This tea book is an invaluable reference for understanding tea in its many varieties. The team at Camellia Sinensis Tea House has put together a well-thought out and nicely organized primer that you will find yourself reaching for again and again as questions come up in your tea journey.
“Tea is the ultimate universal beverage,” they state in the forward. I have to agree that few beverages can rival its history, simplicity of enjoyment combined with continued refinement and complexity in production, and popularity. Like many agricultural products, terroir really matters. As they so succinctly state: “…just like wine, tea represents one of humanity’s most fabulous achievements, using precious knowledge inherited over generations and taking advantage of the most distinct properties o f its specific growing environment.”
The book starts with some history and basic cultivation information and then quickly gets into the different tea growing regions. They start with the historically important regions, roughly in the order that tea became important to them, before touching on some of the more modern tea growing areas. Understandably, they spend most of the book talking about China, Japan, Taiwan, and India. But they do give some attention to Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, and the East Africa coast. Each geographic section is further divided into a short history, a discussion of the terroirs, the tea industry (sometimes including an interview with a prominent tea expert), the gardens and plants/cultivars, processing specifics for the different types of teas produced, local tea customs for preparation of tea, and then some examples of specific teas from the region. The sections on processing were especially helpful to me as I tried to get my arms around the reason for the differences between tea types and regions.
The third section, From Cup to Plate, then goes into the art of preparing and tasting tea, ending with some recipes from top chefs that are using more and more tea in their gourmet creations. The section on tasting was especially helpful to me as I continue to develop my palate. I find myself going back to their “Wheel of Flavors” again and again, so I’ve placed a bookmark there to help me get there quickly each time I reach for it. Their lexicon of tasting terms is also very helpful.
Finally, the Tea and Health section sets this book apart from any that I have run across thus far. The team had 35 teas analyzed for their health benefits; focusing on caffeine content, antioxidants, and catechins. This analysis has totally changed the way I think and talk about caffeine content in teas. The ex-engineer in me loves hard data! It’s just not as simple as caffeine content descending from black to green to white. I just referred to this section yesterday when asked about caffeine differences in various green teas. I’d love to see more analysis like this so that tea drinkers can make the informed decisions about caffeine. Here’s to hoping that someone carries on this fascinating analysis.
My one nit with the book is the quality of the printing. I’m a book-lover in general and there is nothing more disheartening to see than a book coming apart. On my copy, I can already see the glued binding giving way and expect to have loose pages or a broken hinge pretty soon. Hopefully that’s just my copy.
But this is a book that everyone curious about tea should check out. If you are in the tea business, it is a valuable reference. If you simply enjoy tea but want to know more about what is in your cup and what makes it taste the way it does, it will make fascinating reading.