This was one of those books that everyone seemed to be reading earlier in the year, and given all the good reviews I read I simply had to order a copy for my own tea library.
Michelle and Rob are the people behind Comins Tea, and in essence this book is the story of their own personal tea journey, starting out in Darjeeling in 2007 as self-confessed “complete amateurs“.
The major selling point here for me was the authors’ own experiences within the tea world, as they met and worked with both farmers and teaware artisans everywhere from Nepal to Malawi. This makes it somewhat similar to Henrietta Lovell’s book Infused – we get to peek behind the curtain and see the inner workings of the tea industry from an insider’s perspective. It was particularly interesting to see potters and ceramicists given a good deal of time in the spotlight. Sometimes it feels as though the skilled hands that create our steeping vessels and cups are not given the respect and gratitude they deserve.
One thing that’s included early on in the book is something I’d never seen anywhere else before, a brilliant year-round guide to tea production in all the major tea cultivating centres around the world.
I think it’s fair to talk about the general tone of the book by comparing it to Infused. Ms. Lovell’s indomitable character and writing style, as good as it is, inevitably ends up putting her at the focus of the book, and as engaging as her account is for this teahead, I’ve always had the feeling that the tea itself isn’t always holding the reins.
In this book, however, it feels as though the Comins have provided a canvas onto which the tea people they have met and worked with over the years can paint.
Please don’t read this and come to the conclusion that I think that that makes this a better book than Infused – that’s certainly not my intention. I just think that the two books approach the concept of the “tea journey” narrative from totally different directions. Horses for courses, and all that. If anything, I actually think that the two books compliment each other nicely in a sort of yin and yang way.
In another parallel to the Infused experience, I couldn’t help browsing Comins Tea’s online store after reading the book, and, somewhat predictably, I now have a couple of new teas on the old “must buy later” list.
In conclusion, then – this is a thoroughly entertaining and informative read that has put some interesting and previously unknown-to-me tea people firmly on my tea-radar, and is a welcome addition to my tea library.
Tales of the Tea Trade: The secret to sourcing and enjoying the world’s favourite drink, by Michelle and Rob Comins
Publisher: Pavilion Books