tea book reading list #1

The response to the growing demand for information from eager English-speaking tea and coffee/ espresso connoisseurs in the U.S. inspires this post. Bon Teavant Market carries some great books, and there are some here that we do not carry because they may be out of print or very freely available elsewhere.  Regardless, here is a first-installment list of books that are well worth a read as well as a couple of books that will increase the depth of feeling and awareness of the tea and coffee connoisseur:

The Ultimate Guide to Chinese Tea  (Bret Hinsch) We believe this is possibly the best introductory book out on Chinese-style tea appreciation. Bret Hinsch is a Harvard-educated Asian Studies scholar who has lived and taught in Taiwan for more than fifteen years. Disappointed in what is available on Chinese tea in English, Hinsch researched Chinese teas and tea connoisseurship by surveying a vast amount of information written in Chinese. His book is already out of print, but you can find used copies or an e-book version. This book is so good, it is almost worth purchasing an e-book reader in order to absorb all the great, articulately written information on tea production, appreciation, brewing, and the like. We give it highest marks for both the content and the clarity of delivery. Thank you for your contribution, Bret!!
The Time of Tea (Dominique Pasqualini & Bruno Suet) This French author-photographer duo published a timeless two-volume set that is as beautiful to the eye and the touch as the content is fascinating. One volume is filled with rustically reproduced color photographs of tea culture around the world, and the other volume is a treatise on tea appreciation. This double-volume set is out of print, but there is talk of it being republished in the near future. There are only a handful of copies available…you know where. Get it while you can.
The Classic of Tea (Lu Yu) The first treatise on tea culture in China first published in the eighth century, this classic work informs tea lovers the world over how to consider and participate in tea ritual and practice.
Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea From East to West (Beatrice Hohenegger)
Steeped in History: The Art of Tea (Beatrice Hohenegger) These two books by Beatrice Hohenegger really compliment each other and should not be missed by the tea historian interested in how tea came to the West. Full of interesting facts, Liquid Jade reveals some of the darker secrets of tea’s history. Steeped in History is a companion volume to the exhibition curated by Hohenegger at UCLA’s Fowler Museum in late 2009 and includes discussion and images of fascinating artifacts from various Chinese dynasties and from Europe. Here is an interview with Hohenegger by Bon Teavant in 2009.
The Way of Tea (Aaron Fisher)- This is a beautifully written and thoughtful book about tea appreciation from a more spiritual perspective. Written by Aaron Fisher (aka “Wu De”), a tea aficionado living in Miao Li, Taiwan.
The Book of Tea (Okakura Kakuzo) This 20th century classic on tea culture from a Japanese perspective is a gem that should not be missed. The content of this book has recently been re-packaged and published by Bruce Richardson and is available at Bon Teavant Market.
Culinary Tea (Cynthia Gold): What a fine collection of recipes and information on the historical and contemporary uses of tea as food. Cynthia Gold inspires not only the reader to try tea in new ways as an ingredient in dishes, but also invites chefs around the world to reignite the passion for tea as food and to take it in new directions.  As such, Cynthia contributes much to the growing information on tea and tea culture around the world. Here is a more in-dephth review of Culinary Tea by Bon Teavant.
The Tea Dictionary (James Norwood Pratt) This newly minted tea dictionary is a manageable volume of information provided as a quick reference to teas and terms used in the world of tea appreciation and industry. The hefty price suggests that you are receiving a distilled inventory of terms that require curation for the professional or avid tea lover. Signed copies are available from Bon Teavant Market’s tea books section. You can find a video interview of JNP here.
The Art of Tea (Magazine) Published by Wu Shing Press in Taiwan, this magazine, which is published at indiscriminate intervals, is well worth perusing for hours and hours. Back issues are available on a variety of topics, including puerh tea and yixing teaware–information that is not always so easy to find in English elsewhere (but can be found here).
Wabi-Sabi (Leonard Koren) This 1994 classic volume explains the complex concept of wabi or wabi sabi, which I will not try to distill on this page, other than to tell you that this is the concept that infuses Japanese tea culture and frankly, all tea culture to some degree. To understand wabi is to absorb and digest the art of fine tea and the duality inherent in life itself.
The Secret Life of Plants (Peter Tomkins & Christopher Bird) This book is not specifically about tea but about the way plants interact with humans, and should not be missed by those who want to increase their enjoyment of Camellia sinensis on a new level. Scientific studies illuminate the powerful ways in which plants respond to human thought, intention, and actions. This book is revelatory for any lover of plants, and tea is certainly our favorite…
There are so many more tea books that deserve attention, and you can consider this a first installment to our growing bibliography of tea books that we love and want to share. We want to shout out to some of the best tea authors (and their books) of our times and of times past. You may also visit the tea books area of Bon Teavant Market to find books that we believe are worth reading (and re-reading).

about tea

Tea FAQs and Lore
What a fascinating plant, Camellia sinensis, the plant from which all tea derives. Its history is filled with facts and myths, offering limitless hours of enchantment and research. Here are some basic facts and tea lore to get you started in your search for information about tea and tea culture.

What is tea?
All “real” teas come from one plant species, Camellia sinensis. Any plant or spice–like peppermint, chamomile, cinnamon, or rooiboos– can be infused, but these are considered to be herbal infusions or tisanes, not teas.

What does tea culture mean?
Tea is more than just a beverage.  It is a phenomenon. Tea culture is used to describe this unique marvel.  Over it’s five-thousand-year history, tea has been the impetus of poetry, art, storytelling and war, as well as fueling economies and influencing the social aura and etiquette of whole nations.  Its reputation as an agent of healing and meditation also underscores its value and mystery as it has moved from continent to continent across the world.  In each culture it enters, tea seems to influence the social, religious, creative and economic framework of the region, taking on different expressions and inviting new traditions.  At the same time, in every expression of tea, one will find common threads:  community, vitality, poetry, sanctuary, and ritual. We in the United States are just embarking on the creation of our own new tea culture, and you are a part of that culture.

How is loose leaf tea brewed?
Thanks for losing the tea bags!  By doing so, you have already diminished the carbon footprint of your tea by a whopping 90%.  Steeping loose leaf tea is easy, and there are several methods you can employ.  The tea pot is probably the easiest, but you can also use a gaiwan, a glass infuser, or a mug with an infuser.

First, put the loose leaf tea in your steeping vessel, which, ideally will be heated with hot water before you add the leaves.
Next, add hot water and rinse, draining off the rinse water.
Steep the leaves for the desired amount of time
Pour tea into a serving vessel like a cup or pitcher so the tealeaves don’t oversteep.

How should tea be stored?
After receiving high quality teas from Bon Teavant, you will want to be sure to store them properly to ensure their continued excellence. Here are some guidelines:
-Store away from odors, especially food.
-Store in a cool, dry, dark place where light and heat will not have an impact on your tea.
-Store tea in the packaging it comes in or in a porcelain air tight vessel.  For puerh teas, store in paper packaging or in porous ceramic that is not airtight.

Tea Types:
There are five main tea types: Black, Green, White, Oolong, and Pu-erh. Tea type is determined by oxidation and processing method. Green and white teas are minimally oxidized and processed. Oolongs are semi-oxidized and more elaborately processed, and black teas are fully oxidized.  Puerhs are considered a tea type because of the varietals grown and the distinctive way in which they are processed. Some are  oxidized and some not. Many are also fermented,  and often molded into cakes, bricks and mushroom-shaped balls or cast in bamboo stalks and other unusual tea “containers”.

Are teas fermented?

With only a couple of exceptions, teas are oxidized not fermented. Oxidation is a chemical process, which takes place when tea leaves are exposed to air or oxygen. When tea leaves are exposed to air, the polyphenol enzymes in the leaves are broken down, influencing the color and nature of the tea. Oxidation is halted when teas are exposed to heat, such as pan firing or steaming. The degree to which a tea has been oxidized determines the tea type.  Black teas are fully oxidized, oolongs partially oxidized, and green and white teas have undergone little or no oxidation.  Pu-erh teas are the only teas that are fermented (which is a bacterial process) and aged after being oxidized.

Do all teas contain caffeine?
Yes, all teas contain caffeine in varying amounts; however, many people tolerate the caffeine in teas better than with coffee or other substances that contain caffeine, like sodas and chocolate. Experiment with different teas to see what you can drink and what gets your heart racing. Don’t drink tea at all if you cannot tolerate caffeine or must avoid it for health reasons.

How long should a tea be steeped?

Different teas require different steeping times.  As well, many high quality loose-leaf teas can be steeped multiple times and each steeping might require a different duration or water temperature.  It’s best to buy quality teas from tea merchants who can share their knowledge of the best ways to steep the teas they sell. When you buy teas from Bon Teavant, you will receive a tea brewing chart with recommendations for tea quantity, water temperature, and steeping times.

Basic steeping guidelines:
All guidelines refer to 3-5 grams of tea steeped in 6 oz. of water. It is recommended that you use the best quality water available and/or filter your water before using it to steep tea.
Green & White Teas
:  140-175ºF water and steeping times that vary from 15 seconds to two minutes.
Oolongs: 175-200ºF, 30-90 seconds first infusion, 30-60 seconds for subsequent infusions.
Black: 195-200ºF, 60-120 seconds.
Green Puerh: 185-200+ºF for 10-30 seconds.
Cooked Puerh: 185-200+ºF) for 60-120 seconds first infusion, and 15-60 seconds for subsequent infusions.

Experimenting with different temperatures, leaf amounts and steeping times will help you earn your scout badge for tea.  You will have fun finding out how much you can change the taste and character of a tea by changing the variables of water temperature, brewing vessel, amount of leaf used, type of water used, and steeping time.