By A.C. Cargill
Sipping tea and reading a book about tea — what could better epitomize the “tea life”? That’s what I thought when the publisher of a new tea book asked if I would like to review a copy. The book title (as it appears on the spine of the cover) is Cha Dao: The Way of Tea, Tea as a Way of Life, by Solala Towler (published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers).
What is the “tea life”? I use that phrase a lot. So do others. For me, it’s an integration of the enjoyment of tea into every aspect of my life, like sipping tea while Enya’s “The Memory of Trees” plays on one of the Satellite TV music channels and pausing from whatever I’m doing to enjoy thoroughly both tea and music. It’s relishing even the everyday tasks, such as doing laundry, as a real tea moment. It’s a parent hearing the silence in the house after the kids have gone off to school and remembering that they’ll be home again soon while enjoying a cuppa some wonderful Assam or Darjeeling steeped just right. It’s sitting with hubby at the end of a busy day and feeling the love between us while the scent of a rich Chinese black tea wafts our way.
So, I wasn’t sure what this book had in store, how its author would define the “tea life.”
First, the English Major in me (meaning that I majored in English at university, not that I am or was a Major in the British military, just in case you were wondering) has to address the book’s title. I wrote term papers that had shorter titles than this. A simple one like Cha Dao: The Way of Tea or Cha Dao: Tea as a Way of Life would be less likely to convey to prospective readers that the author did not have a clear path when writing the book. Phew! Got that off my chest.
As for the book’s content, it’s a bit confusing. Is this a book about Daoism or a book of very basic tea information? The author doesn’t seem to have decided. The Introduction states that this is as much about the Daoist philosophy as it is about tea, which it seems to be but on a very basic level for each topic. The author has spent the last 15 years writing a Daoist journal and is now supposedly formalizing some of those thoughts into this book. Maybe he should have stayed focused on that Daoist side and expanded beyond the bare bones here.
As for tea knowledge, much of what is presented can be found elsewhere without going through the philosophical parts of this book. (I also majored in Philosophy and so am used to slogging through such writings, but you may not want to endure it.) The book might have been more targeted to its intended audience without these seemingly obligatory references to tea history and a few tea facts. Either it’s a tea book or a philosophy book.
If you buy this book hoping to increase your knowledge of tea beyond the basics, I could recommend others much better (see the book lists that Tea Guy Speaks posts). An exception, though, is Chapter 13, A Gong Fu Tea Ceremony. It’s especially interesting and informative to anyone wanting to expand from more Western to Eastern tea traditions.
The book seemed like it might be intriguing, but instead I found a lot of long quotes (some several pages long that my university professors would have deducted grade points for — more like filling space rather than original thinking), some tea information readily available elsewhere, and an approach to enjoying tea laden with a lot of thoughts that can easily be boiled down to: take time to enjoy life and a cuppa tea. The Brits know this well (the Irish, too), as I discovered when visiting there. (Afternoon tea is more than a tradition — it’s a sanity saver.)
The book also touches on the health benefits of tea but gives no references to scientific studies. Of course, some of those old wives’ tales about some thing curing some ailment have proven to be true, but it’s still nice to have facts, not just the tales.
On to the next tea book. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: An free unedited galley copy of the book was sent to me by the publisher for this review. My opinions on it are, as always, purely objective.
Reading A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, is a great way to stay hip to the “tea life.”