TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

January 31, 2010

Book review: Tea – History, terroir, and flavour

Retail and wholesale.

Book cover photo courtesy of Camellia Sinensis. Additional stock photos.

If you’re like me, you already have a shelf full of tea books. So you don’t really need another one. But you’ll want this one.

In fact, Thé: Histoire, Terroirs, Saveurs might even replace a few of the tea books you already own. As the title suggests, this new (November, 2009) volume encompasses history, cultivation, processing, and varieties of tea; preparation and tasting guidelines; and chemical analyses; plus a selection of recipes that incorporate tea amongst their ingredients. Hard to believe that all of this – not to mention a profusion of photographs – fits into ~270 pages. But it does, and does it very nicely.

Thé is divided into four parts. The first section – From garden to cup – serves as a basic introduction to tea, describing how tea is grown, optimal growing conditions, plucking techniques, and the different processing methods employed to produce the various leaf “families.”

The second – and lengthiest – section explores the most well-known tea-growing countries, as well as a few places that may be less familiar to the casual tea drinker. China, Japan, Taiwan, and India tea cultivation, industry, and consumption are presented in detail, with an emphasis on the evolution of tea processing over the centuries to current equipment and methodology. For the growing regions of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, and Africa, these topics are addressed more briefly. Chapters conclude by highlighting representative samplings of teas from each country or region, complete with photographs and tasting notes.

My favourite feature of this section – and what really sets this book apart – is the personal interviews with the people associated with the tea industry in each country. Some are garden managers, processors, or farmers; others are tasters, buyers, or researchers. Having had the good fortune over the years to meet many people in the retail and wholesale end – the consumption end – of the tea industry, it’s fascinating to put a face to people in the production end as well. I particularly relished the opportunity to “meet” the manager of Gopaldhara estate, the source of so many of the most enjoyable Darjeelings. Photographs in this section are especially varied and rich, including a wonderful portrait of a producer in Nantou sniffing the back of his tasting spoon. The iconic image of a true tea devotee fully engaged with an excellent oolong tea brought a smile of recognition to my face.

Part Three – From the cup to the plate – begins by looking at the many methods and accoutrements employed for preparing tea, and provides useful tasting guidelines. Then it segues into a collection of recipes for foods and drinks, each based on a particular type of tea. These recipes were created by a select group of respected chefs. Some of the dishes look rather interesting …

The final chapter examines in detail the chemical components of tea and the myriad of health benefits associated with each type of tea. I’ve never been much interested in “tea as medicine,” accepting any healthful properties to be simply perks to the sheer enjoyment of this enchanting beverage. The minutiae of measurements of one micro-nutrient or another makes my eyes glaze over. But if these types of details are your cup of tea … well, your cup will overflow.

Thé: Histoire, Terroirs, Saveurs was written by the “team” of tea experts associated with Camellia Sinensis, which operates two tea houses in Montréal and another in Québec City, as well as an online retail shop. My understanding is that each of the four partners specializes in the teas of a particular country or region; while reading the book I had the impression that the area-focused chapters were written by each of these different people according to their specialties.

As much as I enjoyed reading this book – and referring to it periodically since – there are a couple of formatting issues that will disappoint anyone who enjoys good books. First, the table of contents is located at the back of the book, following the index, credits, and bibliography, in the archaic European style. Inasmuch as the book was written, published, and printed in Canada in 2009, this arrangement strikes a rather odd note.

The other problem: The pages of this book, believe it or not, reside between pliable cardboard covers. Sorry to say, but they really detract from not only its beauty but its usability as well. While they are somewhat sturdier than standard paperback book covers, already – after one read-through and several reference look-ups – the covers no longer lie flat. The beautifully-textured pages filled with lush photographs flop when the book is open. And the folded-over covers have a tendency to open out and need to be refolded, which is rather annoying. Thé is the kind of book a tea-loving reader will want to showcase on their bookshelf, to enhance their library as well as to actively browse through. It is, simply put, shameful that its pages are not complemented (and protected) by a hard cover.

I do hope future editions will take these two objections into account.

At this time Thé is available only in a French-language edition, having been published in Québec (apparently underwritten by the Québecois provincial government). An English-language version is in the works, with an expected publication date later this year.

The book is available, both retail and wholesale, from Camellia Sinensis shops, both walk-in and online.

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November 5, 2008

Product review: Tea Room Cookbooks

Filed under: books,cooking,food,recipes,tea,tea books — by JanisB @ 4:11 pm
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ATR Publishing
Retail and wholesale
Book cover photo courtesy of An Afternoon to Remember; additional stock photo

Links open in a new window.

Do you like to serve tea at home to friends and family? Are you always looking for delicious new dishes to serve at tea time? If so, this series of tea room cookbooks may be just your cup of tea.

Afternoon teaThe recipes in these books, developed and collected by Amy Lawrence, owner of An Afternoon to Remember Tea Parlor in Newcastle, California, encompass the wide range of dishes she serves to her own tea room customers. In these pages you’ll find elegant savouries, diet-busting desserts, plenty (and I mean plenty) of creative scones, and a variety of other recipes.

Full disclosure: I am not only a vegetarian but a vegan, following a diet that includes absolutely no products of animal derivation. Because most tea rooms cannot accommodate these dietary requirements, I’ve had to develop my own tea time recipe collection.

But I do love to read cookbooks, especially when they have to do with tea, because invariably I find recipes that either suit my dietary requirements or can be made suitable with minimal substitutions. And so it is with these charming tea room cookbooks. After browsing through I discovered several appealing recipes, and have given a few of them a try — with excellent results.

Laura’s Best of Show Cookies, with buttery spread in place of butter, are just delicious. The combination of walnuts and jam just melts in your mouth, and they paired beautifully with a pot of Balasun Second Flush Darjeeling. I fixed the Balsamic Barbecue Sauce with an anchovy-free Worcestershire sauce, and it brought rave reviews. Formosa Gunpowder green tea nicely complemented the Nutty/Fruity Mandarin Wild Rice Salad, perfect as written.

I’m still working my way through the recipes in these books, and look forward to trying the Spicy Pecans, Blackberry Pie (if I can get to our bushes before the birds next year!), Garden Vegetable Tea Sandwiches, and the Rum Balls, among others.

Along with the recipes are serving tips and general instructions for making a good pot of tea. (As I have cautioned in previous reviews, ignore the “instant decaffeination process,” especially if caffeine is really a problem for you, because it doesn’t work.) Beginners to more experienced cooks and bakers will find inspiration in each and every volume of the series.

Drop by for TeaAlthough I much prefer cookbooks bound in a format that allows them to lie flat rather than fighting with a perfect-bound book, this is a small quibble when the content is this easy to read and the instructions so easy to follow.

Best of all, opposite each recipe page is a blank page for notes. Why isn’t every cookbook formatted this way? All of my cookbooks and recipe cards are marked up in the margins with almost illegible suggestions for variations, notations about reducing the quantity of sugar, or calculations for increasing or decreasing the number of servings and ingredients.

I tend to approach recipes as “jumping off points:” that is, you try it the first time as written, then the next time you tweak it to suit your own taste (or to use up what’s in your pantry). A recipe that calls for summertime peaches, for example, might be just as tasty when prepared with pears in the fall. Clearly Ms. Lawrence has “been there, done that,” and has devised a format that invites readers to be creative with her recipes. Brava!

Books are paperback and printed in the USA (as all books written and published in the USA should be) and are available from An Afternoon to Remember/ATR Publishing. So far there are five volumes. Each volume is sold separately; unfortunately not available as a collection. The shop also carries their own brand of teas, plus an array of accessories for your tea table. Resellers can click on the wholesale link and set up an account.

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November 2, 2007

Ramblings and reviews: Favourites

Filed under: food,tea,tea accessories,tea books,tea cosies,tea gifts,teapots — by JanisB @ 3:34 pm

Favourite vendors of teas and accessories
Retail and wholesale

tea gardenShortly after I started this Reviews and Ramblings website I was contacted by several people who wanted to know which are my favourite suppliers of teas, teapots, etc. At the moment I’m testing and sampling a few products but haven’t finished, so I have the time to accommodate these requests before starting new reviews. (I guess this is the rambling part of this site …)

kyusuFor what it’s worth, here are my current faves. My choices may change over time. There are a lot of good vendors of teas and tea paraphernalia. There are also, unfortunately, a lot of not-so-good ones. I much prefer to deal with people who truly love tea and figured out a way to make a living at it than with people who truly love money and figured out that tea is “hot” and jumped on the trend bandwagon — these latter are people who have no souls, and I think their teas reflect that lack.

My three top all-time tea sources (in the order in which I “discovered” them) are Harney & Sons, Simpson & Vail, and Capital Tea. The reasons are simple: their teas are of the highest quality, they offer good variety, their prices are reasonable, shipping is speedy, and they are run by people who know and love tea and have been in the tea business for a long time.

camellia sinensisBeyond that, I credit John Harney for teaching me to appreciate Darjeelings; Joan at Simpson & Vail for showing me the best way to steep white teas; and Joel at Capital Tea for his ability to recommend teas that he knows will suit my tastes (and I just adore those black sacks carefully nestled into bright red tissue paper!). The Harneys, the Harrons, and Joel are simply a pleasure to talk to, to learn from, and to do business with. I consider myself fortunate to have found all of them.

Here, in no particular order except as I happen to think of them, are some of my other favourite tea and tea ware resources:

Camellia Sinensis — Kevin Gascoyne, formerly of Kyela Teas, is arguably the most knowledgeable Darjeeling tea man. His annual visits to India yield some of the best teas I’ve ever tasted. Kevin taught me to better appreciate the nuances of different types of Darjeeling teas, and his guidance through the joys of tea-tasting quite literally made my husband a tea drinker.

Tea Centre of Stockholm — Although I’ve never been there (phooey), Amanda Hemmingsson provides excellent and gracious service. This is where we get my husband’s favourite tea, Soderblandning, and one of my favourite teas, Grusinien, among many others. Always very good quality. I look forward to one day meeting Amanda in person and sampling a few more of Tea Centre’s teas, especially the ones that cannot be shipped to the USA.

Stash Tea — Surprised ya, huh? Well, before you start scratching your head, let me make it clear that I’m not a big fan of Stash teas. Tried several and was somewhat disappointed with quality. I’ve heard that their newest teas are much better than they used to be, but I’m not quite ready to try them again. What I do like about Stash is their selection of teapots, teacups, and tea sets. I always find wonderful gifts for friends, and there’s always something Stash on my Xmas Want List (and usually in my stocking as well). The catalogue is very lush, but check out their website for some excellent close-out items.

Chinese Teapot Gallery Tea Culture — Apparently this guy sells on eBay only, but he does a lot of store and Buy it Now sales in addition to auctions. This is probably the best online resource for good quality and reasonably priced Yixing (clay) tea ware. Teapots run the gamut from inexpensive little cuties to artisan and vintage pots. He’s also got everything else you might need: tea sinks, jars, warmers, tea ceremony equipage, washing bowls, gaiwans — you name it, it’s more than likely here. Nice selection of tea sets that make great gifts for tea gong-fu newbies, and some beautiful glassware. Definitely worth a look-see.

I’ll be adding to this list periodically whenever I deem a supplier worthy of inclusion!

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