Saturday, January 23, 2010
Tea and Books Saturday #4 - "Talking of Tea"
Talking of Tea
By Gervas Huxley
Published by John Wagner & Sons, 1956
What a delightful book! Gervas Huxley was the grandson of biologist Thomas Henry Huxley and cousin of novelist Aldous Huxley. He served in WWI before beginning his 30-year career of marketing tea. In his sixties he wrote this, his first book, and it has all the passion and wit of a Brit who truly knows and loves this beverage. I've read probably a half dozen or so "tea history" books in the past year, but this small (104-page) volume is the one I'd recommend as a great guide for both beginning and longtime tea enthusiasts. Whether Huxley is writing of tea's discovery or of the great days of tea trade on the high seas, he tells the story and simply gets on with it. The reader is always left wanting more, not less, and you can easily zip through the short chapters.
I love to read a tea book and discover something I never knew before. That happened often with this book. I did not know that when tea was first sold in retail stores, customers were supposed to bring their own packaging for it. Can you imagine having to bring your own tin or box to the store today? (Actually, that wouldn't be a bad idea, just one that seems a little odd!) I also did not know that Sir Thomas Lipton's shops were originally famous for their hams and cheeses and he didn't trade in tea until he was 40. I especially loved this bit from Huxley: "Once, on a voyage to Ceylon, Lipton's ship ran ashore in the Red Sea and some of the cargo had to be thrown overboard. While the other passengers were making for the lifeboats, Lipton was busy stencilling 'Drink Lipton's Tea' on such of the cargo as would be likely to float."
We also learn that tea was, in its early days, sold in apothecaries; that tea in milk was a purely medicinal concoction at first; and that at the time this book was written American teabags were "considerably more expensive" than loose leaf tea. And though there is much to amuse and entertain in this book, I think my favorite Huxley wisdom is summed up here: "Tea is clearly a most accommodating substance. What amongst so many ways of drinking tea, is the 'right' way? ... Since so many different people are convinced their way is the right way, there can be only one answer to the question. The right way to drink tea is the way you like it best. To this answer must, however, be added an important proviso. In whatever way you take your tea, the leaf should have been given the chance of bringing out its full nature and flavour." Copies of this book can be found inexpensively at the usual sources (eBay or Amazon, which currently has 21 of them starting at just $1), and I highly recommend this delicious little book!
NOTE TO GWENDOL: It's now possible for you to read any of the "Tea Tasting Saturday" posts from last year just by clicking on the link at right under "Labels." Similarly, this year's "Tea and Books Saturday" posts will all be organized together as well. I hope that is what you were looking for!