The other day, I picked up the book Liquid Jade: The Story of East to West while browsing at Teavana. The book, by Beatrice Hohenegger, was on sale for fifty percent off, and I rushed to the register, book in hand. Just a brief skimming of the pages showed me that this book went into far more detail than often repetitive tea histories, including a story about a tea spy. How could I put it back on the shelf after that tease?
In fact, I could hardly put it down. This book covered two of my favorite topics: tea and history, written in a lively and engaging style. When reading about the history of tea, there are certain stories that pop up over and over again: Shen Nung, the Chinese emperor who accidentally discovered tea, Catherine Braganza who started having afternoon snacks with her tea and invented a tradition. Hohenegger includes these stories, but delves much deeper into the history and social impact of this delightful beverage. She talks about the gender rifts created or highlighted by tea, and wars fought over camellia sinesis. The portrayal of the centuries of interaction between East and West are particularly interesting, without the Western bias that sometimes dominates books about Asian culture.
In addition to writing about the history, Hohenegger also answers many misconceptions and frequently asked questions about tea. Several chapters also address the place of tea in discussions about fair trade and organic agriculture. There are many wonderful illustrations from throughout tea’s colorful history, and she includes a relevant quotation at the beginning of each chapter.
While informative and detailed, Hohenegger’s writing is never dry and often quite entertaining. I found myself reading bits aloud, unable to keep them to myself and turned eagerly to her bibliography to read more about many of the fascinating topics that she covers. I would recommend this book to history lovers and tea lovers alike.