It’s Sunday, that means it is time to crack open a tea book for review. Of course I have a cup of tea to sip while writing this (and while reading it) I am on steep number four of some Da Hong Pao and getting a bit tea drunk. Tea Culture: History, Traditions, Celebrations, Recipes & More by Beverly Dubrin is a fairly short book with lots of lovely photographs and little nuggets of tea information.
Sadly I am unable to show lots fun photos of me reading this book because I checked out a digital copy from my library. You guys will have to take my word for it that the photos are pretty good, lots of historical photos and ones of various cultures enjoying tea. I will supply just random tea photos to break up the wall of text.
This would be a good book for someone really new to tea, I mean really new. Have a friend who just bought their first box of teabags from the grocery store and wants to know more about tea, but you are not sure if it is a passing phase or a real interest? I suggest this book for them. After typing that I realize that might seem a bit condescending, but it really was not meant to be. There is nothing wrong with a passing phase, or an introduction to a new subject, we all have to start somewhere!
As you probably noticed from the rather long title, this book has tea history, including the connection to the Opium Wars, too many books gloss over that nasty bit of history, which I find bothersome. Tea culture goes somewhat in depth into Chado (or Chanoyu, Japanese Tea Ceremony) and touches on Morrocan tea, English Tea, Russian tea, and the occasion of having tea at a Chinese Restaurant (apparently it is Jasmine tea? I always was served oolong!) There was no mention of Gongfu Cha, which I found odd…not to mention any of the other tea cultures from around the world. Of course the section on various types of tea drinkers (casual, purists, masters) was a bit annoying, there is no need for labels, if you drink tea you are a tea drinker. That is just a pet peeve of mine.
The rather long section on tea bags make it very clear that the author is a huge fan of the bags, describing their lofty talents of making the perfect cup, since teaballs and infusers do not allow for the best expansion of leaves, and often make the cup bitter because leaves get left behind. Also that the silk pyramid bags are very eco-friendly, sadly perpetuating the myth…they are just plastic, not at all biodegradable. Teabags have been elevated to a new level in both quality of tea and packaging. I am not going to straight up say this is wrong, but I certainly do not agree with these statements. Teabags are fine, even I use them occasionally, but it is almost like drinking a whole different drink and not tea. To me it is like the difference between 4% milk fat cottage cheese and fat free cottage cheese, they are clearly the same thing but they are so different I cannot file them as the same in my brain.
If you are going to give this book a read or you are going to gift it, I honestly suggest skipping the section on processing all together. There are so many inaccuracies that I actually cringed a bit, really there are too many to list. At least the author uses the term oxidation instead of fermentation when describing the process of, well, oxidation. I have seen a lot of books originally written in Chinese translate that incorrectly which has caused some rather confusing bits of information floating around. Also the section on decaffeinating your own tea by rinsing it is so annoyingly untrue that it actually offends me a bit, mainly because it can be a health hazard. Imagine a person who has to limit caffeine intake reads this section and thinks they have a nice decaffeinated cup of tea, yeah, that can only end poorly. At the same time I have to give this book some props for saying that various herbal teas’s health benefits are presumed and not a definite.
As much as it seems like I am tearing this book apart, it does have some good qualities. The brewing guide is decent (no Gongfu style steeping, but not really surprising, this is an entry level book after all) and the recipes for different kinds of tea is pretty cool. I like that it even includes instructions for cooking Boba for bubble tea (they can be surprisingly picky about preparation, silly little balls) and includes both traditional drinks and fun herbal blends and lattes. I actually jotted down a few of the recipes to use later, I think they could be a hit at family gatherings. There are also food recipes so you can have traditional scones and sandwiches for your fancy tea party, which there is also tips on how to plan on of those.
The last section of the book was titled ‘Beyond Tea’ which made me imagine a teapot flying out into space, clearly I watch and read too much Sci-Fi. This section covers other uses for tea, like teabag art, hair and skin care, and general things of that nature. It is super short though, so clearly the flying teapot did not go too far. So, can I recommend this book? Yes and no, like I said earlier, a beginner can get a good start on this book, however the incorrect information makes me cringe and want to snatch the book away before it damages the reader’s perception of tea. On the other hand it has some yummy recipes so I can certainly recommend it as a tea cook book. This book is decent and very problematic.