Recent and Upcoming Tea Books IV

19 Lessons on Tea (screen capture from site)
19 Lessons on Tea (screen capture from site)

As I was gearing up to write the latest edition of this column I thought I would browse through Amazon’s Kindle store, looking for books on a certain topic (first two guesses don’t count). As I did so, I found myself amazed and slightly befuddled at how many versions there are of Kakuzo Okakura’s influential 1905 work, The Book of Tea. I gather that the book is not protected under copyright laws and thus, given the relative ease of putting together a Kindle edition, you can take your pick among about a zillion of them. Given all that, I’d caution you to choose carefully.

This time around we start with a book about coffee (excuse me?). Bear with me for a moment, if you will, and no, I’m not going over to the dark side. I haven’t actually read Steven Ward’s The Coffeeist Manifesto: No More Bad Coffee! but based on the description, I like what he seems to be striving for. Here in the tea world we’re all making great strides nowadays but in my opinion people are still too willing to accept bad or mediocre tea. So The Teaist Manifesto? Anyone?

If you’re looking for the ultimate guide to Chinese tea you might want to look into something like Bret Hinsch’s The Ultimate Guide to Chinese Tea. It’s bills itself as “the first comprehensive and accurate book in English on the fine art of Chinese tea.” Which might be overstating things just a bit, given how many other books on the topic are out there. Take The Ancient Art of Tea: Wisdom From the Ancient Chinese Tea Masters, by Warren Peltier, for example. It treads similar ground and appears to have been published a few months prior to the aforementioned volume.

If you’re pressed for time and you couldn’t possibly commit to reading 20 lessons on tea, 27Press has just the thing for you. That would be 19 Lessons On Tea: Become an Expert on Buying, Brewing, and Drinking the Best Tea. Whether it’s really “the ultimate guide to everything you need to know about this healthy and flavorful daily indulgence” is something you’ll have to judge for yourself.

If you’re ready to make a substantially larger commitment you could take a crack at 365 Things Every Tea Lover Should Know, by Harvest House Publishers. It’s apparently a “fun, attractive collection rejoices in all there is to learn, savor, praise, and enjoy about tea.” I haven’t done the math but if try a selection a day you should be able to get through it in about a year.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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2 thoughts on “Recent and Upcoming Tea Books IV

  1. Indeed, Okakura Kakuzo’s Book of Tea is in public domain because it first appeared in 1906. I have spent the past five years in pursuit of his story and published an expanded and illustrated edition of The Book of Tea in 2011 (Benjamin Press). Every prior edition had an introduction by an art historian – after all, he was the Curator of Asian Arts at Boston’s MFA from 1904 until his death in 1913. Norwood Pratt and I had a fascinating interview with the current curator in 2011 and were able to see firsthand many of the artifacts he touched. Many are now on a sold-out tour of Japan where his memory is much revered..

    Unlike the editors before me, I looked at Okakura’s life and relationships from the viewpoint of someone traveling the “way of tea,” and wrote a new introduction to his original work from a teaist perspective. I chose to illustrate this edition with both archival photographs and Hokusai woodcut prints, and ended with a richly-illustrated chapter on America’s love of Japanese tea at the turn of the twentieth century.

    My goal was to explain Okakura’s complex life and his purpose for writing this classic text about the “cup of humanity,” which helped explain the East to the West through the common metaphor of tea. When you understand Okakura, the book becomes even more enlightening.

    I gave talks recently in Boston about Okakura’s relationship with Isabella Stewart Gardner. His influence on her life was profound, as was his impact upon the art and intellectual community of Boston. He was the guest everyone in Boston society wanted at their dinner table.

    I’m happy to say the 2011 Benjamin Press edition is now the version carried by The Smithsonian’s Freer/Sackler Galleries and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. You can find this edition on Amazon by searching “book of tea” combined with “bruce richardson.”

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