of consumers actually end up buying a book? A bookstore. Authors want their books to sell and will thank you for helping to make that possible.

The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook: A Guide to the World’s Best Teas

 by Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss

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I purchased this invaluable handbook from Eli Tea a while back. A brilliant introduction to a complicated and multi-dimensional subject, I recommend this book for beginners as well as those looking for in depth reviews of unique world teas. I especially enjoyed the pages dedicated to individual teas and I reference them daily to help me verify the tea I’m drinking matches up with what it was marketed as being. The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook also offers a strong guide to brewing the many teas it reviews, which I’ve sometimes referenced if I managed to burn or undercook a tea (Yes, that still happens to me all the time. Tea is not a science. Despite how many companies will suggest boiling Black tea for 3 minutes, I have a great many Black teas I would never brew that way).

To offer a small critique, The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook suffers from being too narrow in scope and a bit out of date (ie. no discussion of Hawaiian tea groves). Also, at times it’s a bit contradictory in terms of naming conventions.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

A Passage to Chinese Tea

by Lim Hock Lam

a-passege-to-chinese-tea

So I don’t own this one yet, but I’d love to. A Passage to Chinese Tea is a long out of print coffee-table book on the diversity and art of Chinese tea. I happened across this title on Goldfish Tea‘s guest bookshelf and it took my breath away. Much smaller than a handbook, A Passage to Chinese Tea nevertheless explores many little-known Chinese teas. I dislike purchasing out of print materials on Amazon (my job at work requires me to deal with about 10~ a day and I learned very quickly just how far one can trust Amazon marketplace sellers to get you what you thought you were buying in the condition you expected it to arrive in), but I think I might end up becoming a hypocrite so I can get my hands on this one.

4 stars

The New Tea Companion: A Guide to Teas Throughout the World 

by Jane Pettigrew & Bruce Richardson

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An exceptionally in depth look into the history, culture and economics of tea the world over. I especially liked the reviews of specific teas by growing region and style. I love that The New Tea Companion has been updated as of 2007, as many similar guides are too old to give a good sense of where the industry currently stands (they even included Kauai which I was especially interested in hearing about). A huge amount of travel and research went into composing this book and I will be using it for many years to come as a reference guide. Tea is such an enormous subject with histories in some countries dating back thousands of years. Yet, Pettigrew and Richardson did a marvelous job of describing each tea growing region of every country and their commonalities and specialities.

For a future edition, I’d love to see The New Tea Companion offer more content on Nepalese teas, which have really jumped to the fore in popularity in recent years (and whose fate is now unclear). Additionally, very little is described about recommended Fair Trade teas. Sure, buying organic is important, but not nearly as important as buying Fair Trade.

4 1/2 stars

Darjeeling: A History of the World’s Greatest Tea

by Jeff Koehler

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I haven’t finished it, yet I love the concept of this one. I enjoy reading about the history and anthropology of tea in particular growing regions of the world, and Koehler’s treatise offers this and more. Obviously tea wasn’t born in Darjeeling, but without it, the chances that tea would have taken the world stage by storm as it did are probably non-existent. One thing I particularly enjoy about Darjeeling is that the author made it a point to offer an un-biased perspective on colonization and the lives and struggles of tea growers.

4 stars

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