Customer Reviews: The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook: A Guide to Enjoying the World's Best Teas
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on May 28, 2010
There are few books about tea that add to the discussion about tea in any meaningful way, but Mary Lou and Robert Heiss's new book, 'The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook' is one of them. This is a book about quality, although they sidestep the word because it has very little meaning in the industry, and instead use the word 'soundness', saying "We prefer to begin judging the potential merits of a tea by evaluating its soundness".

Their book points the reader in a sound direction. Serious students of tea may find that they disagree with some of the details, but it is indisputable that the path to the world's best teas is clearly defined in this book. The international tea industry has never been clear about this path because it points to China and unblended, unflavored tea, and the established industry has a hard time delivering such tea to consumers. Even though teas from other areas are mentioned, the heart of the book is about Chinese tea. China, after all, is where tea originated, and definitions about tea need to be consistent with Chinese standards.

They have taken a risk in writing this book. The industry has not been very supportive of writers that dare to write books that challenge conventional wisdom. It may not be obvious to the people reading that are outside of the industry, but a book like this really is a game changer. People will start to look at the tea that they are buying from the conventional sources and will start to realize that tea that they are buying and is being sold for 'good quality' is in reality very 'sound'. Then the open secret that people in the industry know, and increasingly 'tea enthusiasts' are becoming aware of, is that there is much better tea out there, it's just that it is difficult to come by in the US and Europe. Mary Lou and Robert have stirred that controversy just by providing good information.

Mary Lou and Robert Heiss are excellent teachers. The lessons presented in this book are clear and concise. This book contains lessons that professional tea buyers ought to pay attention to and gives the consumers a high standard with which to judge in buying tea. The book is intelligently organized, highlighted with good photography, and well written. There are no examples of flowery rhetoric in place of substance. They tell the reader what good tea is, and where to find it. It may seem like a small book, but it gives the reader everything they need to get started with, or to expand their experience with tea. This is a book that every tea drinker should own, enthusiast or not, and in my opinion it is the most substantive book about tea to be written in English. It is not a travel log or a romanticized history.

I get asked often to recommend books about tea. The Heiss's first bookThe Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide set the bar higher for tea education, but they have surpassed it with this book. I do recommend both of their books, but this one is really a game changer. Buy it.

-- Austin Hodge, Seven Cups Fine Teas
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on April 3, 2010
The authors know tea. More importantly, they know how to make the world of tea accessible and interesting to all levels of steepers. Literally a "handbook," this small volume fits comfortably in the palm and packs quite a punch. A majority of the book's information is devoted to explaining the six classes of tea by describing processing techniques, mapping growing regions, and showing the leaves and liquor of specific teas, such as Tung Ting oolong. New to purchasing tea? Follow their well-informed advice on deciphering pricing, freshness and seasonality, and how to brew a proper cup. And make sure to flip to the glossary in the back to expand your tea vocabulary even further.

Don't be deceived by its small size-this book is a must-have for the tea enthusiast!
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I have purchased and checked out from the library several educational books on tea:

This is not what I would consider a great tea book. It is pretty concise and compact, but it has some good information to get you started with learning about tea. I highly recommend some of the following books as well (some notes about this book are included below). I would say this is a brief introductory book worth checking out from the library, but if you own any other tea book (especially the two five star books below), this might be obsolete.


The Tea Drinker's Handbook - 5 stars
I really like that the authors picked what they consider the 50 best teas in the world and highlighted production, style, tasting notes, and brewing tips for each of these teas. The text also highlights tea growth and production in various countries. We can read on Japanese production of green tea and their method of steaming to preserve the grassy fresh aromas or production from Brazil made to emulate Japanese Sencha. The entire world of tea is covered at least in mention, from the Azores to Cameroon, to Taiwan, China, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and beyond! The book does not spend too much time on the history of tea other than to mention the origin legend, and the expansion of tea from China. There is a fair amount spent on the cultivation of the tea plant and the life cycle of the tree as well as touching on possible origins based on wild tea trees (all but gone now... most wild tea trees were cultivated at some time in the last 1300 years). This is one of the finest educational tea books I have read.

Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties - 5 stars
This text would be worth purchasing for the pictures and the scientific analyses contained within. The caffeine chart alone makes one ponder the myth that white and green tea have lower caffeine than wulong and black tea. What I really liked about this book was that each section seemed to contain a good amount of content on the topic without going into overkill. Production is described for each style in a very concise manner, but each step is explained so that the reader understands production even if this is the first tea book they have read. There are some tasting notes on particular teas the authors have chosen. But probably the best aspect of this book and the one that lends the most credibility is the periodic inclusion of interviews with tea growers, harvesters, buyers, and sellers.

The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide - 4 stars
This is a rather large and bulky text on tea. There is a lot of good information, and I would consider this the runner up to The Tea Drinker's Handbook. The writing is very nice, descriptions very well conveyed, and the pictures are pretty nice. The main issue is the format and layout. There is a lot of information, but finding things really takes a lot of digging. It is laid out more like a 'book' and less like a 'text'. If you know what I mean. It's more narrative in style, though it is educational, it lends itself to reading in order rather than flipping to a pertinent section that you might enjoy.

The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook: A Guide to the World's Best Teas - 4 stars
This is another text that I enjoy and rate highly, though it falls short on content compared to The Story of Tea or The Tea Drinker's Handbook. It makes for a nice and quick reference and is pretty well written and laid out well.

Way of Tea - 4 stars
An oddly translated book that nonetheless contains some nice stories. For less than a dollar used it's worth adding to the collection. But the translation is pretty horrific in places. Especially with tea names and styles. It is more of a guide to the history, story of, and serving of tea. I actually gave it five stars in my review though based on it being more of a fun addition to the tea library and a great value.

The New Tea Companion - 3 stars
A book with good illustrations, but rather lacking in overall depth. It does describe various teas and shows the leaf and the color of the brewed liquid. Of course this is not very helpful in the long run for adding to knowledge of tea. I doubt many people who buy the book will be blind tasting tea in order to ascertain the origin. But it's nice to refer to every now and again. It's rather unnecessary though if you own any other thorough tea book.

And there are others, but these seem to be the most popular and widely available texts on the world of tea as a whole. And I am familiar with these. There are others, many that I have flipped through in Powell's that are not worth even mentioning here. Too many focus on the British style of tea and spend a lot of time on Indian tea and tea etiquette in the English style. Others focus too heavily on the Eastern tea ceremonies and overlook India, Sri Lanka, and other tea producing countries.

I highly recommend this as well as any of the books I mentioned above for building up a tea library. And I also highly highly recommend the documentary All In This Tea. So brew a pot of your favorite and enjoy!
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This book explains what real tea is. All tea comes from one plant and variations on that one plant. It also talks about the six types of tea from least processed to most processed (green, yellow, white, oolong, black, and Pu-erh). You'll learn about tea processing in the countries of origin (China, Japan, Sri Lanka, India, etc.) and the different variations of tea and how the leaves should look and the tea should taste. There are also pictures of the brewed tea being described so you can get an idea of the liquid in your cup.

If you are looking for recipes or information about what the West calls tea but really isn't tea (like herbal infusions or tisanes), then you won't find information on that in this book. This book is strictly about real tea from the countries of origin that come from the camellia sinesis plant. I love this handbook and am impressed with the education I received just from reading it.
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on March 9, 2012
This is a good introduction to some of the true (not tisane or flavored) teas. However, I have some of the same complaints as other reviewers: namely that there didn't exist a thorough enough description of enough teas, nor did the book include all the most famous teas from china, Japan, Sri Lanka, etc. also, I feel that the heiss' purist ways led them away from listing the wonderful teas that have sprung up around the world in Japan, Tibet, India, etc.

Most importantly, and I must preface this with the fact that this is a valuable contribution to a food item that has relatively little written about it for the general public, I did not appreciate the author's attitude when I got the chance to meet them in Northampton, MA. Regrettably, I did not get a chance to speak with Mary Lou. However, Robert seemed a little ticked off by my interest in tea and even told me, quite ironically because his book mentions it so tersely, that my understanding of storing oolong tea is too simplistic. I was also told that I must not have authentic teas because they looked slightly different than the teas he had. Upon purchasing from him and taking the tea home to compare, they were exact in smell and taste. While I will not recant every bit of our short conversation, I will say that it left me with a bad taste in my mouth (no pun intended). Robert could not be bothered sweeping his store to sell me any tea, and answered all my questions condescendiingly. The conversation was almost like a saturday night live skit, just not very funny to me in the moment. I can say that I will never shop there again for the sheer principle. I believe that those who are so devoted and excited about something such as tea should either be as excited to educate others about it, or keep it wholly to themselves.

If the Heiss's are both this condescending to their customers, then I feel very sad that I bought their book and traveled the 2.5 hours to see them in NoHa. If you want great teas, without the condescention, try out the online tea store tea for great quality teas shipped directly from china.
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on June 19, 2011
This book starts with useful tips for making a perfect cup of tea including brewing times(avoid tap water and `the tea ball'). The authors suggest that those on a `tea journey' take notes including tea name, class, country, exact trade, where purchased, similar teas, and what you like or don't like about a variety. The body of the book is in the description of the 6 classes of tea green (like Genmaicha with toasted Brown rice) or Longjin (one of `China's Ten Famous Teas), yellow tea, white tea, Oolong and Black tea (`Especially delicious are Yunna Black Tea'). Each section includes selected varieties picturing both dry tea and color of a brewed cup. For each variety is a description of the leaf plucking and production methods, and tips for purchasing. A map is including with each tea class, showing the main producing areas, and I plan to take this a step further, buy highlighting on a map when I buy new teas. The glossary is particularly useful, but it didn't include such basic things a defining `Orange Pekoe'. This book will work nicely with your favorite tea vendors (like Upton's or Elmwood Inn) to guide your selections.
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on February 9, 2014
Simple introduction to tea, but more serious tea specialists will be disappointed by this book. A very concise and handy book to bring around in order to understand the main regions and different types of tea available.
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on May 12, 2012
This book is great, and despite being relatively short it goes at enough depth about tea. I Enjoyed it and I keep it as a quick reference for brewing suggestions.
One thing I noticed while checking out the authors' tea shop website is that most of kinds of tea the book talks about, you can find in their shop. The book goes at length about specific charachteristics of teas, such as pre-Qing Ming flush chinese teas. And their website has them. I don't really have a problem with this, because the book covers many aspects of tea with great expertise, but I couldn't help feeling like I was just browsing their loose leaf te acatalog!
So just be aware that there's more to tea than this book tells. Other than that, GREAT BOOK!
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on February 21, 2015
I'm working in a very high-end tea shop (NOT Teavana, Adagio, or David's), and this book is required reading BEFORE we start our education program. It is incredibly informative for the beginners, and even those of us who had some tea knowledge walking in to our current employment. I recommend this for people wanting to know more about this wonderful beverage!
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on March 2, 2015
My husband and I are getting into drinking Tea and I needed to learn more about Tea. this book has a lot of pictures of different tea's and how to make them. Both my husband and myself really like this book, it was a great guide to the flavor of the teas and how to make them. It is a very info friendly book and will teach you a lot about Tea's. Great book if you are getting into Tea drinking you can really use this guide.
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