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by: Tomislav Podreka
New York NY:
William Morrow and Company 1998, $16.00, Hardbound
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(1) page(s): 11 and 27
Written by a frequent speaker about the history and philosophy of tea, this book is by the founder of Serendipitea, an importer of speciality teas to the United States. The author states at the start that "no beverage has influenced the course of the world as much as tea." How right; but how wrong not to discuss how.
After the introduction, there is a very brief chapter titled History of Tea, and others on Tea Estates, Types of Tea Around the World, Teatime, and the Health Benefits of Tea. There is also a glossary of tea terms, suggested readings, and an index.
Beginning with 2727 BCE, the year tea was first consumed in Sichuan as told in the story of Shen Nung, to the current resurgence of tea drinking, only a dozen pages enlighten and provide background. Half are about tea in China, the rest mostly British influences. Tea plants, tea cultivation, and tea processing get a lot of attention as do grading and types of tea.
Of special interest are the tinted pages, but they are only on a few. They explain things unusual such as 'blue tea,' a poor quality oolong originally cut with gypsum powder. Only a few Chinese black, green, oolong, and white teas are discussed. There is much more about teas from India, Taiwan, Sri Lanka (previously known as Ceylon), Japan, Vietnam, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Argentina, Malaysia, Russia, Kenya, Cameroon, and Turkey.
Podreka talks of Tisanes, the now popular non-tea hot beverages without caffeine for those who prefer no stimulants. He shares their consumption for medicinal purposes and gives examples of camomile, lemon balm, lavender, and the like. Unfortunately, he does not mention that those with heart problems should avoid some tisanes such as red zinger and the chamomile. They are not recommended for those with minor, even major, heart abnormalities.
Steeping times for teas are detailed. Suggested are thirty seconds to two minutes for white teas, one to three minutes for green or pouchong teas, two to three minutes for green and green-oolong teas, and up to five minutes for black-oolong and regular black teas. Tea bags are barely mentioned other than that an increase in surface area of the leaf decreases infusion time. After the first half of the book, information boils down to tea times and lots of sandwich and bakery recipes for ones tea.
Most of the book has few items of interest to China and Asian specialists beyond the introduction and the eight pages about zhongs, also known as lidded Chinese tea cups, Yum Cha better known as Dim Sum in this country, finger tapping to say thanks for tea (a Cantonese behavior), and one recipe each for Sesame Seed Cookies, Steamed Buns with Red Bean Paste, and Ginger Almond Pudding.
Some have reported this is a gem of a book by an Australian author who adopted the United States. For what is there, I agree. But I do wonder why so little attention to the world's largest tea consuming and tea producing country, China. One reader, who wrote to this magazine asking an opinion about the book queried if we thought the book written to provide wider knowledge of tea or of his company.
Mr. Podreka is Education Chairman of the American Premium Tea Institute--a group I could not locate. He does initiate readers to some varieties, origins, and many non-Asian rituals about tea. They asked if he or his company needed to write a book as did The Republic of Tea.
Serendipity has half a dozen pages devoted to a tea glossary, a short bit of tea lore, and some other things about this beverage consumed by more people that any other (except water), and the items already mentioned. Get a copy and judge for yourself.