Every so often, someone will approach me and ask about how I learned about tea or got my tea experience. For many people, spending years in a tea producing country and learning from “old hands” in the tea industry may not be an option. Fortunately, civlization developed writing, a method for gleaning valuable lessons without the firsthand experience. If you are an aspiring tea snob, these books can help quench your thirst for knowledge. After all, tea appreciation starts goes hand-in-hand with tea education.
J. N. Pratt’s New Tea Lover’s Treasury gives a mesmerizing account of the history of tea. This is not a boring school text. It takes the tone of a Southern gentleman turned raconteur, and you feel yourself listening to wisdom cloaked in colorful story. The Treasury is shines at two points. First, it grips you with the vast power that tea had in shaping our world. Some of the largest, richest, and most lasting monopolies were built on the business of tea. The second, briefer portion of the book provides a description of the more elegant and sought-after teas. This is introduction with mention of the finer points.
M. Harney’s The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea takes you on a tea tasting. Just as if you were at a tasting event, you pass through pages that describe must-try white teas to greens to oolongs to blacks. Yellow teas and pu’ers get mentioned as well. The Guide contributes to the discussion by relating notes on how the teas should look and taste, and the processing these teas undergo.
The New Tea Companion showcases the extensive knowledge of Pettigrew and Richardson. While it begins by describing some of the history of tea, I found Pratt’s work more engaging. The Companion does a more extensive job of introducing teas by country. What you see are photos of the dry leaf, wet leaf, and liquor of top teas from tea countries like India, China, and Sri Lanka. In addition, you will broaden your knowledge by being introduced to the catalogue of teas from promising areas like Thailand, Vietnam, and Bolivia.
I would not advise taking detailed facts from these books to heart, or necessarily citing them without double checking your facts. Some information becomes outdated. You need to fact-check whether India or China currently produces the most tea. Some information is unclear. Does sparrow tongue longjing consist of a bud and two leaves, or one? Despite discrepancies, you will appreciate how the books compliment each other. For example, Harney’s Guide contains no pictures of the described teas, but the Companion’s pictures lack description. The varying perspectives produce a conversation that will both entertain and enlighten.
Walker Tea Review- a tea blog with tea reviews and tea tastings. Operated by Jason Walker.