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

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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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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." --, 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 (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a tea specialist and have sourced premium tea for over 38 years. As co-owner/co-founder of Tea Trekker and, I am also proud to be an adventurous tea trekker on the ground in China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan sourcing tea from tea farmers and small village tea producers. Our business focuses on not just tea but the diverse cultural aspects of tea and tea drinking in each tea producing country.

Along with Bob Heiss I am the co-author and principal photographer for our book The Story of Tea:A Cultural History and Drinking Guide, I am extremely proud that our book was nominated for both an IACP and James Beard Cookbook Award in 2008 and received a Gourmand Award for Best Tea Book in the USA in 2008.

Our second tea book - The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook, A Guide to Enjoying the World's Best Teas - is a handy companion volume with practical advise for navigating the delicious maze of tea categories and styles available in tea shops today. In addition, Bob Heiss and I co-wrote HOT DRINKS and I am the single author of Green Tea.

The New York Times dubbed us 'the Professors of Tea' and we are thrilled with that title. Because we know that not all tea is the same and quality varies wildly, we travel to East Asia as often as we can to select our rare and premium teas and to re-affirm our commitment to our suppliers. We look for the highest grades, the choicest leaf and small, hand-made batches.

Tea and tea culture consumes our waking hours and we feel lucky to be able introduce a world of artisan tea to Western tea drinkers. Knowing that centuries-old tea making traditions are continuing today because tea drinkers are more educated and are demanding better tea makes us smile.

Understanding tea is a complex study of how's and why's. Tea knowledge is comprised of minutia, lots of it, as well as recognizing the importance of both the large and small differences in each class of tea.

Studying tea is a lifelong quest; one cannot learn all there is to know about the styles of tea in a few broad strokes. When we visit tea-producing countries we become students to the tea masters that teach us and share their wisdom about tea with us.

We return home each time with additional knowledge, new insights, and a deeper appreciation for the craft of tea-making, and in turn share this information with our tea customers and readers.

Together and individually, we present professional and vocational seminars and classes on tea culture and history, and lead group tea tasting workshops. In our store we periodically conduct a series of Master Classes in Tea.

Please sign up on for our e-newsletter for announcements of tea events and classes. And subscribe to Tea Trekker's blog, an informative and educational addendum to our website and tea books, which will be delivered directly into your in-box with each new post.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

107 of 120 people found the following review helpful 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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61 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on October 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
WOW..... Ever have a book come across your desk that leaves you in awe? This is what happened when The Story of Tea landed in my mailbox. What first catches your eye is the crisp clean design of the book and its cover. A sturdy book that has a sensual soothing feel. If the eyes are the gateway to the stomach, then this book was one that would make me want to drink tea. And I have never been a tea or coffee drinker, so this is an important point.

So I sat and ran my hand over the book and looked at the zen style teapot pouring a hot serving of tea, in the cover photo. Then I opened the book and an hour later when the sun had begun to set and I realized I needed to turn on a light, I realized how mesmerized I had become. To the point I reread areas because I was on the path to becoming a tea lover.

The photos are stunning and informative, which is rare in most books. I was intrigued about all the various cultures where tea is not only drunk, but used as an ingredient in medicine, cooking and baking. The Life of a Tea Bush one reads of the different types of tea bushes, their needs be it water, deeply rich soil, mountains or valleys. On page 51 one learns of the 8 elements of tea productions.

On page 257 one begins to read the encyclopedia of teas, from White, Yellow, Green, Oolong, Black, Pu-erh, Scented, Artisan, Presentation, or Display Tea. And then Brewing The Perfect Cup. No tea bags here thankfully. Then Storing tea, the best water, temperatures etc.

Tea Customs and Culture covers China, Japan, Europe, and other countries like north Africa and Arabia, teapots and cups, as well as Wagashi or what is called sweets that one can serve with various teas.

Like tea itself, this book is soothing and nice. And would make a GREAT gift for anyone who loves history, food, is a teacup or teapot collector, is living in a cabin or on Park Avenue. Have homeschooling friends and family whom I have and will recommend the book to.
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44 of 51 people found the following review helpful By M. Parfitt on July 25, 2008
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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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Sharon Hudgins on January 27, 2008
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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