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The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide Hardcover – October 1, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Purveyors of fine tea, the Heisses' documentary dexterously weaves through the wars, economic upheavals and embargoes surrounding what was once considered the elixir of immortality. Though tea usage may predate written history, evidence suggests that Camellia sinensis's invigorating leaves were first cultivated centuries ago in the tea gardens of indigenous minorities in Northwestern China and along the Indian, Myanmar and Tibetan borders. Chinese monks recognized the energizing effects and medicinal value of this evergreen plant and, by touting its benefits, ignited a thirst for tea that quickly spread west via oceangoing tea clippers and along the Silk Road. The famed East India Company flourished, teatime became social tradition, and cream and sugar were found to balance tea's astringency. In this guide, the Heisses outline at length the production process from tea bush to tea cup, along with the nuances of regional varietals like China's sweet green tea and India's Darjeeling. An engaging historical and cultural study, this guide is geared toward both novice and consummate consumers intrigued by the world's 2,000-year-old tea habit. (Oct.)
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Review

Robert J. Heiss and Mary Lou Heiss are 'The Professors of Tea'  (NY Times, October 2007)

The Story of Tea was nominated in 2008 for a prestigious James Beard Book Award and an IACP Cookbook Award. It captured the award for Best Tea Book in the USA from Gourmand Awards, Paris, France, and also won the bronze for Best Tea Book in the World in 2008.

"This husband-and-wife team, with 30 years of experience sourcing teas for their shop, produced a passionate and learned book that is as much a cultural exploration as a practical guide to tea and its full enjoyment." Boulder Weekly, Maricel E. Presilla

"With their first-hand accounts, meticulous research and passion for the subject, The Story of Tea has all the makings of becoming the definitive source for tea. And it's time -- for a tea book of this caliber." The Washington Post "A Mighty Appetite" with Kim O'Donnel, October 22, 2007

"I knew it was extraordinary...No other book, to my knowledge, has contained as much fascinating and detailed information." -- spicesoflife.com, September 18, 2007
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (October 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580087450
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580087452
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By N. Suzuki on November 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I would have so wished to love this book. I am a tea lover and tea is one of my passions. The wonderful pictures looked promising, so did the index and the chapter outline. However, information were repeated over and over again, at some times I felt the authors are rambling on and on without making a point. Often they talk about their tea store, their experiences while traveling, how there are other "bad" tea stores, who do not know anything about tea. A more appropriate title would have been "OUR story of tea".

I would have wished, the authors would have explained better the different steps how the different white, oolongs, black, green and pu-err teas are made. The authors only mentioned the order of how the tea leaves are processed, no explanation for the whys, except "to make the tea more mellow, greener ...". This would have been a great chance to explain a bit about the chemistry, that is going on there.

Although, the context and lay out was so promising, the overall read ended up to be boring and disappointing. With too much repeated information on one side and too little at others, plus the never-ending passages without much point. The fascinating ways of tea with its drinking traditions and production and cultural evolution got lost under all the rambling and was burdened with too many words.
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Format: Hardcover
As other reviewers have mentioned, this is a beautiful book to page through. And it's pretty clear, I think, that the authors are real experts on their subject. I was going to buy it from Amazon on the strength of the other reviews here, but frankly I'm glad I borrowed it from the library instead. The writing is really quite poor throughout, and much as I found the subject interesting, I found it tedious to untangle one ill-constructed sentence after another as I made my arduous way through the book. The writers don't seem to be quite sure of who their audience is, or what tone is appropriate for this sort of book. At times, it reads like a textbook; at others, like a reflective essay. But it never reads very smoothly. A thoroughly revised new edition would be nice!
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Format: Hardcover
Reviewed by Sharon Hudgins, author of "The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East"

The subtitle of this beautiful book ought to be "Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Tea But Were Afraid to Ask." It answers all of your questions--and more--about tea, including the history of tea, where tea is grown, how it is processed, and the cultural factors influencing the production and consumption of tea over the centuries. Both encyclopedic and very readable, it is filled with historical references, details, and anecdotes lacking in lesser books on this subject. And there is even a section on "Cooking with Tea," including recipes for Green Tea Pots de Crème and Green Tea Chiffon Cake with Walnuts and Crystallized Ginger.

The authors own a shop that sells fine teas, coffees, and other food specialties in Massachusetts. Their book's scope is worldwide and their own knowledge considerable. They have traveled to China and Japan to visit the sites of tea plantations and tea processors, and their handsomely designed, well-printed book is full of color photographs taken on location. If you buy only one book on the subject of tea, this should definitely be the one! It also makes a great gift, paired with a pretty teapot and a box of special, aromatic tea. Highly recommended!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Given how much I enjoy drinking tea, it's rather a given that over the years I've amassed a collection of books dealing with and about tea. Whenever I see a new book about tea, I know that eventually, it's going to be read by me. And this creates a quandary when I do -- given that there's a rather finite amount of information on the topic, eventually it all starts to sound the same, and it now takes a lot to really engage my interest.

Such was the problem when I picked up The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss. Tracing the origin of tea in ancient China when a leaf from the plant fell into a cup of hot water that the Emperor was drinking from (or so myth would have it), this lavish book takes the reader on a journey from how the tea is cultivated, processed, drunk and ritualized around the world, and focusing mostly on customs in China, Japan, and mostly Asian countries.

The first two chapters, A Brief History of Tea and The Life of a Tea Bush were only mildly interesting to be as they covered topics that nearly every book on tea has included. But the sidebars were interesting, and the photographs wonderfully evocative and at times sensual. It's in the third chapter, Manufacture where the story starts to get interesting. One topic I found very interesting was the history of how tea was classified in Ming China, separating the tea into six categories, depending on the age of the leaves and buds when picked, how the tea was fermented or not, and even how it was distributed. That still has remained the system today, with a few modifications. While black and green teas are known to most tea drinkers in the West, only now are the subtleties of white, yellow, oolongs and pu-erhs beginning to be known.
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