In a sea of books about tea, a reader can find it hard to select one that gives facts yet is also visually pleasing. The book Tea (subtitled Aromas and Flavors Around the World) by Lydia Gautier does both so well that this avid tea drinker (me) can find true tea happiness.
Starting with a simple and elegant cover photo, photographer Jean-François Mallet’s images create a feast for the eyes. Those images pair with Gautier’s well-researched text to take the reader on a journey to the tea growing areas of the world and places in all corners of the globe where tea is not only enjoyed, but is also a very important part of life.
Verdant fields of tea plants (Camellia Sinensis) rolling over the hills on two continents mix with unposed photos of people of all shapes, sizes, and ages drinking tea from cups, bowls, glass mugs, etc. Add in expertly-staged photos of tea leaves and tea “liquor” in tasting bowls (photographing food is a true art) accompanying charts that lay out the qualities of the 32 grand cru teas, and you have a great reference book on tea.
The book has only four chapters, but they’re jam-packed:
- Chapter I deals with tea history. From its origins in China, to its introduction to people living outside of those borders (Japan, Central Asia, the Middle and Near East, Britain, Africa, and the West), Gautier weaves tales of tea. She also goes into how the smuggling of tea out of China and being planted in India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) affected their economies and the lives of the people living there. Ceylon, especially, benefited when the coffee crop became diseased and they started planting tea instead (just one of the many fascinating stories to be enjoyed in this book).
- Chapter II goes into the chemistry of tea. From the field to the cup is quite a journey, and over the centuries, a lot of different varieties of processing techniques have been developed. Gautier breaks these down into six main color groups. She also delves into some of the health benefits, ranging from observations by tea drinkers when tea was just beginning to be an accepted beverage to scientific findings today.
- Chapter III is a great guide to teas. It serves as a reference for anyone wanting to break out from the usual cup of Lipton, or other bagged tea, but isn’t sure what to try. It can also help those who are more familiar with teas to decide which one to try next. Ordering teas online can be a bit tricky. Knowing more about what to expect takes away a lot of the guesswork and risk.
- Chapter IV goes into the affinities of tea. This includes tea’s similarities with coffee, cocoa, wines, and perfumes. For example, just as wines and perfumes have various distinguishing properties, so do fine teas, both before and after infusion.
Gautier is deserving of praise for never lumping herbals and other plant-based brews, such as Rooibos (Red Bush) with true tea, something that is becoming quite common elsewhere. For any true tea lovers, this is important. After all, chocolate can only be called chocolate if it is made primarily from cocao beans. Coffee isn’t coffee if it isn’t made from java beans. And so on. Tea is tea when it is made primarily from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant.
One essential item that is sorely missing is an index. Even though the book has a mere 191 pages, an index would be very helpful in finding information on a particular topic, such as tannins in different tea types.
Books like these have helped me to see tea not just as a beverage but truly as a way of life. A great read, as well as a reference for anyone that wants to delve deeper into the world of tea, and one that will leave you saying, “Bonne santé!”
Happy tea reading!
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