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Today’s tea themed page turner is The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea by Michael Harney…yes, it is that Harney & Sons, so in all honesty you know that the book is going to be good. I am going to start out by saying this might be my favorite stand alone guide to tasting tea. It is wonderful as a go to refresher for experienced sippers and a fantastic intro to those new to the art of tasting tea.
The best part of this book, the part that makes me check it out from the library time and time again (really the fact that it is not in my collection yet is a bit criminal) is the overwhelmingly casual approach to tea. There are so many instances of the author telling you ‘there are no wrong answers’ ‘everyone tastes differently’ ‘everyone can be a tea taster’ that it practically makes me giddy. It goes along with my philosophy of tea being fun, approachable, and art. I had this philosophy before I read the book and seeing such a well respected tea expert have the same philosophy as me certainly makes me happy.
The book begins with a typical (and maybe the best ever) introduction of the author and the subject matter. After that we get a brief and very thorough explanation on how to taste tea, and from that we go straight into the teas. Each tea section is divided into types of tea, starting with the White Teas, it starts with a brief overall discussion on the group of tea (for example the White Tea section mentions Tricomes or tea fuzzies and some flavor notes you might run into.)
Each tea is given its own handy little table which includes the tea’s name (and a translation when applicable) brewing parameters, a description on the dry leaves, a description of the tea’s liquid (liquor) the aroma, body, and lastly the flavor. Some of flavor notes are a bit giggle worthy, like lemon taffy, sulfur, raspberry jam, and cotton candy. I have no room to talk of course, being a person who uses rather whimsical sounding aroma and taste descriptions. That is the great thing about tea, it reminds each individual of something new and exciting, so where I smell spicebush you might smell gingersnaps, it helps us reflect on our personal experiences. A person with more experiences with tasting tons of foods could find more similarities there, a person who spends way too much time out in nature could find similarities there.
Lastly the book closes with a pretty nifty appendix collection of tea menus for tea tasting, grouping teas by flavor profiles, like floral teas, smoky teas, and chocolaty teas. After that there is a description of the various processing tea leaves go through ‘from tree to tea.’ Next we get a brief history of tea, and it is very short, but full of useful tidbits, my favorite being the dispelling of the myth that the British originally thought that leaves were harvested by monkeys. Lastly there is a small list of tea sources and why they were picked as some of the best.
The only bad thing (if that really) that I have to say about this book is the lack of pictures. I am very much so a visual learner and very much so need pictures when I am learning something new. Luckily we live in a digital age, so I suggest reading this book with the internet open so you can look at pictures of the teas listed in this book.
Today tasty cup of tea book is The Green Tea User’s Manual by Helen Gustafson, noted Tea Sommelier from Chez Panisse Restaurant. I have never heard of this restaurant, but from what I can glean from the menu is it is very fancy, in Berkeley, and rather pricey, the food looks tasty though! This is a fairly short book all about Green Tea, and unlike some of the other books that claim to be all about Green Tea, this one actually sticks to theme. There are very few mentions of other types of tea, in fact there is very little mention of tea’s history (except green) and the tea plant.
This book does some things very right, for one thing it calls the process of exposing tea to air oxidation instead of fermentation, even going as far to say that calling it fermentation is incorrect. It gives the correct temperatures to brew different kinds of green, stating that all teas are a little bit different and it takes experimenting to find the ‘sugar spot’ for the best cup. I enjoy the section explaining how to observe water and judge its temperature by looking at the bubbles. This method was invaluable to me before I got my temperature control kettle. It also just presents some good information about tea, which is always a plus in my book.
However, I am exceptionally picky when it comes to book, I tend to get very nit-picky, which is a little funny in comparison to my taste in tea. I might have a very discerning nose and palate, but it turns out I am not at all picky, which is awesome because I enjoy most the teas I try. I wish I were the same with books, it would make some of the time I spend on terrible novels a lot more enjoyable. And I am getting off on a tangent again…anyway, back on subject! The negative aspects of this book are pretty few, there are times when the wording seems a little cutesy bordering on demeaning (like saying in reference of Japanese teas: ‘these chippy-choppy names skip across the pages like chubby kittens’) now I always appreciate a little whimsy, but it seems so out of place with the tone of the book. The really big problem was in the ‘health section’ in reference to decaffeinating your tea by rinsing it. I want to go back in time, find out who started perpetrating this myth, and hit them with a sack of tea. It makes me angry, like few other things do, when I see this…I take it so personal because in my younger days I read this and believed it. At the time I was on medication that did not mix well with caffeine, let’s just say the result made for a miserable experience.
This is really a great little beginners guide to Green Tea, I would go as far as to say this has been the best stand alone guide to Green Tea I have run into. There might be better ones out there, but I have not found one yet. It is one of those books that I feel is a ‘seed planter’ it acts as a good base for people with a passing interest, but if you gave this book to someone who developing an obsession with tea…it would plant so many research seeds in their brain that they would spend hours looking things up.
Oh man, I feel really off today, not sure if I am catchy Ben’s stupid cold/flu thing or if I am about to have a Fibromyalgia flair. Either option is unpleasant, but they will pass with time. If it is a fibro flare, I cannot say I will be surprised, I have been so busy with redoing the bedroom, and baking, and other things that I have worn myself out! I do not think I have just spent a day lounging or relaxing in a while, and I still am not finished with the things I need to accomplish. Soon, I am going to have to take a break!
Today’s book is Healthy Teas: Green-Black-Herbal-Fruit by Tammy Safi is a book about the various health benefits of tea. Before you either groan in annoyance or become rapt with excitement, it is not really that fixated on the various miraculous healing properties of tea, most of the health things come from various herbal teas. It has a very tolerable level of health references, like saying that caffeine in tea can help with migraines (but can also be addictive and cause heart problems) that some teas have an alkaline affect on the body making it soothing for people who have ulcers, and that it is a good source of some vitamins and minerals. I am very much so in favor of what can be called ‘basic’ levels of health claims with regards to tea, but I get offended at the various claims out that that make tea come off as a panacea. It gives my favorite drink bad press and makes the legitimately healthy aspects of tea not taken seriously because of all the sensationalist claims, at least that is how I have felt with regards to it…but I digress…
This book touches briefly on the history of tea (and uses fermentation instead of oxidation…that will never stop annoying me I think) and has a brief introduction to various teas separated by country. I did notice two things that made me a bit sad, first off all oolongs come from Taiwan. No, this statement has completely neglected all the beautiful Wuyi oolongs, that is practically criminal, but my obsession with oolongs make me very biased. The other thing that caught my eye was the brewing instructions, a lot of them said use boiling water for green teas. Oh man, anyone who follows those directions is going to end up with some intensely bitter green teas, this I know from experience.
The rest of the book is devoted to recipes for various herbal teas, some of which look quite tasty. Luckily the recipes do not include any really rare or hard to find ingredients, pretty much all of then can be found at a local herb shop. This was a cute little book with some nifty recipes, I say if you want a book that is an introduction to tea and focuses on herbal tea, this is a good pick.
Today’s nugget of tea knowledge is The Book of Green Tea by Christine Dattner and it is, problematic. Probably not the best way to start out a review, but I just can’t think of any other way to introduce this book. It claims to be the book of green tea (it is right there in the title after all) but it spends an equal amount of time talking about other teas, and the time it spends on its intended subject matter is…problematic.
I know, I know…I keep using that word, let me explain why. First off, this book needed editing, at first I thought it needed editing by someone more versed in tea, but the more I read the more I realized that it needed editing by someone who was looking for consistencies. Oh man, so many inconsistencies, some exciting examples are Gyokuro being translated as precious rose in one place and precious dew in another…or my favorite calling Huang Shan Mu Dang (or Huang Shan Lu Mu Dan as I know it, translation error?) Huang Shan Mao Feng earlier in the book. Maybe it was because I had a splitting headache when I was reading this book and my tolerance was low, but the mistakes made me audibly groan.
There were also a lot of things that were just incorrect, but this is one of those things that I am not sure if it is due to a lack of easy to obtain information at the time. On the one hand I feel like in 2003 (when this book was written) that there were enough books and information on the internet that you could have gotten correct information on Gong Fu Cha and basic tea facts. However I will give it the benefit of the doubt, at least until I finish my time machine and can go back to 2003 to check for myself. So take that with a grain of salt.
This book is not all bad though, it is actually quite pretty and has some decent info. For instance I love the amount of detail it goes into for Moroccan tea, there are several pages devoted to Moroccan tea culture and history with some very nice photos. The various brewing instructions for the various teas is spot on, especially pleased to see Darjeeling shown at a lower temperature than other black teas. There are also some delicious looking tea themed recipes, a couple of them I might actually try.
So long story short, do I recommend this book? Well, no. It is not bad, there is certainly some moments where I actually contemplated adding this book to my collection, but all of this info is available in other books, other more correct and edited books. I say buy it if you think tea books are like Pokemon and you have to catch them all, if not, then I say search elsewhere.
Today’s tea book is a classic, ok 1996 is not really classic (nor is the English translation that came out in 2001) but time flies and knowledge evolves. The Little Book of Tea is a collaboration between Kitti Cha Sangmanee (tea expert and president of Mariage Freres Tea) Catherine Donzel (historian) Stephane Melchior-Durand (art historian) and Alain Stella (writer) all this listed on the back flap.
Before I get into this book, I flipped to the back (where the publication info was listed) and low and behold there is a steeping chart. I am glad I was not sipping tea at this point because I would have done a spit-take! The recommend Silver Needle steeps at 158-185 degrees for 15 minutes! That seems a little intense, but Mariage Freres is a well known and respected tea establishment, and I am nothing if not game for an experiment, so I am giving this a try. At 158 degrees for the advised 15 minutes…but more on that later.
Time for the book! This book is in fact tiny, it could probably slip in a purse or large pocket pretty easily, but for all its 120 pages the information is tightly packed and surrounded by lovely photography and tea themed illustrations. It begins with a brief yet fairly thorough history of tea and classification of tea, you know, the basics. Though this does make the mistake of calling oxidation fermentation, but since this book is being translated from French, I am willing to let it pass, even though I do twitch every time it comes up.
After that is the real ‘meat’ of the book, an alphabetical guide to tea. This section is filled with some tasty little nuggets of history and culture, even if it does seem more skewed towards Western tea culture and history than Eastern. Don’t get me wrong, it does cover major tea producing countries, they even mention Korea’s tea culture which frequently gets overlooked, but they also have sections about specific tea estates in Sri Lanka and India along side the individual countries’s entries. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have a book geared towards one culture or another, but when a book styles itself as ‘Everything you wanted to know about your favorite subject in one handy volume’ I do expect it to be a bit more diverse.
There were a few points of information that are now a bit dated, making it incorrect now but at the time it was correct, so I am not going to be too harsh on the book for that, it is not a time travel book of paradoxes after all. Examples of this are only referring to Taiwan as Formosa, and my favorite, not knowing which chemical reactions happen during oxidation and no one knowing exactly how the qualities are produced. Luckily we have a pretty good idea of what is going on, and there are some excellent articles written on the subject (I suggest Tony Gebely’s What is Oxidation and Boston Teawright’s Tea Tannins Part 3 Black Tea for some really juicy details) Also there was no mention of Pu erh at all, which was a little odd. I also was not a fan of the book’s disdain of adding cream, sugar, or lemon to teas, pfft, drink tea however you want…their claim that a true connoisseur would never add lemon to tea, especially a green tea, is ridiculous…lemon is delicious in sencha!
The last couple pages have a Tea Connoisseur’s Guide chart (I have a weakness for charts and tables) that have the tea divided by country. They give a brief description of what it is and what time of day it is best for. There are a few food pairing suggestions, and whether or not milk is ok to be added, but mostly it focuses on time of day Also bonus points for mentioning South American teas, yay for rarely talked about tea estates!
So you are probably wondering about that 15 minute steep, it is actually pretty delicious, tepid, but delicious! On a whim I did the second steep also at 15 minutes but at 170 degrees, sadly this was bland and boring because all the flavor went into the previous steep! Me thinks I am going to experiments with these crazy parameters some. They remind me of steeping the tea Grandpa Style, except the tea is removed instead of water being added as it gets low. Final thoughts on The Little Book of Tea? I recommend it, it is a little dated and has a few flaws, but it s a good beginner’s guide to tea and its history.
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.
Today’s tea is not one you drink with your mouth, but one you drink with your mind. Ok, you can drink your tea book if you really want to, but as much as I love the smell of paper, I do not think it tastes the best. The other day when I posted on Twitter that I was thinking about reviewing the tea books I own (and ones I can get at my library) I asked if anyone had any requests…and the response was ‘my favorite’ which is a challenge in itself!Tea Sommelier by Gabriella Lombardi and Fabio Petroni just might fill that bill. When I first saw this book last Christmas while browsing at Barnes and Noble I knew I had to add it to my collection, I flipped through it every time I visited the bookstore (which is a lot, Ben and my favorite dates always end up with us at a bookstore…we have a thing for books) and waiting till the price on Amazon dropped to something I could afford. I just procured this book for my collection last week, and I am pleased as punch, because it is a beauty!
Looks alone do not make a book, unless it is a book that is specifically about visuals, which this one is not. Even though it has the look and incredible photography of a coffee table book, it is loaded with useful information. Tea Sommelier approaches the art of sipping tea very much so like it is an art and from a professional taster’s perspective. Borrowing much of the jargon from the Wine Sommelier world and shaping it to fit the world of tea.
The book is divided into a typical brief introduction on the history of tea, the tea plant itself, various methods of preparing tea, a decent sized section on professional tea tasting (including ISO cupping standards) a whopping 135 pages devoted to different kinds of tea, and lastly a colorful selection of gourmet recipes.
There are some things about this book that I absolutely love. It is beautiful, a work of art showcasing fantastic teas, tea gear, and photography. The history of tea mentioning all three of the myths concerning the creation of tea was especially amusing, too many books skip over Bodhidharma (Daruma) tearing off his eyelids in a fit of rage after falling asleep and said eyelids growing into tea trees. It is a weird myth but everything concerning Daruma is a little quirky. I love how it pairs each tea with foods that it tastes good with, as the person who is always in charge of matching tea to whatever foods and people’s tastes at family events…it is very nice to have a handy guide to turn to.
There are, however, some things that make me go ‘eh’ as well, nothing is ever perfect and I tend to be picky with books. For all that the photos in this book are fantastic works of art, I really get annoyed with lightbox photography. Some of the colors of the tea just seem wrong, either too dark or too vibrantly green, I have never seen some of the delicate Chinese green teas in that shade of green either in my own sipping experience or online, it is really a minor gripe, it just weirds me out a bit. My big gripe is the whole language and approach to tea in this book seems, well, unapproachable, similar to the way gourmet cuisine and wine tasting can seem very unapproachable to someone not already in the know. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially for someone who is already well into tea world, but if you are new to the tea world it might seem a but imposing. I suppose this is part of a greater rant that certain aspects of the tea world (lovingly and not so lovingly at times call tea snobbery) tend to come off as unwelcoming to newcomers, which is something I am strongly against. I am very much so in the ‘oh hey, want to try tea, let me shower you with yummies until you find your favorite’ mindset.
One thing about this book that has sent me into a near tizzy researching is the approach to the tea Huang Shan Huo Ya. Everywhere on the internet and every book I have read has called it a Yellow Tea, Tea Sommlier calls it a green tea that commonly gets labeled as a yellow tea due to poor translation. Since I was unable to find any other factual inconsistencies anywhere else in the book I really find myself wanting to know. So far, no luck.
So, why is this book still my favorite? Because it is beautiful, because it treats tea as an art, because I still dream of one day being a Tea Sommelier. Do I recommend it? Heck yes! If you are a newbie to tea just approach with caution…the tea world is not all fancy teas, elegant teapots, and lofty concepts…we are also lovers of quirky blends, teabags, herbal teas, and re-purposed coffee mugs. Don’t feel intimidated by tasting terms and Grand Cru teas. If you are a well seasoned sipper (or a well seasoned Yixing Teapot that has gained sentience) then this book is a great reference tool. Either way, the overwhelming prettiness of this book is certainly a plus!
So, I have a new plan for my blog…drumroll…weekends are going to have a new bit of fun attached to them! Saturdays are going to be geek and craft days, meaning I will review/ramble/showcase something geeky or craft related (or both) and Sundays are going to be Tea Book Days! I have a decent amount of tea books in my collection and have a bunch at my local library, plus I am always looking for more. I am excited about this!
For blog and photos (photos of photos in a book, that is so meta): http://ramblingbutterflythoughts.blogspot.com/2014/08/tea-sommelier-tea-book-review.html
It makes logical sense that a book lover like me would hoard tea themed books as much as I do tea, so when I received a copy of this book to review thanks to Netgalley, I thought to myself, why not post it on my blog as well as Goodreads? Kombucha Revolution 75 Recipes for Handmade Brews, Fixers, Elixers, and Mixers by Stephen Lee with Ken Koopman, is a book dedicated to that strange tea substance called Kombucha, or Mushroom Tea.
Not one to usually shirk fermented foods, I have no shame in admitting that Kombucha scares the pants off of me. Something about the idea of drinking sweet tea with things growing in it really perturbs me, Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY) being the term for the thing growing in said sweet tea did not help. ‘But it is like yogurt’ you are probably telling your screen and by transition, me, well honestly when I actually think about yogurt and its little probiotic organisms happily making their way into my gut…well, I get really weirded out about that too. It doesn’t help that my one experience with Kombucha was the nastiest thing ever, but I am perpetually curious about this drink, because really, home brewing and fermenting things is really cool science!
Kombucha Revolution goes a bit into the history and science of how Kombucha works, but the bulk of this book is recipes and how to take care of your new pet SCOBY. Some of these recipes look delicious, even to my apprehensive self. If someone handed me a glass of Green Tea Lavender Kombucha I would give it a try. Black Jack Kombucha tempts me to start brewing Kombucha myself. Bambucha practically had me scouring Craigslist for a reputable SCOBY of my own to take care of.
The thing that really peaked my curiosity was the Kombucha smoothies. Smoothies are a great way of getting nutritional goodies without having to taste them, or really think about ingesting it. It is like taking probiotics by pill form instead of a bowl of yogurt, it is so much easier to swallow a pill and not think about it than eating a bowl of friendly creatures. I am really not sure how much of the lauded health benefits of Kombucha is true, as with a lot of holistic practices, there is just not a lot of research done, which is tragic! One thing I do know is that fermented foods are supposed to be great for digestive disorders, and I certainly notice my gut being happier when I have more fermented goodies in my diet. So if the tangy taste of Kombucha really isn’t my thing and my first tasting was not a fluke, here is a backup plan.
The next section of the book covers Kombucha themed mixed drinks and cocktails. This has absolutely no relevance to me, I do not drink, so even though these recipes seem very inventive I would never actually use them.
Lastly we look at Kombucha as a condiment ingredient and a food ingredient. These recipes were really cool, I had no idea this stuff was so versatile. I think if I had read this book when I first heard of Kombucha I might not have the leery feeling I have towards it. This book presents it as a fun fermented drink with some possible health benefits and a bunch of different uses. Not a miracle drink made from rotten tea! Has this converted me to the world of Kombucha? Maybe, I certainly want a SCOBY as a pet, they are cute little colonies. Not sure I am willing to make the next step and start drinking it, but I no longer feel so much fear towards it.