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Customer Review

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A curate's egg, 8 Sept. 2012
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This review is from: The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook: A Guide to the World's Best Teas (Paperback)
I searched for an English-language book to learn more about tea, and this seems to be one of the most popular right now. It is more consistent than Wikipedia, and reading it is more informative than scouring assorted websites, but not by enough. I am left disappointed.

On the good side, this book has lots of information that is tricky to find elsewhere. It also appears technically sound. The photographs and illustrations are well done and add a great deal to the appeal of the book, while also providing useful background.

On the bad side, the book reads like the ramblings of a new convert. It is repetitive, there are many overly vague references to the fame of various teas, and the tasting notes are ridiculously unspecific. The writing is uneven and often lacks substance. Finally, the title is misleading.

The book only briefly discusses technical issues. This is perhaps understandable given the apparent lack of technical information about tea available in English. However, the book does not compensate by delving into the myths and marketing in significant detail. Nor does it go into much detail about the vast variety of different teas, about which the authors do seem to know quite a lot: this cornucopia is simply hinted at. With such a rich history, and a large variety of teas to write about, it should have been straightforward to construct a story about the when and why, or to provide more details about the what, even in the absence of facts about the how. The result is an enthusiastic but low-content volume.

Most seriously, I found the title misleading. The book only covers a small list of teas, perhaps chosen to be representative of the main styles or the range of interests of the authors. On page 63 it is mentioned that there are believed to be nearly 10,000 distinct green teas from China, but no attempt is made to provide an overview of this variety. There is not even an explanation of the Ten Famous Teas, even though this list is mentioned several times (there is no fixed list but it does tend to include Long Jing/Lung Ching and a few other teas). Several teas are also mentioned in passing as points of comparison in tasting notes, which is quite frustrating.

Perhaps I am biased in comparing this to a different field, but the high standard of wine and spirits writing shows that it is possible to write about a complex beverage while simultaneously being informative and entertaining. I do hope someone sits down and takes the effort to write a classic tome about tea along the lines of Hugh Johnson's The World Atlas of Wine, and that others then continue on to the heights of Tom Stevenson's The Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia or Jancis Robinson's The Oxford Companion to Wine.

Overall, a qualified recommendation.

Edit: in the meanwhile I have found that both The Tea Drinker's Handbook and Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties do a better job in nearly every way, and I do not hesitate to recommend either (or both) over this book.
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