There is a category of tea book I like to call Tea 101. The exact details vary but these works tend to present background on the history of tea, an overview of the types and varieties of tea and the primary regions in which they’re grown. Some might look at the processing steps tea goes through, steps that vary depending on the type. Most offer advice on how to properly prepare tea and some might even devote part of their page count to recipes that use tea as an ingredient.

The Tea Cyclopedia: A Celebration of the World's Favorite Drink (image capture)

The Tea Cyclopedia: A Celebration of the World’s Favorite Drink (image capture)

It’s not for me to say whether or not there are enough of this type of book in circulation, but I can say for sure that I’ve run across my fair share of them in the eight years I’ve been writing about tea. One of the latest examples is The Tea Cyclopedia: A Celebration of the World’s Favorite Drink, by Dr. Keith Souter, which was published this year.

Souter’s book follows the Tea 101 template for the most part, but with a few interesting wrinkles. The first of three parts tackles The History of Tea. At six chapters and 40-plus pages it’s relatively short and you can obviously find more thorough looks at the topic. But it’s an interesting overview and about what one would expect for a work like this. One of the highlights here, at least for me, was a chapter that took a quick look at some ancient works about tea, most of them Chinese.

Part Two, Taking Tea, start with a look at the various types of tea and moves on to assorted aspects of tea culture, such as tea tasting, and the equipment and teawares that are part and parcel of tea drinking. Also covered, tea rituals and ceremonies and tea etiquette. An interesting section here, and one that I don’t recall running across before, was one that dealt with a number of tea customs and superstitions. For example, there’s an old English superstition that had people scattering dry tea leaves and salt outside their house to ward off evil spirits.

Part Three, Using Tea, opens with fairly standard chapters on tea cocktails and tea’s health benefits. After that, the author proceeds to switch things up a bit, with chapters that cover tea in literature and telling fortunes using tea leaves. Even more unusual are chapters titled Some Unexpected Uses for Tea (grime remover, etc.) and the quite interesting Fun with Some Quirky Tea Experiments.

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

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