Book Review: "Tea, A User's Guide"
Let me start by saying that there is no definitive book on tea, any more than there is one on food or on wine. The world of food and beverage is constantly evolving. In the case of tea, you will find that some styles are considered classics and can be traced as far back as the Song Dynasty, while others were developed in the 1990s, never mind the pu'erh cakes pressed as recently as 2016. In other words, tea is a huge, complex and controversial subject filled with twists and turns, experts continuously studying the leaf in all its manifestations to get to the bottom of the good, the bad and the passable, not to mention, the commercially viable versus the collectible.
There are a few tea books out there, and some are easier to grasp than others. As a professional and avid student of tea (for several years now), I have built up a nice library including classics such as Lu Yu's "Ch'a Ching" (The Classic of Tea), Okakura Kakuzo's "The Book of Tea," J. M. Scott's "The Great Tea Venture," and Jinghong Zhang's academically rich and complex, "Puer Tea, Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic," the latter more recent. Then you have photography-heavy "tea-table" books that offer a dreamy, perhaps sexy, window onto the world of tea that one might never otherwise experience; that is, unless lucky enough to travel thousands of miles to remote parts of the Asian continent, rubbing elbows with farmers while meticulously twisting or rolling tea leaves into uniform tiny balls.
Occasionally, I will come across books that I often find myself referring back to when I need to figure out how to describe a tea. Because let's face it, it's not alway easy. Some teas taste like tobacco, and that's not necessarily a great selling point. Sometimes I just want to know more about the tea, its origin, evolution, processing, and more. While some teas are easy to describe, some need a little more inspiration. One of my favorite new books on the subject is the recently published and highly-anticipated, "Tea, a User's Guide" by Tony Gebely, former director of the American Tea Room in Los Angeles and founder of the award-winning website, World of Tea.
While having Tony seated across my tea table would satisfy the many questions that come up while sampling tea (newly harvested or aged) from farmers or collectors, leafing through his very practical, no-nonsense publication, "Tea, a User's Guide," is the next best thing. It covers the gamut from China to Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. It's a quick read with teas organized by types, so you can look them up easily and get a general sense of where they came from and how they were processed. And if you are looking for a word or two to describe the flavor and mouthfeel of a tea you've just acquired but can't quite put your finger on, Tony's got your back with his chapter on Evaluating Tea.
"Tea, a User's Guide" offers basic information organized in a smart, condensed, easily accessible fashion for the novice and expert alike. You might have to flip back and forth a few times to get the "full" story, but in general, it's a solid reference book. (Kudos for this first-time author. Is there a sequel?) Chapters on growing and harvesting techniques, processing, and storing leaves, as well as tasting notes, proper temperature and water quality are covered. Is it definitive? No. Is it worth having in your library? 100%, yes, and it's available as both a paperback or e-book.