Welcome to the TeaBookClub bookshelf! Whilst I don't publish a reading list in advance (you'll have to join us to find out what we're reading next) I'm happy to share here the books we've read over the last year to give you an idea of the kind of books we read and topics we cover.
Each year on our anniversary we read "The Book of Tea" by Okakura Kakuzo to mark the occasion and because it's a much loved classic. We combine this yearly re-read with another book on a related theme so we've not something new to read in that cycle too.
Below you'll find the books we've read over our first year, arranged in the order we read them, first to last.
The Boook of Tea
by Okakura Kakuzo
TeaBookClub's first and now annual read. This is a classic which can be re-read and read again. I've found, over the years, that the immortal words of Okakura are always relevant and ever changing. Each time I read this wonderful little book I get something else out of it depending on my state of mind and where I am in my tea life at the time.
There are multiple editions out there but one of my particular favourite is with introduction by Bruce Richardson, a longtime researcher of Okakura's life. Reading Bruce's exploration of Okakura's life and what lead him to writing The Book of Tea as well as how he influenced the lives of those around him and beyond is fascinating. Plus if you ever get a change to hear Bruce speak on Okakura, I cannot recommend it highly enough!
Available widely, you can also read a digitised early edition for free on archive.org
For all the Tea in China
by Sarah Rose
I love this book, easily overlooked amongst tea books as it feels more like a novel (and kinda reads like one too) it is nonetheless an excellent read. The story of Robert Fortune, the Victorian botanist who "stole" tea from China to plant the hills of Darjeeling with tea bushes. Packed full of history and engaging stories, Sarah Rose takes us on a journey alongside Robert Fortune as he journeys deep into China in search of tea seeds and cuttings. Whilst we might now view this as industrial espionage of the highest degree, the story is however, involving and delightfully written and at times, rather amusing too. Definitely worth a read and a place on your tea book shelf.
Find For all the Tea in China on Amazon
Easy Leaf Tea
by Timothy d'Offay
This book sits towards the recipes and brewing techniques end of the tea book shelf but is so beautifully photographed that its perfect as a coffee table book too. Written with heart, by a most wonderful tea person, Tim d'Offay of Postcard Teas in London its also packed full of superb info and insights into tea. It is the brewing methods and tea recipe ideas that really stand out and are absolutely delicious. I've tried them both at home and in the shop and when we read it, several of our members were inspired to use and then create their own tea infusion recipes inspired by the book.
For those new to tea it offers a great starting point and introduction into tea generally, tea types, tea ware, brewing methods and recipe ideas.
For those already deeper into tea its a pleasure to browse through and inspires with brewing and recipe ideas.
Any tea lover would be happy to receive this as gift.
A Social History of Tea
by Jane Pettigrew & Bruce Richardson
As the title suggests, a more serous book by two brilliant tea authors on tea history. The focus is on British and American tea history. Fantastically researched, I particularly like the way one book is written with the two voices of Jane (Britain) and Bruce (America), brining the the history to life as we switch back and forth across the Atlantic throughout the book. Full of detail, look out for historic recipes such as a green tea custard made with cream and fascinating insights through the household accounts of tea spending and the contents of ones "tea closet". The pictures in this book are great too and really bring us back through history to look and think about how tea was traded and consumed. I particularly loved the detailed plan of how a tea clipper would be loaded with its cargo (p108). Such a range of subjects are covered as well, including fashions in tea ware and dress as well as expected subjects around trade and famous names and places in tea history (Boston Tea Party et al).
Broadly available, you can find it on Amazon here.
The Story of Japanese Tea
by Tyas Sōsen
Whether you already love (and think you know) Japanese tea or are just getting into it this book is a must read! Tyas Sōsen takes us on a fully immersive look at Japanese tea through history, cultivation and production (traditional/historical through to bang up to date), customs and types of Japanese tea. This is a fully rounded and thorough book. An entire chapter is devoted to Matcha but it was the wide exploration of different types of Japanese tea that really stood out for me. For example, there's more to bancha than meets the eye and the discussion on how sencha might have tasted before mechanised production (and those trying to replicate this) as well as rare teas like goishi-cha is fascinating. Tyas's discussions around farming methods and taking care of the land are important and well worth reading as well. Overall an excellent book which really brings light to the subject of Japanese Tea.
My only gripe? It could have done with an edit by a native english speaker to iron out some of the language which can be a tad clunky at times. But then, I couldn't exactly write such a book in second or third language so hats off to Tyas!
Get The Story of Japanese Tea on Amazon
Listen to my review on TeaBiz
Tales of the Tea Trade
by Michelle and Rob Comins
An absolute gem of a book and top favourite of the year as voted for by TeaBookClub members. Also my personal favourite read of the year. After a general but thoughtfully written introduction to tea and its types, Michelle and Rob take us on a journey to the different countries they source their tea from. Taking turns to voice the stories, we hear from both Michelle and Rob as well as the fascinating people they've met on their travels. This book is intensely human and heartfelt, you really feel a connection with Michelle and Rob, their love of tea, the places they go and the people they meet. The book is thoughtfully laid out so you know right away who is speaking and can easily pick out the stories from tea people alongside interesting asides such as baking their own oolong and peoples relationships with tea. A pleasure to read and add to any tea book shelf this is a must have.
Shortlisted for the Andre Simons Book Awards 2020. Rightly so!
Listen to my review on TeaBiz
Eighty Degrees Magazine, issue 3
edited by Martin Boháčik
Ok, technically not a book but this is such a beautiful publication that it felt worthwhile including it as a TeaBookClub read. And it was well worth it, landing in the top three reads of the year as voted for by our members. Great articles, stunning photography, what more could you want? The next edition perhaps?
Definitely worth picking up a copy, I know several of our members ended up subscribing they enjoyed it so much. From issue 3, our favourite articles were "Mr Wu's Art of Clay" p104 and "The Cradle of the Tea House" p77. The other articles were great too, learning a bit more about Vietnamese Tea and the origins of the Samovar in Russia were also fascinating.
Conclusion: a fine tea publication well worth adding to your tea book shelf.
Visit readeighty.com for to find your local stockist, subscribe or order individual issues.
The One Taste of Truth
Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea
by William Scott Wilson
This was perhaps the most challenging book of the year. The introduction to Zen and Japanese Tea Ceremony is excellent and worth a read if nothing else. The rest of the book is devoted to Zen poems and phrases that William Scott Wilson translates and discusses, poem by poem, grouped on themes. As a "cover to cover" type reader, I found this hard going (as did other TeaBookClub members) as each poem or phrase requires a good deal of head space and contemplation. The content is excellent, just digesting it that is the challenge. A book best dipped into and digested in small sections. Try focusing on just one theme at a time. Or dip in to each theme and read just one poem at a time. In either case, do this along with your tea or meditation practice so that you have time to absorb, connect and sit with with each philosophical nugget therein. Try popping it next to the kettle and reading just a little while the kettle boils and your tea steeps each morning. However you approach this book, it requires time to digest so small sections at a time is the answer.
Cultivating Feminity, Women and Tea Culture in Edo and Meiji Japan
by Rebecca Corbett
For a book that sits on the academic end of the bookshelf this is surprisingly pleasant ready and not nearly as heavy as I was expecting. As a Chanoyu (Japanese Tea Ceremony) practitioner this is absolutely brilliant reading! Rebecca shines a spotlight on Japanese Tea Culture in Japan in a thoughtful an illuminating text that is particularly digestible. If nothing else it is worth reading the introduction alone for its insight into the world of Japanese Tea Culture. How the Tea Schools are arranged and how knowledge and teaching is distributed through the "Iemoto" system. With they eyes of an academic historian, Rebecca shines an illuminating light on the "standard historical narrative" taught by the tea schools in general and particularly as regards women's participation in that world, reminding us that history (as my high school history teacher would tell us) is "his"-"story". For those into the subject, it is well worth continuing beyond the introduction to follow Rebecca's research and explore the topic more fully. All in all, a fantastic read and one I highly recommend to all interested in Japanese Tea Culture.
The publisher has made the digital version available for free through the open access scheme so you don't need to shell out on an academic book and reading just the introduction is entirely possible. Though if you're like me, I do like my tea books in good old fashion paper! Find both on Amazon.
The Life of Tea
A Journey to the World's Finest Teas
by Michael Freeman & Timothy d'Offay
By far the most beautiful tea book, visually, to land on my tea shelf. The coffee table book format and fabulous photography by Michael Freeman make this a treasured addition to any collection of tea books. Add to that the knowledge that pours fourth in the words written by Timothy d’Offay and we have a truly special book in our hands. One of the lovely things about this book is that you don’t feel that you’re re-reading information on tea that you’ve read a thousand times before. Rather you go on a journey to each tea type, each country, region, artisan or teahouse and along the way, dotted throughout the text like so many villages amongst the tea mountains are these wonderful gems and nuggets of information. There is so much to learn and absorb, both from the pictures and the text in this book. It sits at an unusual sweet spot where a visually enticing book meets a well researched and written reference book.
This is not a book that requires cover to cover reading, rather you can pick an area and go an a journey, then move onto another. In any order. An approach that TeaBookClub members really enjoyed. The text is so well written, with great flow, great knowledge and great humanity. From historical and cultural context to processing details of a specific tea and the atmospheric approach up a tea mountain road. You really feel that Tim has been there, knows the farmers, the people and the tea.
The large format and visual splendour of this book is however, perhaps it’s biggest sticking point as well as what sets it so beautifully apart. It’s simply not easy to read and requires effort to open and get on with. The solution though, is to grab the kindle copy as well for easy train or bed reading. Allowing you to fly through the content laden and beautifully written text without the heft and size the physical book requires.
Available on Amazon in glorious print and Kindle versions.
Listen to my review on TeaBiz
INFUSED, Adventures in Tea
by Henrietta Lovell
Wow! What a book! From start to finish Henrietta had me captivated, excited and enthralled by her world. A Tea Book unlike most, this is the very personal story of Henrietta’s adventures with tea, in tea and all around tea. From her first fledging sips out of dainty china cups at Diana’s House as a child we are taken along on a ride of reminiscence. With trips to far flung tea fields swathed in mist, via the odd lightening strike or two we zip off to tea tastings with chefs some of the best restaurants in the world, accompanied by her little yellow suitcase and strange meetings on trains. To mention but a few of her adventures. The extreme highs of Henrietta’s life in tea (which could otherwise have felt like so much name dropping) are balanced by her battles with cancer and yes, she really has been struck down by lightening! The realness and personality of Henrietta and her book comes through in these juxtapositions, making the book expressively and genuinely human. You really feel like you are sat over a cup of tea with Henrietta as she regales you with her stories. The highs, the lows and the off on a tangent. Oh and the recipes. Dotted throughout the book are her teas and recipes, each is connected with its own story.
This is not a book with sections on different teas, recipes, growing and history like most other tea books. But all this and more is woven throughout the stories that Henrietta tells. Like real life, we learn as we go along, picking up useful tips, ideas and inspirations. If you ever find yourself in a bit of a tea rut, drinking the same thing day in day out then this book is sure to re-ignite your tea flame and get you trying something new. It certainly did for me!
Available on Amazon in glorious print, Kindle or Audio (narrated by Henrietta herself).
Listen to my review on TeaBiz
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
by Lisa See
I found myself repeatedly drawn in and captivated by the story whilst doing my initial skim read, checking there was sufficient tea content for TeaBookClub members. There was. Tea content aplenty. Whilst reading, and by the time I’d finished it I found myself with a renewed interest in the world of Puerh tea, a pond I’d previously only dipped my toe into. Fascinating and well researched tea content is liberally scattered throughout the book, revealing the mysterious world of Puerh tea. From ancient secret groves and lost production through its re-discovery to rapid growth, boom and bust over the last three decades. Despite being a work of fiction, one immediately feels that the tea content is thorough and factually based, adding interesting and personable factoids to the tea readers knowledge banks. And ultimately, for many, inspiring a new or renewed interest in the world of Peurh.
Undoubtedly a literary work worthy of the recommendations that brought it to my reading chair, it is interesting how different lenses can change the readers experience. Reading it with a tea mind gives, I feel, a rather different experience to that of a reader coming to it purely as a novel. Something which became clear when discussing it with TeaBookClub members.
For the tea reader, this is a book of two halves. Whilst the first half cleverly sets up Li-yan's world of Akha tradition and starts her on her journey. It can at times feel like wading through a documentary on the Akha, despite the captivating writing. It’s not until Li-yan makes it to Kunming that the pace suddenly picks up and we’re zipping through the exciting tea world as the puerh trend picks up pace alongside. I personally wanted to spend more time with Tea Master Sun and in Li-yan’s tea shop in the tea market at this point. But on we zipped to California and the eventual riveting ending, which left me desperately wanting to know what happened next.
There are so many brilliant layers to this book and it could be looked at through so many different lenses. The rapid transition of the Akha way of life into the modern world was fascinating and could spark it’s own lengthly discussion. From another view, the mother daughter story, adoption or Chinese immigrants in the USA could all be delved into and discussed. But for the tea reader this is a wonderful story, packed with great tea content that will either develop or ignite an interest in, and desire to explore the world of puerh further.
Available from Amazon in print, digital and audiobook formats.
Listen to my review on TeaBiz