Book Review: The China Tea Book

The China Tea Book - it doesn't take a village, just an engine hoist! (stock images)
The China Tea Book – it doesn’t take a village, just an engine hoist! (stock images)

I’ve run across a few tea books in my time and, while it’s only a rather modest 212 pages in all, Luo Jialin’s The China Tea Book takes the cake when it comes to sheer bulk. I don’t think I’ve ever run across a heftier volume on tea, and it would certainly qualify as coffee table book. But under the circumstances the term hardly seems appropriate – not that tea table book really has a ring to it either. But I digress.

In addition to being one of the biggest books on tea that I’ve encountered, I’d also have to rank The China Tea Book as one of the most visually impressive. It combines a rather sparse and minimal design with an embarrassment of riches as regards the outstanding photography, historical drawings and whatnot.

Luo Jialin is a Chinese scholar and a tea-making master who holds a certification from the Taiwan Luyu Tea Culture Institute. He breaks the book down into two major sections – Tea and Tea Culture. The first of these devotes a chapter each to green tea, oolong, black and pu-erh. All of which are produced in China and of course we’re treated to sections on such classics as Dragon Well, Wuyi Rock Tea, Dian Hong and Keemun as well as lesser known (at least to me) varieties like Mount Meng Sweet Dew and Frozen-Summit Oolong.

When reading the section on Tea Culture, remind yourself that China is the place where this concept was born. The author starts with a chapter on somewhat esoteric principles such as Time, Space, Teaware and Ambiance, before moving on to a look at Ancient Chinese Tea Culture. After that it’s a chapter on Tea and Zen and then one on Dissemination, which takes a look at the Japanese tea ceremony and the Ancient Tea Route.

While this was a highly impressive work overall I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to someone who’s looking for a broad overview on tea or a first tea book. Given that this volume is limited to China, there’s obviously a lot that’s not going to be covered. But if you’re looking for a great volume on the place where tea and tea culture first came to be, you probably can’t do much better. Plus you can buy it at Sears, of all places.

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