Review: The True History of Tea

by Jason Walker on January 18, 2010

in review

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Suppose you had a time machine and could travel back to some of the most significant periods of the development of modern man. More than any other drink that has marched through history with us, you’d  find a cup of tea there to witness those defining achievements.

In The True History of Tea, Messrs. Mair and Hoh guide us through the religious, social, economic, and political marks that tea left on human history. Among the shining moments that tea played a role include:

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  • The Dalai Llama got his title as a result of the exchange of tea and horses established by the Mongols and the Tibetans
  • Boiling water for tea (and beer) was likely a leading contributor to public health and sanitation, allowing cities to flourish
  • The “tea break” helped recharge the workforce of the Industrial Revolution, enabling workers to maintain their output during +12 hr workdays.
  • And of course, who can ignore the role tea played in shaping national identity in China, Japan, India, the UK, and the US.

If you enjoy tracing tea’s fingerprint on human society, this is the book for you. You’ll be captivated to learn how tea spread from Buddhist monasteries to affect the rise and fall of Chinese dynasties. And you’ll grieve over how the drive for tea contributed to the Opium Wars.

While Mair and Hoh relate fascinating trivia and vignettes on tea’s history, you will not find the most captivating narrative. There were times when the flow of history got bogged down with details. Even though growth in demand for tea was significant, minutiae on how Tibetan recipes  for yak-butter tea and the number of tea cakes traded for a horse did not need to be covered with such thoroughness as to lose the story’s flow.

Overall, The True History of Tea offers a worthwhile read. At the same time, I recall Monty Python & The Holy Grail when the knights consulted the Book of Armaments. Skip a bit, brother.

This book was purchased, and was not given to WTR by the author(s) or publisher.

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