"It is proper both for Winter and Summer, preserving in perfect health until extreme old age, it maketh the body active and lusty . . . it removeth lassitude and cleanseth acrid humours . . . ." This was the sentiment of Thomas Garraway, first to import tea from China in the mid-seventeenth century and sell it in England.
The Book of Tea, with its sumptuous color photographs and richly evocative prose, goes a long way to explain his enthusiasm and is a perfect feast for the senses. And, of course, there is the ceremony and pleasure of the beverage itself to accompany a browse through this volume. I won't say "reading" for this book is one to be picked up and enjoyed piecemeal if you wish -- no need to peruse from cover to cover -- the smorgasbord approach will do just fine.
The preface by famed author Anthony Burgess gives a taste of the treasures within, outlining the arrival of tea in the British Isles and its adoption by the Brits.
The first chapter, "Tea Gardens," by Alain Stella, takes the reader on a tour of producing tea gardens and plantations in Darjeeling, Assam, Ceylon, China, Formosa, and Japan, explaining the processes involved in tea production: cultivation, picking, processing, and shipping.
In chapter two, "Tea Barons," Nadine Beauthéac explores the history of the commercialization of tea by the East India Tea Company and the events which created a market for tea in the western world while making wealthy men out of adventurous tea entrepreneurs.
Chapter three, "Time for Tea," by Gilles Brochard, is an in-depth presentation of the variety, customs, and traditions of the tea ceremony throughout the world, beginning with China, the birthplace of tea, traversing the Orient, Mediterranean, Russia, Europe, and Britain, ending with the United States.
Catherine Donzel, in chapter four, "The Taste of Tea," guides the reader through the maze of terminology, characteristics, color and flavor, fermented vs. semi-fermented, black vs. green, and the ins and outs of choosing the appropriate tea for a particular time and occasion. Donzel gives what are probably the definitive steps in making your cup of comfort.
There is a chapter with pictorials and definitions of "Great Tea Regions and Traditional Blends," a chapter on "Tea for Gourmets," with recipes for tea-based sauces, ice creams, jelly, and cocktails.
The final offering, "A Connoisseur's Guide," lists a variety of fine establishments in the U.S., London, and Paris, demonstrating that it is becoming easier to taste and buy high-quality tea and tea accessories.
Anyone who respects and enjoys beautiful photography -- tea drinker or not -- will love this book, not only for the pictures of tea plantations, but for the art exemplified by the historical photos and prints. When I began reading this book I was not (and perhaps still am not) a tea-drinker, but quickly became enchanted with the lavish and compelling photos, then with the romance and history of the plant and its brew, so much so that I intend to give "high tea" a try. After all, can Dr. Samuel Johnson, who was known to ingest as many as 32 cups at a sitting, and whose tea pot held two liters, be wrong?
Article copyright American Botanical Council.
By Barbara Johnston