Best books for learning about tea


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Best books for learning about tea

Postby Kabouterke » May 21st, '13, 15:31

Hey! So, I found a few similar threads on the forum relating to this topic, but with a different focus. The other threads talked primarily about books talking about tea culture/philosophy/traditions/history, etc. As interesting as I think it is, I'm not looking for books on those subjects. I am interested in finding books that talk more about the different types of teas, differences in processing, harvest/seasons, famous tea growing regions, brewing methods, tea plants and cultivars, etc.

For every niche interest, there always seems to be 1 or 2 books that are considered the "bible" of the subject. So, what are the "bibles" of the tea world?
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Re: Best books for learning about tea

Postby JRS22 » May 21st, '13, 15:38

I like this book as a fairly detailed by general overview:

The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Lou and Robert Heiss.

The authors are the owners of Tea Trekker and some of the information is on their website. There are other options if you later choose to specialize in a specific tea like puerh.
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Re: Best books for learning about tea

Postby teaisme » May 21st, '13, 17:02

i don't think there really is comprehensive book that covers the whole tea world, and I wouldn't spend money on a book that says it does

you'd likely gleam more of the information you seek from a collection of vendor websites/blogs and tea drinker blogs/forums then from most tea books.
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Re: Best books for learning about tea

Postby Poohblah » May 21st, '13, 20:02

I can think of one such "bible": The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura. This book, written a century ago, is an account of the history, historical figures, philosophy, and religion associated with the Japanese tea ceremony. It's a short read, and I have a .pdf available to download.

Lu Yu's "Cha Jing" ("Classic of Tea") is often cited as the "Bible" of the tea world; however, this work is not particularly interesting to us and is not a good account of the history of tea. Instead, this work is more of an encyclopaedia of tea during the Tang dynasty. The teas and teaware cited in this book are not commonly found in today's world.

As noted above, there's no one seminal work covering all of tea history. The closest might be "The True History of Tea" by Victor Mair. However, I don't think this one even comes close. The reason is that tea history can be very involved and detailed, and it quickly branches apart when tea leaves China. There are some very good accounts of the history of tea in China, Japan, Korea, and the West (tea production in India and places outside Asia is entirely due to the British), all of which take very different paths for different reasons.

If you want to focus on specific watershed periods in the history of tea, then I suggest researching the following:
  • The Tang dynasty, when tea and Zen (Chan) Buddhism began their courtship and when tea first made its way to Japan;
  • Rikyu, a seminal figure in the history of the Japanese tea ceremony (this book may help);
  • The Opium Wars, when China put an embargo on British trade and forced the British to establish tea plantations in India in order to satisfy their newfound lust for tea.


Edit: holy cow, I totally misread your post. I'm sorry. In terms of learning about the types of tea available today - well, to be quite honest, I think you'd have to start with the history of tea, how powdered tea came first (when Japan discovered Chinese tea, which explains matcha), brick tea came second (today pu'er, liu'an, and other kinds of teas are still transported as bricks), and loose leaf came third (when the British Empire discovered Chinese tea).

I really do think that we need to put up stickies about the different kinds of tea. It's a common question around here. I don't know of any books off the top of my head that are an accurate resource for this information (again, because tea in Japan is very different from tea in China and again from tea in Korea and India and so on, and because within each region there are hundreds if not thousands of varieties of tea). There are some resources that are good but they are limited to specific regions. I might start working on such sticky posts myself; perhaps Chip could assist.
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Re: Best books for learning about tea

Postby John Delaney » May 21st, '13, 21:37

A couple books that I like are:
1. The Story of Tea which was mentioned above and
2. Tea: History Terroirs Varieties.

I also like the The New Tea Companion and The Tea Drinker's Handbook.

As far as "bibles", I think it depends on what you are looking for. The above list gives you a good grounding on different types of teas and their tasting notes. However, other books delve a lot more deeply into the history or other aspects like teaware. I don't know that I would consider any of the books the bible of tea.
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Re: Best books for learning about tea

Postby Kabouterke » May 22nd, '13, 09:14

Thanks for the suggestions everybody! I think I'm going to give the Tea: History, Terroirs, varieties a try, to start with. It's gotten some really good reviews on Amazon.

Don't worry Poohblah, I'm sure that that list will be very useful for someone else on the forum or for when I have enough time in the future to delve into all the history and traditions!
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Re: Best books for learning about tea

Postby sherubtse » May 22nd, '13, 09:49

Kabouterke wrote:Thanks for the suggestions everybody! I think I'm going to give the Tea: History, Terroirs, varieties a try, to start with. It's gotten some really good reviews on Amazon.


A very good choice! The book was written by the guys who own Camellia Sinensis, a top-notch tea shop in Montreal and Quebec City:

http://camellia-sinensis.com/en/tasters

Kevin is especially adept at his job and a great speaker to boot! 8)

Best wishes,
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Re: Best books for learning about tea

Postby debunix » May 22nd, '13, 14:24

I can second the recommendations for The Story of Tea, and Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties also sounds very good.

I just am adding this to put in a plug for a differently organized book that was very helpful to my confidence and understanding of tea at the beginning: The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea. It's not the most comprehensive book, but it describes tasting a series of related teas in a way that really helped me to see the differences between teas more clearly. I did not taste the precise teas they included--those were source and harvest specific notes--but the general principles and discussions of the variations within a class of teas were very useful.
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Re: Best books for learning about tea

Postby tecnanaut » May 23rd, '13, 02:58

debunix wrote:The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea. It's not the most comprehensive book, but it describes tasting a series of related teas in a way that really helped me to see the differences between teas more clearly. I did not taste the precise teas they included--those were source and harvest specific notes--but the general principles and discussions of the variations within a class of teas were very useful.


I have this one as well, and second everything you said.
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Re: Best books for learning about tea

Postby JRS22 » May 23rd, '13, 09:54

tecnanaut wrote:
debunix wrote:The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea. It's not the most comprehensive book, but it describes tasting a series of related teas in a way that really helped me to see the differences between teas more clearly. I did not taste the precise teas they included--those were source and harvest specific notes--but the general principles and discussions of the variations within a class of teas were very useful.


I have this one as well, and second everything you said.


+1

Also, it's not just a sales tool for their teas. The last time I checked they didn't carry all teas described in the book.
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Re: Best books for learning about tea

Postby thirst » May 25th, '13, 14:30

I like “The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook”, also by Mary Lou and Robert Heiss, though I'm not quite sure if it's not simply an updated version of their “The Story of Tea”. When it seems that most books about tea that aren’t about the surrounding culture and history are totally useless (at least the ones I’ve seen and read), this is pretty outstanding. I learned so much from it.

(Edit: looking at the reviews of “Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties” on Amazon, there’s a list of recommended books, and “The Story of Tea” seems to have more content than “The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook”. I guess I’ll have to purchase it, too.)
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