Steeped in Knowledge: 5 Great Tea Books


[Photo: Liz Clayton]

The hilly terrain of tea writing is fraught with all types of mythology, internet health schemes, ancient rituals, zen meditations, homilies for the lacy doily set, etc. But there's also a ton to learn about tea around the world. We've compiled a short but sweet list of five tea books we like best for their direct delivery of real—and intriguing!—information on all things tea.

Ultimate Tea Lover's Treasury

Versions of this canonical book by the renowned tea writer James Norwood Pratt have been updated (as the smaller Tea Lover's Companion, the New Tea Lover's Treasury and the current Ultimate Tea Lover's Treasury) several times since the 1990s, back when you used to need a book like this to find out how to order Celestial Seasonings Tea by getting their name out of the back and writing a letter. Nowadays we have it much easier, but Norwood Pratt's guides, all in varying stages of availability, offer a clear, passionate view into the exploration of all types of tea, from history to applied brewing, told in just the informal, in-person-storytelling mode that makes an often impenetrable task—explaining all of tea—really easy to love. (Available online, $16)

For All the Tea in China

For those readers for whom adventure stories are more "their cup of tea" (get it?) is Sarah Rose's in-depth account of the dramatic, often unscrupulous travel of Chinese tea to India, one of the most significant commercial, political and agricultural shifts in the history of world tea. Rose takes a historic, cinematic non-fiction approach to the tale of greedy British hands' transplanting of the seeds that would brew the tea that would shape their culture. For those who love industrial theft and espionage as much as they love a cup of black tea, this is your winter read. (Available online, $10.20)

The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide

Husband and wife tea scholars Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss are not only the powers behind the Tea Trekker company, they're accomplished tea travelers who've compiled some exceptionally resourceful documents of the state of modern tea, while contextualizing it in history. Their encyclopedic book weighs in at more than 400 pages of travelogue, history, information on tea-growing regions, discussion of flavor, identification, brewing and more. It's written in plain language while trying to bite off almost as much as possible about tea and its contemporary processing and application. A great resource. (Available online, $21.38)

The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook

If you're simply looking for a pocket- (or stocking-) sized entree to the journey of tea, the same palates behind The Story of Tea have compiled much of the larger book's reference section into this handy handbook, making it a counterside must-have for those focused on practical tasting, exploration, and enjoyment. The book is divided into classes of tea, with full color photographs by tea leaf, and extensive hands-on instruction on how to refine your selection and brewing processes. Even if you have the "big" book, this guide makes a wonderful complement. (Available online, $11.17)

Tea (Camellia Sinensis Tea House)

Finally available in an English translation, this beautifully executed guide to world teas from the buyers at Maison de The Camellia Sinensis in Montreal, Quebec, is ever-so-ready for your bookshelf. Its approach to exploring tea not simply by product but process, with specific (but not boring) focus on contemporary industrial practices, is an absolutely edifying document of the state of tea. It offers as much coffeetable appeal as in-depth geek knowledge, a line that few food and drink books can walk compellingly. And it's filled out by beautiful photography and first-person interviews with growers, tasters and other tea industry professionals. Highly recommended (and, of course, also available in French.) (Available online, $25 CAD)