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.