Book Review: James Norwood Pratt’s Tea Dictionary

by Jason Walker on February 8, 2012

in review, Voices of Tea

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In the early years of the American Revolution, Noah Webster created a book that was the foundation of American education. Webster believed that words had real power to shape a people. The result of his work and belief was the Blue Backed Speller, a book that educated American school children for nearly a century.

Norwood Pratt has gifted the fledgling U. S. tea industry with a similar Promethian flame. His Tea Dictionary will be the go-to for hundreds, if not thousands of writers, connoisseurs,  and industry professionals seeking concise and extensive tea information.

Although Pratt’s is not the first tea dictionary in the English language, it is much better suited to stand the test of time. When Ukers wrote All About Tea back in 1935, China did not have a standardized romanization of its characters. This new tea dictionary includes Chinese characters, spellings, and scientific terms for tea manufacture that have greater staying power. Stronger cultural and scientific bridges have been built. This tea dictionary stands on that solid footing.

The Tea Dictionary is not just Chinese and Indian tea terms. You can find tea tasting lingo. Key objects and locations from tea history are defined. Tea manufacturing terms are covered. Not to mention tea definitions for Japanese, Korean, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, and many other teas and tea cultures.

Tea professionals and tea drinkers will use the Tea Dictionary to better approach the chemistry of tea. With the flick of a few pages, the differences between antioxidants, polyphenols, EGCG, and catechins are explained. Currently, this vocabulary is too haphazardly drawn from the “it’s-good-for-you” pile of marketing ammunition. The Tea Dictionary aids us in precise usage.

Could the dictionary be improved? Yes. Beautiful photography is scattered through the work. Some of which increases understanding of the entries. Other illustrations seem to be there more for aesthetic reasons. There is a thorough set of maps in the back that plot production areas by country, region, and even province. These maps are a far cry from Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine. Granted, the dictionary is not intended to be an atlas. But perhaps some of the photography budget could have been cut in favor of topographical, more detailed maps? As mentioned, pronunciation helps and Chinese characters make a helpful appearance. But the pronunciation helps were not always consistent. Sometimes they were not there when needed. Subsequent editions will no doubt correct for these shortcomings.

In all, the abundant wealth of information in the Tea Dictionary assures James Norwood Pratt’s position as the Schoolmaster of the American Tea Renaissance.


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