“The Preparation of Japan Tea” by Henry Gribble

When it comes to tea books of yesteryear, it seems that China and India get much of the attention. That’s based on my own decidedly casual and unscientific observations, and it’s not really surprising, given that they’ve been the world’s top producers for a long time. But it also led me to the tentative conclusion that old tea books about Japan are fairly few and far between.

Japanese Tea Ceremony
Japanese Tea Ceremony

Of course, the best known of such books is Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea, an influential work that has been in print continuously for more than a century. The Preparation of Japan Tea, by Henry Gribble, is decidedly more obscure, but this 1883 publication provides some interesting insight into perceptions of Japanese tea in this particular day and age.

It’s actually something of a stretch to call Gribble’s work a book, since the actual text is rather brief (but informative). Gribble makes up for this by including a fairly extensive selection of interesting illustrations to help round things out.

Early commentators on tea tended to either love it or loathe it, and Gribble counts himself among the former group. He addresses this issue early on, giving an overview of some early attitudes toward tea and remarking, “it is amusing to record the imagined danger felt by our forefathers for the beverage which cheers us all, for the innocent drink which gives occasion for an afternoon gossip, for the refreshing cup which renews the energies of a midnight student.”

In the very next sentence Gribble goes on to give an indication of the size of the tea industry in Japan, noting that it was supplying 35 million pounds of tea a year to the United States alone. He goes on to sketch a brief history of tea in Japan, from its supposed introduction from China in the ninth century to its increase in popularity a few centuries later and up to the present day. Interestingly, Gribble notes that early on, much as was the case in many European countries, tea was an expensive luxury that was accessible only to the wealthiest members of society.

From there it’s on to a discussion of more practical matters, such as the botany, chemistry, cultivation and processing of tea, among other things. Gribble pays particular attention to the last of these before moving on to some remarks on Japanese black tea from a Mr. James Green and then on to his concluding remarks. There’s more on the Japanese tea trade in the appendix and then sections on the chemical composition and artificial coloring of tea by another guest commentator, Edward Divers, and then it’s on to the illustrations.

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