Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tea & Books Saturday #2 - "Tea." by Jamie Shalleck

By Jamie Shalleck
The Viking Press, 1972

Today we tea lovers are constantly seeking new books about our favorite beverage, so a book devoted entirely to tea is nothing new to us. This was not the case when this book first appeared, since the author opens with what amounts to a vigorous defense of the book's existence. "The prevailing American disdain for tea is perhaps not an accident of taste but the result of long years of conditioning, the psychological aftermath of a colonial ban on tea," she says. Disdain? Maybe back then, but certainly not today!

The amusing image on the book's cover is what initially caught my attention about "Tea." It's actually a fitting symbol of what's inside, since much of the book is devoted to tea and commerce at a time when tea ships were transporting those tea leaves hither and yon. There is a great deal of information on the East India Company and how it exercised its monopoly, and I was sorry to see there was no index to return to and find this specific information easily. The author also focuses repeatedly on two threads which I haven't really seen in other books: 1) early medical arguments about whether tea was actually helpful or harmful and 2) early moral arguments about whether tea drinking was a vice or a virtue. (John Wesley at one time believed he had cured himself of a particular malady by abstaining from tea, although he later resumed tea drinking.) Shalleck quotes often from texts written from the 1500s on, and I was quite intrigued by her choice of sources.

In books on tea history, I often find myself most enjoying the more trivial parts of the book, and that was true here as well. Did you know, for instance, that John Jacob Astor made part of his fortune trading furs for Chinese tea? Or that J. Lyons & Company's "tea for two" campaign was about buying tea for twopence instead of threepence? There are plenty of such tidbits in this book, something to appeal to every tea lover.

The book takes a 'round-the-world trip, literally, to reach its conclusion, but it's one I agree with: "Tea is pleasant, harmless, and relatively inexpensive. So why not revive the connoisseurship of tea? We could all do with a few more civilizing influences." Yes indeed!


  1. Thanks for the review- this will be one I will take a pass on. Too much negatives for me.

  2. Thanks for the review. Sounds like an interesting tea book.

    I like the cover too. I have seen my Wedgwood "Edme" Queen's Ware china in many publications, but never on the cover of a book and used in such an unusual way.

  3. Thanks for the review. Sounds like an interesting book.

  4. Thanks for the review. sounds like an interesting book. What an amazing post that I have ever come through. It gives the information that I was really searching for the past week and I am really satisfied with this post. Need more like this.

  5. Just think about the discount from 3pence to 2pence that's a massive drop and it is hard to imagine how they fared with it regarding profitability. Especially interesting piece of information as Lyons tea houses were on the high-end of the market during those days. Thanks for the review, this book goes straight to my to-buy list.


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