books about tea
December 21, 2007 12:13 AM   Subscribe

I know nothing about tea and want to correct that. What books would recommend to a tea newbie?

Somehow I have managed to go my entire life without learning anything about tea. I want to catch up over Christmas, but I don't know what to read. I'm interested in any great books about the history of tea, types of tea, teas in different cultures, or anything else I really need to know. Thanks for your suggestions!
posted by eisenkr to Shopping (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I assume you mean real tea not fruit tea and other infusions. The first to read (IMHO) is "The book of tea" by Kakuzo Okakura. You can buy it from Amazon or read it online:

After that you could simply search the net and read articles and information from various tea producers or sellers such as (I'm not related to them, just found them on the net).

Make sure you cover teas not only from China, Japan and India but also Russia, Kenia or Sri Lanka. Read about black and green tea but also try oolong teas - they're my favourite! *taking a sip*

Most of all, relax and enjoy your cup of tea!
posted by Parsnip at 1:44 AM on December 21, 2007

It's not a book, but here's a good guide to making a nice English brew.
posted by popcassady at 3:17 AM on December 21, 2007

Best answer: I was never into tea until I read The Republic of Tea.
posted by LightMayo at 5:48 AM on December 21, 2007

Best answer: There are books out there, but there is also a lot of information on the internet. Back before the web I used to get my tea from Upton Tea Importers, and their catalogs always had a nice article on tea, the tea trade, brewing, or something like that. Their Brief Guide to Tea (pdf) is a perfect introduction, and there is a lot more at their website.
posted by OmieWise at 6:12 AM on December 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

As a tea drinker and lover of tea, I would suggest that before you start reading about teas, and what all the different types are supposed to taste like, and which ones you think you'll like, you get a decent sampler selection at a reputable tea shop (or, barring that, Whole Foods or the like). Something that's NOT little bags full of floor sweepings. There are a number of widely available good loose-leaf teas and close-to-loose-leaf teas in little gossamer bags these days (Mighty Leaf, Revolution) that you can find at your local supermarket. (And watch the steeping time! That is so important to a good cup of tea!!)

I say this because, as with wine (or chocolate or sushi or whatever), what you taste and like might not be what others taste and like. If you go into it fresh, you may find and appreciate flavors that aren't what you would imagine from reading about them.

After you've kind of got your bearings, you can start reading around and learning more, but I would take this as a golden opportunity to start out clean if you want to learn about tea.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:26 AM on December 21, 2007

Seconding Fiercecupcake. For samplers, I tend to like They have a vast variety of loose leaf teas that you can really sit down to compare, and I've found the quality to be reasonably good.
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:32 AM on December 21, 2007

Fiercecupcake is correct, the first step is always to taste tea. Your profile does not indicate where you are but you must find a tea house or store similar to Postcard Teas which has a tasting and brewing room. There the owner, Tim, will help guide you and let you sample various teas. People who love tea love educating other people about tea.

Do not go to a mega-mall go to a store devoted tea or to a tea house where the staff will help you and talk to you about tea. Do not approach tea too cerebrally, it is about physical experience of seeing the brew and the ritual making of the brew; the taste of the brew in its steam and the liquid as it goes through stages; the sound of the agony of the leaves as the water hits and a myriad of little sensory details.

I envy you the pleasures of the initial journey.
posted by jadepearl at 7:52 AM on December 21, 2007

Oh, c'mon. If you want to read about tea, go ahead and do that. There is plenty to know about tea that has nothing to do with drinking it, just as you can explore wine without ever drinking a glass.

Regardless, at least read the Brief Guide I linked to above so that you have some basis for being an informed consumer before you trot off to buy something other than simple tea bags.
posted by OmieWise at 7:57 AM on December 21, 2007

Best answer: I had a brief job at a tea salon where I was expected to be able to rattle off descriptions of the different roasting procedures that transform the humble tea leaf into green, black, and oolong teas (yes, they're all the same plant!) Also, I now know more about phenolic compounds that anyone really needs to.

I just read the tea chapter of On Food and Cooking, my go-to food reference book. If you don't want to buy the whole book you could probably finish the tea chapter in 20 minutes in a library or bookstore.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:21 AM on December 21, 2007

That Upton Tea Imports website OmieWise links is almost unbelievably good.
posted by jamjam at 1:36 PM on December 21, 2007

Nthing Upton Tea Imports' website. Request a copy of their catalog -- it's good fun to read the tea descriptions.
posted by liet at 3:26 PM on December 21, 2007

You may also find this new tea blog interesting - it focuses more on Asian teas, with some stories thrown in.
posted by gomichild at 4:09 AM on December 22, 2007

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