The Spirit of Tea
by Frank Hadley Murphy
Sherman Asher Publishing
Reviewed by William I. Lengeman III
Along with the rise in popularity of tea in the last decade or so has come an increase in the number of books written about tea. Many have focused on telling the story of tea in broad terms, but in The Spirit of Tea, Frank Hadley Murphy takes a more focused approach.
In the words of Murphy’s publisher, The Spirit of Tea is “a radical departure” from other tea books, one examines “tea’s transcendental nature.” Roy Fong, proprietor of San Francisco’s Imperial Tea Court and one of Murphy’s tea mentors, writes in the foreword that “Frank has found a connection to the mystic powers of tea.”
Murphy recalls drinking tea in his younger years but had no true connection to this beverage until 1993, when he experienced an epiphany while sampling a Chinese Pou Nei (Puerh), one of several teas he’d been given as a gift. One thing led to another and before long Murphy found that he’d developed an intense connection to this complex beverage.
Though a slim volume, The Spirit of Tea finds Murphy covering interesting territory nonetheless, drawing on such influences and predecessors as Proust, Kakuzo Okakura (The Book of Tea), the I Ching and John Blofeld (The Chinese Art of Tea). Murphy splits tea into six categories (white, yellow, green, oolong, black, puerh), but also suggests that they possess predominantly yin (white, yellow, green) or yang (oolong, black, puerh) properties.
Also worth noting, Murphy’s in-depth look at well-known “Threshold Tea” from each of these six categories. Other chapters examine the mechanisms and process of tasting, the botany of tea and its origins and that ever important ingredient – water. Serious tea fanciers should also consider Tea-Fried Brain, which touches on the ills that may result from drinking too much tea in a short time.
A great deal has been written about the contemplative aspects of tea and tea culture, but Murphy’s book is a worthwhile attempt to tackle this topic at greater length.