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.
Explore the Bookshelf
The Boook of Tea
by Okakura Kakuzo
For a book that is well over a century old, The Book of Tea remains a classic and a book that is well worth re-reading from time to time. There are so many editions out there, variously with introductions by tea aficionados, scholars and masters of the last hundred plus years. Some editions are particularly aesthetically pleasing to add to the tea bookshelf. However, the edition I always recommend is the one with the introduction by Bruce Richardson. Bruce’s exceptionally well researched introduction into the life and times of Okakura is fascinating and really helps to contextualise The Book of Tea. Additionally the fantastic photo’s and illustrations help to bring both the book and Okakura’s period of history to life.
I find it fascinating how different my experience is each time I re-read The Book of Tea. At TeaBookClub we re-read it each year and it’s wonderful to see how members react differently to what Okakura has to say each time. For some it’s the first read ever, for others the first re-read, sometimes in over a decade, and for others, like me, it’s a yearly read. But regardless, each time there are new thoughts to consider, new inspirations to be had. In many ways, in re-reading this classic of tea and with some self reflection you get a little insight to where you are in your tea life. Your own journey tea. Where one year archaic turns of phrase may irk, with the next read these disappear and the gems of wisdom and thought in its pages float to the surface like so many dancing tealeaves in your cup.
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
Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic
by Jinghong Zhang
Sitting on the academic end of the tea bookshelf, this is a fascinating and thoroughly well researched foray into the complex and multi-faceted world of Puer tea. An anthropological study which explores the “cultural biography” of Puer Tea, the ethnographic and anthropological research that has gone into this is book is exceptional and really opens up the intricacies of Puer. And yet, despite being such an academic text it is entirely readable and utterly fascinating.
The first third (introduction and “spring”) sets up the rest of the book, introducing and outlining the research, including terms and definitions used throughout. With such a complex subject matter, this is invaluable and helps to deal with complexities around such things as fermentation (page 13) and geographic locations. In this we get to grips with Puer, the tea, the people involved and begin to grapple with the issues surrounding authenticity.
Indeed, the issues surrounding authenticity are central to the book as a whole and open up numerous questions and considerations we should probably all be aware of when it comes to exploring and particularly to purchasing Puer tea.
Building on this grounding, the book jumps up and becomes massively absorbing in the latter two thirds (“summer”, “autumn” and “winter”). Exploring the changing historical and current cultural context of Puer, the importance of location and differences and difficulties surrounding production and of course ageing is both revealing and fascinating. Accessing multiple areas and sources within the realm of Puer we get real insight and understanding without the veneer of the “sales pitch” that pervades much of the public Puer world. As a native of Kunming and with the rigour and perspective of an academic, Jinghong Zhang really gets at the heart of the matter and presents us clear and thorough insights. The famed boom and bust of the Peur market is revealed in startling detail. How and why it happened and importantly how its effects were felt and dealt with in different circles. The impact and conversations that arose as part of and as a result of this around authenticity and what is valued in a Puer are explored from producers to connoisseurs and consumers. The importance and meaning of place and how this is varyingly defined in Puer circles and indeed how place effects taste and experience is revealed and explored.
I could go on, there is so much content in this book! But suffice to say, a thoroughly excellent read! Whether aficionado or with an inkling of an interest in Puer, this book is an excellent and essential development of that interest. We thoroughly recommend it!
Available in print and for Kindle on Amazon
The Way of Tea, Tea as a Way of Life
by Solala Towler
A wonderful introduction into tea and Daoism. Although I’ve of course come across Daosim in my reading, I’ve never had it explained and illuminated as effectively as Solala Towler does in this book. I found myself drawn in and engaged in what can otherwise be a rather difficult philosophy to get ones head around. Solala explains and contextualises Daoism in a way that makes it not only easier to get to grips with the basics but to really understand and appreciate it’s influence on tea practice and philosophy through the ages. He explains the principles and ideas using language that is accessible and digestible for the modern reader.
There is a certain freshness to his telling of the stories and legends of tea that we have all heard oh so many times before. Solala approaches these with a fresh voice, you feel as if you are perhaps sitting sipping tea as he shares them with you. He brings new life to their telling and explains and expands on them in refreshing and understandable ways, using examples from other tales in the book. Keeping us, the reader, engaged and a part of the discussion. It is a combination of Daoist teachings, fables, legends and spirituality that is engaging, understandable and relatable. I particularly liked his exploration of Zen and Daoism which made a lot of sense and helped a few more bits of the puzzle click into place.
Wonderful as this book is, the last few chapters on brewing tea and different types of tea, are best skipped over or ignored as for anyone versed in tea they offer some dubious explanations and advice. But, that aside, if we ignore those few chapters, the rest of the book, and really, its main purpose is an excellent and very enjoyable introduction to Daosim and tea philosophy. The Way of tea and Tea as a Way of Life. Certainly one to add to the tea bookshelf if you are exploring the philosophy and spirituality of tea.
The True History of Tea
by Victor H. Mair & Erling Hoh
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, for it is one of those rare instances where, rather than the dry read that the title suggests, the reader is instead treated to an engaging and captivating page turner. Somehow, the clearly extensive academic research behind this book has been cajoled into an engaging text that reads easily and leaves you wanting more more more. It invites delving down rabbit holes to explore further the places and people that are packed into it. Having google alongside to look things up whilst reading is one approach. Indeed if there was one criticism felt by many it was the lack of footnotes within the text. For the hardened tea readers, we wanted to know more. We wanted to know where we could go to find out more.
For, if there was one thing that this book did better than any other tea history book out there it was in presenting us with new areas of knowledge and different tellings of familiar stories in the great and long history of the plant, beverage and customs of tea. From the Mongolian tribes to the Australian outback we were taken to lands, explored customs and followed the progress of the humble leaf in areas that are rarely otherwise explored. Take for example the chapters “We invented the samovar!” And “ Conquering new lands” which explored the Russian caravan tea trade and the Islamic world of tea respectively. In the wider pantheon on tea books these areas are rarely touched upon so to explore them like this was a treat indeed.
In such a fast paced yet indepth global exploration of tea, the summaries at the end of each chapter really helped to ground you in what you’d just absorbed. To give the veritable tea leaves or our minds time to unfurl and take it all in. There are also little ‘mini studies’ scattered throughout the book, defined by a border and of no more than two pages which explore or detail a topic that sits alongside the body of the chapter.
Additionally the book features three fascinating appendices, perhaps the most interesting of which is an exploration of the word tea itself. A must read for any linguists out there. The appendices themselves are thoroughly referenced which leaves one wondering if perhaps the reason for the lack of references in the body of the book was to turn this phenomenal work of research into the readable page turner that it is. In which case, job well done. Page turner it most surely was and a welcome addition to any tea lovers bookshelf. This is a book to which I’m sure we shall all return to from time to time to look up snippets of tea history.
Available in print and Kindle from Amazon
by Thomas Harding
Lyon’s, a brand which, for about a century was synonymous with Britishness and most especially, for us here, with tea. That was the story I was expecting when I started reading Legacy by Thomas Harding. The story of Lyons. Tea in boxes, tea shops and tea houses on every street corner across the country. And yes, in part that’s the story we got. But in actual fact, Legacy, the story of the family behind the Lyons brand, the Salmon and Glucksteins, the authors own family, was so, so much more.
For this is the story of a family of Jewish immigrants who started off in the backstreets of Whitechapel with Jack the Ripper on their doorstep. A family, who, without setting out to do so, effected major social change. In the way we eat out, creating restaurant culture that we are so used to today. Democratised eating out - it wasn’t always a thing. Women dinking or eating in public, alone and unchaperoned was at one time, scandalous, unthinkable and impossible. This is the story of the people who changed that. The story of the people who employed women and paid them a fair wage. Not because of a political agenda or movement but because it was fair and the right thing to do for their business. Who saw the opportunity in a need. Who saw what the public wanted, even when they didn’t know they wanted it themselves, and then provided for that need and built a thriving and incredible empire from it. From the simple standpoint of fulfilling peoples needs with quality at fair and affordable prices.
**This wasn’t the story I was expecting to read but “oh my” was I hooked! The history packed into this book, comes to life through the very real people who inhabit its pages. The realities of life in the times they lived transform from mere statistics to the very real experiences of the people who lived them. The streets, buildings and brands of London and beyond are brought to life. From that first Lyons tea shop in Piccadilly to the Trocadero. From tobacconists to tea, ice-cream, computers and the burger with fries. From women dining alone to the forerunner of the “food hall”. This is the story of the people who brought us places, products and ways of doing that we now so easily take for granted.
All that coupled with the ingeniousness of the Fund which supported the family as it grew and rose out of the slums of East London to become leaders and revolutionaries in food, drink and hospitality.
Yes the tea content was relatively small but it barely mattered, this book was gripping, fascinating and informative. A must read.
Available in print, Kindle and audiobook from Amazon
East and West
by Bonnie Kemske
This wonderful book by Bonnie Kemske is a very personal, human look at an object and subject, the teabowl, which can often be talked about in an all too esoteric or intensely academic way. What Bonnie succeeds so well in doing with her book is to fuse the academic and esoteric contexts of the teabowl with her personal experience as both a ceramicist and student of tea into a highly digestible book. Full to the brim with stunning images of all sorts of teabowls. From the ancient and treasured to stunning contemporary bowls and, well, the wild and wacky!
It’s rare to find a book where the history of such an iconic and complex object is so well told that it is pleasurable to read, academically sound and personable. Bonnie reaches out to us, the reader, to engage and explain. The story, lore and technicalities of the teabowl are told through her lens, through her experiences. The history, context and details are explored in such a way that they are never stodgy, rather the facts, names, dates etcetera are woven through a narrative that draws us into the world of the teabowl. Giving us a foundation from which to explore beyond the teabowls traditional tearoom realm into the contemporary, art gallery world of it’s iconic form.
Though her exploration of touch and how we engage with an object on a physical and spiritual level Bonnie introduces that most elusive and yet intrinsic element of the teabowl: how it feels in our hands. Be you new to the teabowl world or already a devotee, the importance of connecting with the bowl comes though well and is explained in a way that makes you stop, think and question our own experiences with teabowls in particular and other ceramics too.
As the title suggests, the book is balanced between East and West and Bonnie explores this not just in the context and place of the teabowl and how we experience it but also the techniques and approaches to the creation of teabowls. Shape, glaze, decoration, texture, structure, material and usability (or not) are all explored from both sides. The approach of potters and examples of their respective works are used to illustrate, both in the narrative and in pictures the comparisons and points Bonnie makes throughout the book. However, the one thing that many of us would have found invaluable would be a bibliography or compendium of potters and their works that appear in the text and in pictures as keeping track of names and works was quite challenging at times.
An excellent and stunning book that should be welcomed onto any tea book shelf!
Available in print only from Amazon