Drink Magazine

If You Only Read One Book on Tea

By Dchew78 @peonyts

On this site, I have made no secret of my endorsement of book learning for tea. Mind you there is no substitute for drinking a few renditions of Tieguanyin concurrently, to discern the effects of roasting, oxidation, harvest area or quality; nor is there any substitute for seeing the production of tea, with a guide (I have read many photo essays of the production of tea that betrays a lack of understanding of the process). Yet within various printed pages lies a wealth of information, waiting to be uncovered.

Like tea, not all books are created equal. On tea related books, in China and Taiwan at least, there are literally thousands, tens of thousands of books vying for your attention. It can be one aimed at a novice providing a rudimentary overview of tea, it can be one for professionals encompassing various aspects of cultivation, or niche topics for example discussions on tea in Cao Xueqin’s classic fictional work- Dream of the Red Chamber. If you are an avid reader and a tea aficionado, you are spoiled for choice.

As daunting the task of whittling down to a solitary title, when the idea for this post struck me, there was only one title that stuck in my mind.

Width

To be that one title, the scope has to be wide. I initially thought of using ‘comprehensive’, but anyone who claims any single title, resource, website on tea can be comprehensive, is either making an idle boast or ignorant of the scope of tea.

But I digress.

It has to cover as wide a spectrum humanly possible on the scope of tea. In discussions about teas, we often start with individual varieties- Xihu Longjing, Dongting Biluochun, Dahongpao, and so forth- usually breaking them down into the individual major categories. Then there is production, which defines categories. The production process in turn affects the chemistry of tea, and hence the health implication of it. But then we will be missing the crux of studying tea- the practical applications, brewing, storage, selection, tea wares, and the like. Then getting deeper into that, we have to look at geography to understand why certain teas taste a certain manner over others, and the historical background to understand the origin and development of tea. Or the titans who through their tireless endeavor and research enable us to enjoy that cup to the fullest.

To expect a single title to encompass all that, is impossible. But at least it should give a decent treatment, if nothing else to convince the reader of the importance, and validity of including that topic in the study of tea.

Depth

Apart from the breadth of it, depth is important as well. While it is not practical for a single title to comprise of the entire scope, yet providing a full treatise, there has to be sufficient depth.

For instance, while such a publication cannot be reasonably expect to cover all 77 (by one count) types of Dancong trees, it has to do more than deliver a single (or two) paragraph on Dancong.

Accuracy

This ought to fall in the “it goes without saying” category, but the fact remains that the misinformation on tea is staggering. While there are bound to be disagreement, as there always will be in scholastic circles, some are outright without basis- many of which are perpetrated globally, especially via the two edged sword of the internet. (Oh yes the irony of me ranting against it on the very same medium :p )

Cut to the Chase

That considered, if I could only read one book on tea- oh the travesty!- that book would be 中国茶经  (Zhongguo Chajing) by Chen Zongmao and Yang Yajun et al.

A title that has the audacity to resemble Lu Yu’s classic tome obviously would have much to live up to, and it does not disappoint. Like Lu Yu’s Classics of Tea which encompasses various aspects of tea, Zhongguo Chajing is the closest to ‘comprehensive’ that I have ever seen in a single publication.

This is the scope that it entails:

a) Tea history

- a proper treatise of the evolution of tea, and not mentioning the Shen Nong and Buddha’s eyebrows in the same breath, spanning the time of the Six Dynasties, the Tang Dynasty all the way to post-dynastic China.

b) Tea science

-the biology of tea plant, as well as chemistry of it.

c)Varieties of teas

While it is impossible to include thousands of varieties, Zhongguo Chajing does span a long list, as follows:

  1. Green Tea- 153 varieties
  2. Black Tea (Red Tea in Chinese nomenclature)- 12 varieties
  3. Wulong Tea- 14 varieties
  4. White Tea- 4 varieties (includes ‘New White Tea’ in addition to Silver Needles, White Peony and Shou Mei)
  5. Yellow Tea- 4 varieties
  6. Dark Tea (or post-fermented tea)- 6
  7. Modified tea
    1. Compressed tea- 12 varieties
    2. Scented tea- 11 varieties

d) Tea cultivation and production

- over 400 pages of rich information

e) Tea consumption

- consumption habits of minority tribes as well as different parts of China, selection of tea, tea wares, brewing techniques

f) Tea Culture

g) The economics of tea

- market conditions, historical data etc

More than a thousand pages of richly packed data in all.

It is not easy reading, there are no color photographs, only a few diagrams, but it provides tons of useful information for the avid student of tea.

The other issue is that, like most of the resources I value most on tea, it is written entirely in Mandarin, that has not stopped many non-Chinese from reading it, as you undoubtedly might have discovered on the internet universe.

Though it is hard work, especially for non-native Chinese readers, it is worth it.

Disclaimer: I am not associated with this book, nor am I an Amazon affiliate where the link of this book was provided. I derive no benefits from the sale of this book- apart from the joy of making converts of serious tea drinkers- financial or otherwise.


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