Saturday, June 5, 2010

Tea and Books Saturday #23 - "Serendipitea"

"Serendipitea: A guide to the varieties, origins and rituals of tea"
By Tomislav Podreka
1998, William Morrow & Co.

Tomislav Podreka was a tea expert I didn't know much about until after his death in 2004. So many kind things were said about him back then in some of the tea publications I read online, I remember thinking he must have really been a delightful tea ambassador. I got a used copy of his book from some forgotten online source, but I do remember being surprised when it arrived and was autographed by him. The company he founded, named Serendipitea like this book, remains to this day, although I don't believe I've had any of its tea. Have you?

Now on to business: This book was just delightful! Some of the writers of tea books come across as passionate tea lovers you'd love to have as friends, and Podreka certainly falls into this group. Podreka's parents were Croatian immigrants who moved to Australia, where he was born and raised, and he recalls tea being a part of the culture there when he was growing up. "Whenever life got a little tough--the car broke down, the children were obstreperous--or when it became downright unbearable, a cup of tea was a way to prop oneself up," he says. "It was and always will be a positive force, a helping hand and symbol of kind comfort. It is a friend, a pick-me-up, and in the worst of times, the very thing to keep our upper lips stiff."

Podreka's book covers many of the expected topics (history of tea, types of tea, teatime rituals, tea recipes), but it's his way with words that makes this book so compelling. That, and he is a good explainer of things. I'd heard, for instance, that oolong tea is sometimes known as blue tea, but I did not know why. Podreka explains: "Blue tea was made from poor-quality oolong tea that was cut with gypsum powder, which explains the tint. The Chinese sold it to the unsuspecting Europeans and consequently, in the earliest days of the tea trade, it became the rage in some stylish European circles. Blue tea did not taste very good, but of course the Europeans had so little experience with tea then that they simply were charmed by its color and its mystique." (Today, he says, a few oolongs are labeled blue teas and they are usually very fine tea.)

I greatly enjoyed Podreka's chapter on types of tea from around the world. He refers to Keemun as the "ambassador of teas" and Yunnan as "the mocha of tea." Dragon's Well is "an important tea," and Silver Needle "commands my personal appreciation and respect." His book is sophisticated but never stuffy, and his respect for tea is clear throughout. In fact, his introduction says that "I feel strongly that we must understand and respect tea if we are to enjoy this ancient and sustaining drink to its fullest. That is why I have written this book--it is my love letter to the beverage that has meant so much to the world and to so many people in their public and private lives and, in the end, so much to me." This is one of the most truly thoughtful tea books I've ever read, and the philosopher-tea drinkers among us will especially enjoy it. I strongly suspect this lovely book will be among my Top 10 favorite tea books this year.


  1. This book sounds interesting. I've learned some new tea info from your review - thanks. A new word too. I have a couple of really "obstreperous" boys in my household. ;-)

  2. I have this book in my tea library. I was able to speak with him prior to his death. He was nice on the phone and you could tell his love for teas. Glad you got one that was signed-what a special treat!

  3. I think I've read this book before. It sounds familiar. Thanks for the review.

  4. I did have the opportunity to meet Tomislav a couple times at the tea expo and he truly was a delight. I was so sad when he passed away. How wonderful to get his book signed. That is another book I would love to add to my collection and haven't. I remember the last time I saw him he was wearing a rhinestone pin that said "I love tea".

  5. You've given this book such a wonderful review, I would love to read it. It looks like it would make a nice gift as well.

  6. I went to uni with Tom's brother. I did not know he had passed until I read this blog. Can anyone tell me what he died from? Thank you.


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