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The Story of Tea

The Story of Tea
A Cultural History and Drinking Guide
by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss

Ten Speed Press, 2007

The second most consumed beverage in world, after water, tea is a lovable and economical beverages that has become an integral part of many people's lives.

According to legend, tea was discovered in 2737 BC when when dried tea leaves accidentally blew into a cup of hot water that the second emperor of China, Shen Nung, was drinking. "He found the taste and the invigorating quality of this brew to his liking. He decreed that all Chinese people from then on drink an infusion of tea leaves for health," write Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss in this history of tea, encyclopedia of tea varietals, and consumer's guide to selecting, storing and brewing tea.

The authors are gourmet food shop owners in Northampton, Massachusetts who have been in the business some thirty years. The Story of Tea distills information and advice acquired during three decades of buying, selling, and traveling the globe in search of tea.

The book begins with chapters that provide a condensed history of tea, concentrating on China and Japan, and some details on how tea is grown and harvested, and an introduction to the many different and complex approaches to the production and manufacture of distinctive tea blends.

"We hope to cut through the sometimes confusing prattle about tea," the authors explain. "By providing in-depth information and understanding about processes that many people have written about but few have actually witnessed."

"Journeying Along the Tea Trail," the fourth chapter, follows the progress of tea into Japan, Korea, India, Russia/Georgia, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Indonesia, Nepal, Africa, and Vietnam.

The "encyclopedia of tea" covers six classes of tea -- White, Yellow, Green, Oolong, Black, and Pu-erh -- with some examples of the different leaf styles in each class.  Overhead photos show how each brewed tea should look like in a white cup. Examples of the tea leaves are pictured beside each entry. 

Sharing their wealth of information about the origins and growth of the various tea-producing regions of the world, and their understanding of diverse tea drinking cultures, the authors seek to cultivate a fuller appreciation and enjoyment of the beverage. As with wine, the more you know the more you taste.

The Story of Tea
The Story of Tea

In tea-producing countries, tea is as important to life as food. Tea is consumed both as a thinking person’s beverage and as an everyman’s delight. Tea drinking is a tactile, sensory activity that provides both intellectual stimulation and aesthetic inspiration during times of social gathering or solitary contemplation. In the East tea is more highly regarded for these transcendental qualities than it is for its caffeine content or healthful benefits. The pleasurable ritual of tea drinking is deeply encoded in these cultures and religions, and tea permeates and sustains life in ways that those of us in the West simply fail to comprehend.

1. A Brief History of Tea
2. The Life of a Tea Bush
3. Manufacture: From Fresh Leaves to Distinctive Tea
4. Journeying along the Tea Trail
5. An Encyclopedia of Tea
6. Brewing the Perfect Cup
7. Tea Customs and Culture
8. The Health Benefits of Tea
9. Ethics in the Tea Trade
10. Cooking with Tea


Direct from the tea blender

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