In this post I’ll be taking a look at “The China Tea Book“, by Luo Jialin.
China is the origin, the source of tea, and, it can be argued, the datum from which tea and tea culture should be measured and assessed.
Taking that into consideration, I wanted a book that approached the subject from a Chinese perspective, preferably one written by a Chinese author.
Ideally, I was looking for a book that dealt exclusively with the teas of China, as well as the meaning and history of the tea ceremony, and this book ticked both of these boxes.
The book is split into 2 parts. Part I deals with tea itself. After a short introduction that touches upon the history of tea in China, as well as sections on tea production, tea and health, and how to store tea, we then have chapters on a few selected well known teas from the Green, Oolong, Black, and Pu-erh classes.
Notable absences from this part of the book are of course White and Yellow teas, presumably due to space limitations. Although this restricts the number of teas the author is able to describe, he does so in good depth, and the various sections contain interesting details I have not found elsewhere.
The slight perceived shortfalls in part I are more than made up for in part II, however, which concerns itself with tea culture, which is the author’s area of expertise. He graduated from Peking University School of Arts with an MFA, majoring in tea ceremony related arts, and is also a certified tea master as recognised by the prestigious Lu Yu Tea Culture Institute in Taiwan.
This, for me, was the real attraction of the book, the true selling point – the low down-on Chinese tea culture as described by a genuine insider.
Chapters in this part of the book cover various aspects of Chinese tea culture such as poetry, painting, calligraphy, and the connection between tea and Zen philosophy.
It then goes on to discuss the more metaphysical, less easily nailed-down aspects of the tea experience, such as “time” (defined here as both the physical (time of year, season, etc.) and abstract (sentimentality for times gone by, etc.) ), “space” (the physical place the tea ceremony takes place within), “existence” (the physical artefacts used in the tea ceremony), and the importance of ambiance.
Part II concludes with interesting and informative sections on the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the importance of the ancient Tea Route in the development and spread of tea culture.
Many reviews of the book touch on the outstanding photography, something I can only agree with.
In conclusion, then, the strength of the book lies in its detailed description of the art and ceremonial aspects of tea as seen from within the Chinese “mother culture” itself, rather than from a Westerner’s perspective and understanding.
If you are in any way interested in this aspect of the tea experience, this could very well be a good addition to your tea library.
“The China Tea Book“, by Luo Jialin can be found at Amazon by clicking here.