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The Tea Drinker's Handbook Hardcover – October 1, 2008
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"The Tea Drinker's Handbook is an educational and comprehensive guide to all things tea. The handbook is a gorgeous hardcover filled with 200 illustrations and full-color photographs. It not only educates on the cultivation processit also lists the world's 50 best teas by country Everything you could ever want to know about tea is in The Tea Drinker's Handbook. This is a lovely gift for anyone who enjoys tea and would like to learn more about the art and ecology of tea drinking. For me, this book is a fantastic reference as well as a fascinating read." GourmetByMail(dot)com
About the Author
Mathias Minet is a taster. He joined Le Palais des Thés ten years ago and co-directs the business with Delmas. In 1999, he and Delmas founded L’École du Thé, a school for would-be tasters.
Christine Barbaste is the author of Thé à Paris in the series Paris est à nous (Editions Parigramme).
Top customer reviews
This is one of the only tea books that I can fully recommend.
The most important is that (contrary to many others) the book is extremely well edited and thought out. This makes a huge difference. First, the book contains almost no fluff. It's all essential information, including much that is not available in any of the other books I've read. Even better, the thought put into structure and sharpness also makes the information much easier to digest and absorb.
The final polish is that (again contrary to many other books on tea) all the information is accurate. And if seldom the authors don't delve into all the details, they still manage to stay away from generalizations. For a novice reader, this is extremely important. I've seen too many people get the wrong impression on some aspect of tea just because a tea book without sufficient attention to detail printed information pertaining for example only to a particular type of tea from a particular country as pertaining to the same tea from all sources.
To top it all off, even the pictures are great. Not only do they match the topic, they go above and beyond, giving additional information or a counterpoint to the text they accompany.
The content of the book is summarized as follows (shown because Amazon currently doesn't show the table of contents):
What is tea?
- 10 pages on the bush in general: form, the varieties sinensis, assamica and cambodiensis, the concept of a cultivar, wild and ancient tea trees
- 19 pages on tea cultivation: production areas and the requirements for success, propagation by seed versus cloning by cuttings, the lifespan of a tea tree, organic farming
- 12 pages on plucking and the various social and labor systems existent in plantations around the world, a table discussing how many shoots have to be picked for each quality class of tea, discussion on fair trade tea
- 20 pages on processing tea into the different types
- 15 pages on the processes and factors affecting the taste of tea: amount of leaves, length of infusion, movement of leaves in the vessel, dimensions of the vessel, quality of water (pH, mineral content), temperature of water (including information on how the different chemical compounds in tea behave with regard to heat), a diagram on the speed of theine and tannins are released into water, ..
- 22 pages on preparing and storing tea: Indian tea tasting, Gong fu cha, Gaiwan, the large western teapot, the Japanese kyusu and tetsubin. The aging of dark tea
- 10 pages on the physiology of taste: taste, olfaction and aromas, mouthfeel and texture, vision and hearing. The parts of the tongue and brain that are involved in tasting.
- 11 pages on the mental side of tasting and tasting vocabulary
Teas around the world
- 81 pages of teas from around the world: The history, current status, main cultivation areas and example teas with descriptions from China, Taiwan, Japan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Excellent maps. Contains also production figures that for example tell that the Japanese produce double the amount of tea per hectare compared to the Chinese, and also best the Indians to a more limited extent.
I have purchased and checked out from the library several educational books on tea. This is the book I consider the best of the bunch. First I will list the other books and mention a few positives about those, then I will describe why I felt this to be the superior text.
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. Funny considering two of the highest caffeine concentrations are in Japanese green teas! 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. A few are the normal teas that you see mentioned in many texts, but a few are new. They seem especially fond of Chinese and Japanese tea (seeing as those are the two countries with the longest tea drinking and growing traditions I appreciate this) and they have a good amount of content on Taiwan and India while mentioning Nepal, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and a few other countries of note. I also like that the authors didn't get too full of themselves and even have mentions of fun tea facts like bottled Japanese green tea (it's not like the bottled tea here - just chilled green tea without sweetener or additives). 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. Bravo on a job well done!
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.
This book is an odd size. It is rather narrow, but tall. It has great content that is perfectly laid out and formatted. There are a few spots where the font is a tea green color and it makes it a little harder to read in faint light, but otherwise no complaints.
I really like that the author's 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. For example, in Japan they list Sencha, Genmaicha, Hojicha, Gyokuro, and Kukicha. But I love that they also touch on teas that are a little less known while highlighting things like Ti Kuan Yin, Darjeeling First Flush, Assam, Gunpowder, and so on.
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 the finest educational tea book I have read. I highly recommend this as well as any of the books I mentioned above for building up a tea library. This should be the cornerstone of the collection. And I also highly highly recommend the documentary All In This Tea. So brew a pot of your favorite and enjoy!