Group Book Review — “Tea Reader” by Katrina Ávila Munichiello

Another new tea book? You betcha! Writer/blogger/tea lover Katrina Ávila Munichiello put together Tea Reader: Living Life One Cup at a Time, a volume of various stories about tea (she is shown as the author but only wrote small intro pieces to each section). How appropriate, therefore, for fellow writers/bloggers/tea lovers to join together in reviewing this book. Each person participating writes for this blog and received an advance copy of the book from the publisher, Tuttle Publishing.

Serving up some tasty tea reading on a gold-colored platter
Serving up some tasty tea reading on a gold-colored platter

I get to go first ’cause I’m the editor here — yay! First of all, let me give you my reaction to the cover art: “Aaaaaaaagh! A string-and-tag teabag! YIKES! What were they thinking?”

Okay, got that out of my system. (And in all fairness to Katrina, the publisher handles the cover art, often without the author’s approval.)

As for the contents, the author recommends that you get a good cup of tea and sit back to read. I agree totally. This is a book of chunks to be taken in with some attention, not rushed through, including contributions from Katrina herself. In some cases, she has also sought and found historical writings about tea (after all, tea has been around for over 5,000 years, so plenty has been written). Katrina combines tea knowledge and affection with a sense of the literary, although as a Jane Austen fan I don’t need a footnote to explain Austen’s take on marriage. Some of the selections are questionable and, on first reading them, I asked “What does this have to do with tea?” The connection seemed a bit tenuous. Despite these stumble points here and there, the book still contains enough good reading to keep you satisfied. So, sit back with a cuppa and enjoy!

Now, let’s see what other tea lovers think (presented as they were submitted):

May King Tsang of MayKingTea
A Tea Reader is a tea-lightful journey through tea inspired memories from key historical tea figures, authors, editors and journalists to modern day tea specialists, writers, film makers and tea-preneurs. A Tea Reader is crea-tea-vely grouped into five ca-tea-gories and each chapter is beau-tea-fully introduced by Katrina Ávila Munichiello. There are memories recounting tea plantation visits, spiritual connections with tea, Japanese Tea Ceremony participation, tea poems and ballads, tea-room visits, and also deeply moving stories soothed by tea. I have had the privilege of meeting many of the distinguished authorities on tea featured in this book or have connected with others through the power of Social Media, but it doesn’t matter whether you have met the writers or not. As you read their stories, it is almost as if they are sitting in front of you recalling their memory, and it is this connection between each writer and reader that I treasured the most about A Tea Reader.

Tea highlights for me include Kien-Long’s Ode on Tea, Robert Fortune’s first visit to Ningpo Green Tea district, Rudyard Kipling’s Teahouse visit with O-Toyo and Kirsten Kristen’s star-struck moment with “Three Cups of Tea” author, Greg Mortenson. I also enjoyed reading Thomas J Lipton’s explanation of creating custom tea blends; James Norwood Pratt’s Tea Pilgrimage, Roy Fong’s ‘wow’ moment with Bi Luo Chun, and Jane Pettigrew’s career that takes her around the world with tea. The book ends with a mini bio of each writer and artist that has contributed to the book, and I encourage all tea enthusiasts to make a cup a tea, smell the aroma, admire the beauty in the leaves, take a sip and enjoy Katrina Ávila Munichiello’s A Tea Reader.

Janis Badarau of
A Tea Reader is a collection of tea-themed essays by a variety of writers, compiled by Katrina Ávila Munichiello. On balance I enjoyed the book immensely, reading it through in about two sittings.

It was great fun to discover the “vintage” tea-inspired writings of various authors, well known and not, from adventurer Robert Fortune to writer Muriel Harris to a tea plucker named Le Yih, and I appreciate the research required to uncover them all.

I enjoyed sharing Jane Pettigrew’s tea journey from novice to expertise; James Norwood Pratt’s and Cynthia Gold’s first visits to China; and Babette Donaldson’s “aha” moment when she first understood tea’s importance in her life.

A story’s success can be measured by how interested the reader is to know what happened next. Why did Julie L. Carney’s father start taking lemon in his iced tea? Did Russell Hires’ tea room rendezvous with an old flame rekindle the spark? What was the “special word” that John Millstead’s new acquaintance wrote? Yes, I want to know more!

Many of the essayists — contemporary and historic — are familiar to me, though other names were new. I wanted to “meet” each writer as I read their stories. Contributors’ bios, however, are grouped together at the back of the book rather than placed with their essays. Flipping back and forth between stories and author pages was frustratingly disruptive. If there is a sequel to this book, I hope it will reflect a more reader-friendly format.

There were a few moments when I struggled to continue reading. A curious bit of revisionist history, in the form of a paean to 19th-century abolitionist John Brown – whose early noble principles devolved into self-aggrandizing fanaticism, driving him to become a ruthless murderer (a terrorist, in point of fact) – was jarringly out of place here.

The inclusion of an essay about Greg Mortensen, whose work was, sadly, discredited only a few short months ago, is most unfortunate. No doubt removing the essay at that late date would have created a costly delay; the controversy, however, being so fresh in our consciousness, begs for acknowledgment with a notation following the essay or via separate errata slip.

I must admit to a touch of disappointment that Munichiello’s own writings were limited to brief chapter introductions. Again, if there is a sequel, I hope to see her essays included in the collection.

One last thing: What is the deal with that teabag photo on the dust cover?!

William I. Lengeman III of
Every time I read another book about tea ― and it seems that there’s been a flurry of these hitting bookstore shelves over the course of the last few years ― I wonder if there’s going to be anything left for the next author to write about. In the case of A Tea Reader, Katrina Munichiello has solved this problem by pulling together a selection of original contributions, as well as a number of pieces with a historical bent. As people who are familiar with tea blogs may already know, Katrina is the blogger behind The Tea Pages, which has been going strong for several years.

Having studied and written about tea for a number of years now, I’ve come to find that some of the most interesting aspects of tea culture have to do with its history. In the Western world this only goes back a few centuries to the introduction of tea to Europe sometime in the early seventeenth century, but there’s plenty of interesting information there nonetheless. Not surprisingly, some of the selections in A Tea Reader that jumped out at me the most were the historical articles by such authors as Thomas Lipton, Rudyard Kipling, and others.

Katrina Ávila Munichiello
Katrina Ávila Munichiello

Katrina  has broken down the book into five sections. Among those that I personally found most appealing were the ones on Tea Travels and Tea Careers, the latter being a topic that doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of attention. The other three sections rounding out the book are Tea Reveries, Tea Connections, and Tea Rituals. A number of well-known tea people contributed to the book, among them such luminaries as Frank Hadley Murphy, Roy Fong, Aaron Fisher, Jane Pettigrew and James Norwood Pratt.

Well, there you have it. From here the decision to spend your hard-earned dollars on a copy to enjoy with your tea break cuppa is your choice. There are certainly plenty of teas out there from which to choose.

See book launch dates and events on Katrina’s Facebook page.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

4 thoughts on “Group Book Review — “Tea Reader” by Katrina Ávila Munichiello

  1. Pingback: Tea People: Babette Donaldson | Tea Blog

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