Tea Books: An Introduction
“Tea Books” provides brief reviews of tea books and references to full book reviews published in Tea Journey. New reviews are added regularly.
Scroll down to find categories:
- Newly added
- General Books on Tea
- Tea and Food
- Science of Tea
- Brewing Tea
- History of Tea
- The Business of Tea
Easy Leaf Tea, by Timothy d’Offay
“A sea of green foam in a big black bowl, the sound of a spoon on the side of a much-loved mug, a thimble-sized cup cradling a highly scented elixir, and the taste of clay and sweet spices from a terracotta tumbler almost too hot to hold,” from Easy Leaf Tea, by Timothy d’Offay.
Easy Leaf Tea is a tea recipe book with a difference. This sumptuously illustrated book focuses on recipes for brewing tea and tea-centric kitchen creations. This isn’t a book about cakes with a dash of tea thrown in; this is tea, tea, and more tea, but with a twist. Tea is, as it rightly should be, the star of the show. And we’d expect nothing less from Timothy d’Offay of Postcard Teas in London. Indeed, the book very much has the feel of the shop itself: incredible teas, thoughtful brewing, and a big splash of heart.
General Books on Tea
Modern Tea, by Lisa Boalt Richardson
Reviewed May 20, 2015. Read the entire review.
Over the past ten years, some new and groundbreaking tea books have hit the market and become instant industry classics. The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert Heiss was released and took its place as a veritable textbook for tea enthusiasts. It was nominated for a James Beard Book Award and an IACP Cookbook Award and also won Best Tea Book in the USA from Gourmand Awards and a bronze for Best Tea Book in the World in 2008. The expanded version of A Social History of Tea by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson was considered a must-have before it even hit the shelves. Cynthia Gold’s Culinary Tea pushed other books aside on cookbook stands. The heavily researched Tea: History, Terroirs, Varietals by Kevin Gascoyne presented the science that many students of tea have longed for. I do not hesitate to say that Lisa Boalt Richardson’s newest book, Modern Tea, belongs in this impressive grouping.
Infused Adventures in Tea, by Henrietta Lovell
Wow! What a book! From start to finish Henrietta had me captivated, excited and enthralled by her world. A tea book unlike most, this is the very personal story of Henrietta’s adventures with tea, in tea, and all-around tea. From her first fledgling sips out of dainty China Cups at Diana’s House as a child, we are taken along on a ride of reminiscence. With trips to far-flung tea fields swathed in mist via the odd lightning strike or two, we zip off to tea tastings with chefs at some of the best restaurants in the world, accompanied by her little yellow suitcase and strange meetings on trains. To mention but a few of her adventures.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See
I found myself repeatedly drawn in and captivated by the story whilst doing my initial skim read, checking there was sufficient tea content for TeaBookClub members. There was. Tea content aplenty. Whilst reading, and by the time I’d finished it I found myself with a renewed interest in the world of Pu’er tea, a pond I’d previously only dipped my toe into. Fascinating and well researched tea content is liberally scattered throughout the book, revealing the mysterious world of Pu’er tea. From ancient secret groves and lost production through its re-discovery to rapid growth, boom and bust over the last three decades. Despite being a work of fiction, one immediately feels that the tea content is thorough and factually based, adding interesting and personable factoids to the tea readers knowledge banks. And ultimately, for many, inspiring a new or renewed interest in the world of Pu’er.
The Life of Tea, by Michael Freeman and Timothy d’Offay
This book, in a word, is stunning, just stunning. By far the most beautiful tea book visually to land on my tea shelf. The coffee table book format and fabulous photography by Michael Freeman make this a treasured addition to any collection of tea books. Add to that the knowledge that pours forth in the words written by Timothy d’Offay and we have a truly special book in our hands.
One of the lovely things about this book is that you don’t feel that you’re rereading information on tea that you’ve read 1,000 times before. Rather, you go on a journey to each tea type, each country, region, artisan or tea house, and along the way, dotted throughout the text like so many villages amongst the tea mountains are these wonderful gems and nuggets of information. There’s so much to learn and absorb both from the pictures and the text in this book. It sits such at an unusual sweet spot where a visually enticing book meets a well-researched and written reference book.
The Story of Japanese Tea, by Tyas Sosen
This is a fully-rounded and thorough book. An entire chapter is devoted to matcha (chapter 3) but it was the wide reaching exploration of different types of Japanese tea that really stood out for me. For example, there’s more to bancha than meets that meets the eye (chapter 5), who knew there was such regional variety?
Learning by Brewing, by Jens Dennig
Reviewed by Alexa Campbell, May 11, 2023
Learning by Brewing is an apt title for this book, for that is what Jens Dennig wants us to do. He wants us to try teas and decide for ourselves what we like. Of course, he has pages of suggestions. This book is a veritable encyclopedia of tea, although, as Dennig warns us, it reflects only his own experiences with tea. Much is left out. In the Preface, he says, “In retrospect, the most regrettable thing for me is the fact I drank inferior tea for too long and sometimes skimped in the wrong place. In other words, parsimony is not the best thing when it comes to tea, but thriftiness combined with knowledge can’t hurt.”
Dennig focuses on tea from Asia, particularly China. He describes approximately 100 teas from China in approximately 170 pages. Japan gets 27 pages, and the rest of Asia (including the Indian subcontinent) gets 23 pages. The rest of the world, including Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Columbia, get about nine pages. He fully acknowledges his prejudice towards tea from China.
This may not be a book you want to read cover to cover, but rather you may want to dip into sections of interest. But I encourage you to read as much as you can. Dennig has a wry sense of humour and his personal comments about various aspects of the tea industry caused many a chuckle to this reader. He has extensive end marks (what I would call end notes), although I read most of them after reading the book. Flipping back and forth from the text to the end marks was too tedious. When I read through the end marks, however, I found myself looking back to the text itself to see the context for the end mark. For example, end mark 26 says, “I am, and always will stay a vegetarian, but I have a dark past.” But most of the end marks add interesting bits of information about the teas.
There is a detailed Table of Contents. However, this is a book you will want to return to, over and over again, and I would have liked an index as well, so that I could look topics up alphabetically.
An interesting aspect of this book is Dennig’s use of Asian characters so that if you were fluent in the language, you could look for the tea by that name. He provides English versions as well, of course.
Overall, this book is for those who desire to become “teaheads,” explore tea with passion and diligence and become knowledgeable amateurs in the world of tea.
Tea and Food
Tea under the Palms, by Lady Patricia Farmer
Reviewed by Alexa Campbell, May 19, 2023. Read the entire review.
If you have ever fantasized about being invited to tea at Downton Abbey (or Buckingham Palace), this book is for you.
Lady Patricia Farmer has described the lush world of formal teas, in the style of the British upper classes, as exemplified by afternoon tea at her cherished Plaza Hotel in New York.
This is not a book where tea evokes a sense of serenity and meditation. It is a book about luxuriating in tea and food.
Tea: Wine’s Sober Sibling, by Mariëlla Erkens
One of the best things about this book is Mariëlla’s consideration for the reader getting the best possible experience. Indeed, she advises how to use the book to suit your tea pairing path. This book culminates in a decade of research, tasting, and testing countless teas and dishes and how they work together. But more than that, this is a book designed for us. For you. For the chef or restauranteur. Whichever angle one comes to tea service and pairing from, this book has something for you.
The Science of Tea
A Nerd’s Tea Lab, by Dr. Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace
Reviewed by Alexa Campbell (published March 11, 2023). Read the full review.
This book is a sensual delight: in it, you learn to explore tea using your senses, including sight, smell, taste, and even sound. Dr. Lovelace describes experiments you can try at home with tea using budget-friendly materials. If you are not interested in performing the experiments, she describes (and shows) her results. This is a fascinating journey into the science of tea you can take without leaving home.
Brewing of tea
Tea: A User’s Guide, by Tony Gebely
Reviewed by Dan Bolton (published December 12, 2016). Read the full review.
If you load the software, ignore the user’s guide, and regret never fully utilizing its features, you need to read this book. Tea is as complex as you make it—many dunk and run, but if you savor the nuances of specialty tea and want to really immerse yourself, this book contains the most thoughtful and detailed insights of any Western author.
How to Make Tea: The Science Behind the Leaf, by Brian Keating and Kim Long
Reviewed by Dan Bolton (published August 6, 2015). Read the full review.
I think it’s safe to say that the British have substantial tea experience. This long history has resulted in significant consternation now that a guide on “proper tea preparation” has been released and an American wrote it.
History of Tea
The True History of Tea, by Victor H. Mair and Erling Hoh
If there was one thing that this book did better than any other tea history book, it presented us with new areas of knowledge and different tellings of familiar stories in the great and long history of tea’s plant, beverage, and customs. From the Mongolian tribes to the Australian outback, we were taken to lands, explored customs, and followed the humble leaf’s progress in rarely explored areas. Somehow, the clearly extensive academic research behind this book has been cajoled into an engaging text that reads easily and leaves you wanting more, more, more.
Tea and Empire, James Taylor in Victorian Ceylon, by Angela McCarthy and T.M. Devine
This fascinating book illuminates Ceylon’s often-overlooked tea region, present-day Sri Lanka. The authors draw on the letters of James Taylor, pioneer and founding father of the Ceylon tea industry, to explore the life of a Scottish migrant who, through experimentation and determination, forged a new industry out of the ruins of the coffee blight. This uniquely complete collection of correspondence reveals this pivotal time in tea history through the eyes, thoughts, and actions of a key player. Some of the standards (two leaves and a bud) and machines that Taylor developed are still in use worldwide today.
Puer Tea, Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic, by Jinghong Zhang
Sitting on the academic end of the tea bookshelf, this is a fascinating and thoroughly well-researched foray into Puer tea’s complex and multi-faceted world. An anthropological study that explores the “cultural biography” of Puer tea, the ethnographic and anthropological research that has gone into this book is exceptional and really opens up the intricacies of Puer. And yet, despite being such an academic text, it is entirely readable and utterly fascinating.
El Té Gourmet Argentino, by Horacio Bustos, Sommelier
Reviewed by Dan Bolton | Published May 2023 | Read the review
The author of El Té Gourmet Argentino in July 2023 released an English-language version of the book, an exhaustive analysis of the origin, customs, and practices of gourmet tea in Argentina. The work profiles all of the country’s major tea suppliers and brands.
Author Horacio Bustos, a professional water taster and CEBA-certified sommelier who studied Anthropology, says he spent ten years researching the book, which he describes as “a historical tour documenting the amalgamation of perceptions, desires, needs, and links that gourmet tea consumers are building from shared daily experiences and practices.”
The protagonists are gourmet tea producers who produce these types of tea, as well as those investigating the improvement of the plant, he said. The Spanish language edition debuted at ExpoTé in May. Bustos, who founded the Gyokuro Tea Academy and trained in Sensory Analysis at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Biochemistry at UBA, is the author of “An Initiation Journey with Tea.”
The Business of Tea
Spill the tea: Unveiling the mysteries of blended, flavored and herbal teas, by William Dietz
Reviewed by Alexa Campbell, July 15, 2023
Spill the Tea is a quick primer on the blended tea business. The book is pocketbook size, 5×8 inches, and, at 110 pages, is a quick and easy read.
Dietz became interested in tea at 15 when he tried it to soothe a sore throat. Soon he was reading avidly, both books and blogs. He created an online identity, Sir William of the Leaf, a name he still uses on Instagram. At 17, he graduated from the three levels offered by the Specialty Tea Institute (STI). An instructor there suggested he pursue a business degree because he needed to understand business if he wanted to make a living at tea. He began networking in the tea world, and after graduation, he was offered a job with DAVIDsTEA as a Tea Blending Apprentice in Montreal, Canada.
Blended tea may contain several kinds and usually contains various herbs, fruits, spices, and flavors (known as inclusions). He uses the terms “blended” and “flavored” interchangeably. Creating a blended tea, for example, by capturing the essence of “strawberry” or “blueberry,” requires the skills of a flavor chemist.
Dietz calls this book “the window to that hidden world” of blended teas. He started out thinking that straight teas were superior to blended teas. But now he feels that “Everyone in the tea industry should be holding hands and working together to grow.” He is a cheerleader for tea.
Two main themes dominate the book. The first is, “There is no bad tea.” He says every tea will find a market, and the more people that drink tea, the more the industry as a whole prospers. The second theme is the importance of networking and communication. Communication among vendors, blenders, and suppliers is key to developing tea blends.
He took flavor classes offered by McCormick FONA, but still, he struggles to define “flavoring.” He observes that companies try to keep their flavoring a secret, like KFC’s secret sauce.
Only small quantities of flavoring are used in tea blends. But the impact can be great. Flavoring makes all food taste better and is often the most expensive element of a blended tea.
Flavoring is mostly chemicals. Artificial and natural chemicals are chemically identical. The first is constructed in a lab, and the second is deconstructed from natural substances. Using artificial ingredients means consistency in flavor and quality.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 4:
“Imagine that you are tasting a tea blend called “Strawberry Delight” and notice the ingredient list has black tea, freeze-dried strawberry, flavor, and pink cornflower petals. This is a simple and typical example that you might find in a tea retailer’s assortment. You look over the ingredients and think, Wow, the addition of the strawberry pieces really brings out that ripe strawberry note, and the flower petals are beautiful!
“Most labels do not disclose the weight percentage of each ingredient, so let me pull back that curtain for you. It might be that 92% of the blend is made up of black tea, only 5% is freeze-dried strawberries, 2% is flavor, and 1% is pink cornflower petals. That does not seem like enough strawberry to bring out such a potent flavor, does it?
“Truth be told, the only components of this blend that you actually taste are the black tea and the flavoring. The black tea absorbs and carries the flavoring that mimics the taste of strawberry, not the strawberries themselves. If this shocks you, you are not alone!
“However, a blender’s first instinct is to add strawberry pieces because it gives the brain a visual cue to recognize the strawberry as the dominant flavor. This is part of the magic, mystery, and wonder of the blended tea world. Every ingredient in the blend has a purpose, just not the one you may think,” writes Dietz.
Producing a blended tea is a complex process. The ingredients come from many sources. For example, “the black tea in the blend might come from India, the apples from Turkey, the flower petals from Albania, and the flavoring from Switzerland. Depending on the labeling laws in the country of sale, the package might say ‘Product of Germany.’ ” So, asking your tea supplier where a blended tea comes from may get you a complicated answer. Because of the varied ingredients in a blended tea, deciding if it is truly organic, fair trade, kosher, or vegan is a challenge.
He encourages companies that wish to market blended teas to use professional tea blenders. They know reputable suppliers, they know how to create a desired blend, they research regional differences in taste preferences, and they understand the regulatory process. They know how to control the costs: of ingredients, shipping, testing, cleaning the materials, keeping inventory, certifications, of packaging.
This book is not a step-by-step instruction manual for creating and marketing a blended tea. It provides an overview of the complicated tea blend industry. It is a quick read, chatty in style. The author indeed “spills the tea” by spreading the news about the mysterious world of blended tea.
Tasting Quality: The Past and the Future of Tea, by Sarah Besky
Anthropologist Sarah Besky offers a fascinating view of the Indian tea industry through the significantly relevant yet frustratingly intangible factor of ‘quality’.
Her new book, Tasting Qualities: The Past and the Future of Tea, manages to easily deconstruct and demystify the space between the plantation and the cup of tea, by introducing every stakeholder from brokers and auctioneers to scientists, blenders, wholesalers, and the retail market – while elaborating on their role in creating, standardizing, and ensuring quality. Rightly so, because tea quality is the one constant along every step of the tea supply chain.
Tales of the Tea Trade: The Secret to Sourcing and Enjoying the World’s Favourite drink, by
After a general but thoughtfully written introduction to tea and its types (pages 6-55), Michelle and Rob take us on a journey to the different countries they source their tea (pages 56-183). Taking turns to voice the stories, we hear from both Michelle and Rob and the fascinating people they’ve met on their travels. This book is intensely human and heartfelt. You really feel a connection with Michelle and Rob, their love of tea, the places they go, and the people they meet.
Art of Tea: A Journey of Ritual, Discovery, and Impact, by Steve Schwartz
Reviewed by Alexa Campbell, May 4, 2023
Art of Tea is a readable book that takes us through the author’s journey from despair to recovery and developing a successful tea business. On the first page, he reveals his philosophy: “tea is timeless, and it’s analog. It offers us a simple way to incorporate sensory experience and ritual in our daily lives.”
Schwartz had an idyllic childhood until his parents divorced when he was 12. Both parents refused to support the children, and a nasty divorce caused them to lose everything. He bounced around parents, boarding school and an older brother’s home, learning to earn money by cleaning houses, badly. After high school, he nursed his mother through terminal cancer and discovered yoga. Searching for meaning in his life, he discovered Ayurveda, an ancient holistic medical science from India. He spent the next years at the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque. Now he had a direction in life.
The author is a master storyteller, and the description of his early years is riveting. How many people, after all, go on their honeymoon considering two choices in life: becoming a rabbi or opening a tea business. The story of his early years with his business, Art of Tea, is equally riveting.
So the book is not really about tea, but about running a tea business. We journey with Schwartz through the opening days of his business, blending teas and botanicals in his living room. Then as he expanded the business, we learn about his philosophy of management, which stood him in good stead through COVID. We hear of his journeys sourcing tea, particularly in China. He has a knack for lively descriptions of the people and places he experienced.
If Schwartz is the star of the first part of the book, tea becomes the star in the second part. He describes the “tea mind.” Tea simultaneously enlivens and focuses the mind. He illustrates this principle with a number of interesting anecdotes about tea drinkers, both ancient and modern. He includes a chapter on the types and brewing of teas. Finally, he gives us recipes for drinks, mocktails, treats and desserts, all made with tea blends sourced from his company, Art of Tea.
Overall, this is a charming memoir written by a successful tea entrepreneur.
Q|A Chitrita Banerji
By Aravinda Antharaman (published May 18, 2021). Read and listen to the full interview.
Chitrita Banerji is one of the most important chroniclers of food history, having written extensively about food and culture, in particular of food in Bengal. After graduating in English in Calcutta, she moved to the US for a Masters in Literature from Harvard University. She now lives in Cambridge, Mass. Her first book, Life and Food in Bengal was published in 1991. And from there on, food became her medium for storytelling. She has since published The Hour of the Goddess: Memories of Women, Food, and Ritual in Bengal; Bengali Cooking: Seasons & Festivals; Eating India: An Odyssey into the Food and Culture of the Land of Spices, besides fiction and biography. While America has become home, she has retained a close connection with India, especially Calcutta and Bengal.
A Rare Find, an Interview with Daniel A. Maxton
What makes a tea book special? asks Tea Book Club founder Kyle Whittington. Rare book collector Donald A. Maxton says that he first considers the age of a published work, which often reflects the culture of the time, and then interesting and unusual designs, and, finally, the use of color. Here Maxton describes a label from his collection:
‘Another interesting one was for Silver Eagle Tea. This label is off-white with a red border embellished with tea leaves at the corners. The text, printed in red and black, reads, “U.S. Registered No. 766 Silver Eagle, Carefully Selected Formosa Oolong.” An eagle carrying a chest of Silver Eagle Tea in its talons is centered on the label.’
Q|A Henrietta Lovell
Henrietta Lovell seeks to redefine good tea as a beverage that tastes amazing. Tea must also benefit the people who craft it and those who drink it, she says. Her firm buys direct from farmers globally, advocating farmer support and development over costly certifications and rejects teas grown with pesticides and herbicides or blended with additives and flavoring.