Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook"

While I've dedicated my Saturdays this year to reviewing older or even out-of-print tea books, I'm always happy to get a review copy of a new tea book as well. Over the holiday weekend I finished reading a new release from Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss, "The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook: A Guide to Enjoying the World's Best Teas." This is a tremendously useful book, and those of you who favor "pure" teas will especially want to get a copy. I'm betting you'll devour it just as I did!

Now I'm quite the fan of a 2008 tea book, "The Harney and Sons Guide to Tea," and I was curious whether this book could have any information I hadn't already come across. Wow! is all I can say. The Harney book will certainly remain a favorite, and I think every tea library should have it, but this guidebook takes a rather different approach to exploring the world of tea. The authors, who have been tea retailers themselves since 1974, obviously know a thing or two about sourcing good teas, and their passion for the beverage comes across on every page of this book. What I appreciate most, however, is the fact their information is presented so simply and clearly that it was accessible to me, someone who is not a tea expert but just an ordinary "tea enthusiast" who hopes to learn more.

I had so many "aha" moments reading this book that there are far too many of them to list, but one was this. You know how most books or tea packages tell you to use one spoon of tea (and sometimes "one for the pot")? I've always wondered how that applied to fluffy, bulky teas, which so clearly require more tea when steeping. The Heisses share a simply analogy about how a pound of nails and a pound of feathers weigh the same, but the feathers are obviously more bulky. "Bulky teas require that you use a greater volume of leaf per six-ounce serving than a small, denser leaf," they say. Sometimes, just having a simple explanation is all it takes for something to click with me! Here are some of the other tidbits I gleaned:

-- When first tasting a new tea, they say, steep it for two minutes and then taste it every 30 seconds thereafter, keeping notes.

-- Japan's famous shade-grown green tea actually "alters the chemistry of the plant, forcing it to produce an extra abundance of chlorophyll."

-- Teas produced in the Nilgiri mountains of India tend to lack the amino acid that causes cloudiness in cold tea, making them good choices for those who want clear iced tea.

-- Only 1 percent of the total tea production in India is Darjeeling! (I must confess I had to "fact check" that before I believed it!)

The book includes great photos of tea in production around the world, and there are also detailed reviews and photos for 30-plus teas. There's a glossary and a brief list of tea vendors, and the index will be helpful for those of us who will, no doubt, be turning to this book again and again thanks to its abundance of great information and advice.


  1. Angela, Thank you for this review. It sounds like a very interesting and useful book!

  2. I probably fall into the "pure" tea category, but I'm trying hard to branch out and enjoy some of the more creative blends. ;-)

    Thanks for your review - it sounds like another book that I'd like to read.

  3. Angela - As a fellow writer and editor, I'm all for clear language. Yay for this book!

  4. Fascinating! I have heard this was a good book. Funny, I just pulled the Harney book off the shelf alittle while ago to look up something.

  5. Thanks for bringing this new book to our attention. It sounds like it would be a great addition to my library.

  6. Dear Angela, this sounds like a wonderful book. I just love your blog site and your reviews, simply awesome! Have a great day, Joanie


Thanks so much for taking time to leave a comment! It makes my day to hear from readers!