Thursday, January 29, 2009
"The Tea Drinker's Handbook"
"The Tea Drinker's Handbook" is without a doubt one of the most intriguing tea books I've ever come across. I had assumed this new release would be a general, tea-for-beginners type of book, but that isn't the case. In fact, with its almost encyclopedic amount of information on tea, this book seems geared for us "true believers" rather than those seeking an introduction to the wide, wide world of tea.
Written by the founders of the French company Le Palais des Thés, François-Xavier Delmas, Mathias Minet and Christine Barbaste, the book is divided into three main sections: What is Tea?, Tasting and the World's 50 Best Teas. I will readily admit to being a tea geek at this point, so I loved discovering some of the more arcane facts related to tea. For instance, have you ever wondered precisely how those tea pluckers pluck? Pause a moment. Picture yourself plucking two leaves and a bud with your fingers. (If no one's around and you won't embarrass yourself, feel free to act this out as I did.) The authors say good hands and a good eye are both required, because "the young shoot to be taken is held between the index and middle fingers of each hand, broken by the thumb, and thrown over the shoulder into the basket or sack hanging on the back of the plucker."
The book is packed with magnificent photos, the captions of which are enlightening aplenty: I saw how tea cuttings are taken, how a tea plucker harvests tea from the top of a tea tree, what a garden-nursery looks like in Darjeeling (and I'm talking BABY nursery, where pluckers park the kiddos while they're plucking!), and what a plucking table is. (It's the flat top of the hedge of tea plants. In other words, you can't get a plucking table at Rooms to Go.)
The tasting section contains loads of information on how professional tasters go about their business. Frankly, it's a bit overwhelming. I'm grateful I found my own tea tasting method earlier this year. The section on their pick of the world's 50 best teas will be fun to compare with my "Harney" list as I continue on with my year of tea exploration. This book also depicts the recommended teas at the top of each page, which is a nice touch.
My only real criticism with this book is the large number of typos and grammatical mistakes it contains, especially in the first 50 or so pages when I was trying to really dig in. If this happened merely a time or two I'd not even mention it, but I'm afraid the errors are quite a distraction. There are also "sidebars" of information that are in such a tiny pale gray font they are difficult to read. Still, if you are a true tea fanatic, you will probably have to have a copy of this book for your tea library, because there is simply too much good stuff you won't want to miss!