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The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  314 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Whether it's a delicate green tea or a bracing Assam black, a cup of tea is a complex brew of art and industry, tradition and revolution, East and West. In this sweeping tour through the world of tea, veteran tea traders Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss chronicle tea's influence across the globe and provide a complete reference for choosing, drinking, and enjoying this b ...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published October 1st 2007 by Ten Speed Press
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2nd out of 97 books — 27 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,823)
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Alissa Thorne
I finally decided to give up on this book upon realizing that after all of the pages that I've struggled through, I'm still not 100% clear on how the production of green tea differs from the production of black tea.

The writing quality is poor, and the organization of content is worse. For example, while there is a huge chapter devoted to one stage of the tea production process, manufacture, in the descriptions for each varietal of tea it often wanders back and forth through the other stages, rep
Mar 07, 2009 Stacie rated it it was ok
This read like a mix between a textbook and an infomercial. I dislike not finishing books so I persevered, but I definitely heaved a sigh of relief and a "Thank God!" when I finished. If it wasn't for the anecdotal stories included in the margin blocks of the chapters the book would have excruciating to read... instead of just really boring. If you have this book I recommend looking for the text in the blue blocks and skipping the rest.
Jan 13, 2013 Harold rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone curious about tea
Recommended to Harold by: owners of the TeaSource in Highland Park
A beautifully illustrated and comprehensive book about the a humble commodity indigenous to the tropical forest of the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, bordering Myanmar (Burma) and Laos.

It provides the reader with a tour de force exploration of the social history, varieties, processing, geographical distribution and medicinal benefits of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis).

Among the fascinating facts about tea revealed in the book was that during China's last four dynasties: the Tang, Son
Tim Gannon
Mar 06, 2011 Tim Gannon rated it really liked it
Shelves: culinary
It is the most definitive text on tea I haver ever read - It goes through the history of tea - the different tea bushes - how the different countries grow and process different types of tea - how to brew tea to perfection - culture and customs surrounding tea - recipes with tea - fair trade with tea - resources on buying tea - if you want to know about tea, this is the book!
This was an incredibly disappointing book. First, it was full of typos, tortuously crafted sentences, and formatting errors. It had some of the worst editing that I have encountered in a published book. The book read like it was written by a committee: the chapters did not flow into each other; lots of information was needlessly repeated, yet it was never very well explained; and the book did not seem to be a coherent whole. I don't feel any more informed about tea than before I opened this book ...more
The Story of Tea is a beautiful piece of work, valuable to all tea lovers. Many gorgeous photographs suggest the cultivative art, while a strong discussion of production methods in various regions is the real heart of the book. For those interested in a description of production down to the village level, this is one of the few works that will provide it. This section is followed by a longish chapter called "Journeying along the tea trail," which is both meandering and somewhat redundant, while ...more
Jun 14, 2013 Jamie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food-and-drink
I liked that this book covered not only manufacturing and industry, taste, regional variances, and terroir but included the history of tea and its relationship to global economics and colonialism, the different plants, particular teas, and rituals. I especially liked that the authors included a section on organic and fair trade regulation in regards to tea. I wish they'd included more but they named the important institutions and included a comparison of European standards to US standards.

You ca
May 23, 2013 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
I first picked up this book last August, in Santa Cruz, CA. I had just driven up the evening before from Monterrey, and I needed to check into my Air BNB in San Francisco by a certain time that evening. After spending some time in the UCSC Arboretum, I felt that I should go see the famous beach. And yet, during a stop in town to get lunch, I was drawn to a tea house. I spent the afternoon there contentedly drinking Chinese Dragon Well tea and skimming this book.

Why do I bother telling this story
Dec 14, 2013 JDK1962 rated it liked it
Liked it, but I think it works best as a reference book. In attempting to read it cover to cover, I just found it to be too much; it felt repetitive in places, and in need of editing down. After reading up to chapter 4, I started skimming much more.

I definitely appreciated the knowledge of the authors, but the book was trying to take tea into the territory usually reserved for wine fetishists (and I'm not using that term as a compliment), and ultimately, it wasn't a place I wanted to go. I just
David McDanal
May 12, 2011 David McDanal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent encyclopedia of tea. Pretty much the only book on the subject you will need. Gets pretty nerdy, in a good way.
Jul 17, 2008 Jenn rated it really liked it
Currently obsessed with tea - don't know if normal people would find this book interesting.
Oct 26, 2015 Christina rated it really liked it
If you really love tea and want to learn more about it, this is your text. It covers a myriad of topics, including the origin of tea in China; its cultivation in India by the English, who stole tea plants from China; the harvesting and processing of six types of tea; tips for brewing and serving tea; and its health benefits. My only quibbles are that the chapter on cultivation could have been a bit more engagingly written, and I would have liked to see South African Rooibos and South American Ye ...more
Nic Mcphee
Oct 15, 2015 Nic Mcphee rated it liked it
This is definitely a good book, but not a great book. There's plenty of good information, and I learned a *lot* about tea (a subject I'd read about a fair bit). It doesn't seem terribly even, however, with far more depth on Chinese teas than other areas/cultures; they seemed quite disconnected from Japanese tea culture, for example. I also found the history and cultural contexts a little simplistic, especially in the limited discussion of the impact of colonialism on the development of the tea i ...more
Apr 11, 2010 John rated it it was ok
I enjoyed the one chapter I read, which was about the history of tea. The pictures were beautiful, and the writing was interesting. But I had to admit to myself that I wasn't going to read much of this book, and I took it back to the library instead of renewing it.
I read when I'm in bed at night, and I always take a book with me during the day, reading as opportunity provides. This comprises 50 percent or more of my reading. This book is heavy, and it's an awkward size, so I didn't take it to my
Nicole Kapise-Perkins
Mar 03, 2014 Nicole Kapise-Perkins rated it did not like it
Interesting enough, but so not what I was looking to read. However, if you have an interest in tea, and the Eastern history thereof, check this out.
Katie Armstrong
Mar 19, 2016 Katie Armstrong rated it it was amazing
This is a great book for both tea ethusiasts and tea finatics! I work at a tea shop and use this as a reference piece all the time. :)
Apr 04, 2014 Julie rated it liked it
It's an encyclopedia of all things tea from its history to harvesting and cultivation to consumption.
This exhaustive and comprehensive survey of tea is also a fascinating and enjoyable read. The authors share their extensive experience as tea sellers through lavishly illustrated chapters on history, the tea bush, manufacturing processes, and journeys to tea producing regions. Additional sections cover tea styles, brewing methods, culture and customs, health benefits, and cooking with tea. Favorite passage: "a simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter."
Dec 02, 2011 Kendra rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ugh... I am seriously disappointed here! It is a shame that this book is such a disaster, because the authors clearly know a phenomenal amount about tea, its origins, the intricacies of its flavors... but the writing and organization of the book are utterly subpar. I find it almost impossible to read this book. Indeed, I have only read the first eighty pages or so, but I'm drawing the line, throwing in the towel. It's going back to the library tomorrow.
Oct 12, 2014 Jessica rated it really liked it
This book is a little of everything--history, tea varieties, methods of tea production, traditional ways of consuming tea, how to shop for tea, etc. As such, it may or may not be what you want. No one section is really exhaustive enough for a reader with already-specialized interests. As a general guide for someone who loves tea, but doesn't know a lot about it, it's a quite nice introduction and a great springboard for additional research.
Bobby Johansen
Jul 15, 2016 Bobby Johansen rated it it was amazing
One of the most comprehensive resources on tea. This book has it all. From the production of tea in different regions to distinguishing various varieties to even cooking with tea, this book contains literally everything that relates to tea. Its in-depth treatment of the various countries and their tea cultures is one of my favorite sections as well as the section that thoroughly discusses the production of various styles of tea.
Jun 02, 2015 Anie rated it liked it
Recommends it for: tea lovers
An informative and detailed guide to tea, especially in regards to the different types of tea and styles of tea production. Unfortunately, its portrayal of tea workers as happy go-lucky, well-treated workers is rather ridiculous, and it neglects several other worthwhile tea topics. The writing could also use some work; it's a bit wordy and awkward at times. However, as a guide to tea, it's worth flipping through.
Rena Sherwood
Jan 22, 2015 Rena Sherwood rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by married couple and gourmet food store owners Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss. Focuses only on teas made from Camellia sinensis – growing, history, preparation, serving and recipes. If it's not in here, it's not worth knowing. Everything you ever (or never) wanted to know about tea. Includes some gorgeous photos.
Jun 28, 2013 Jas rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, ,
Some parts were interesting? But a lot of it was vague/muddled, repetitive and not terribly critical.

They could have used a better editor or two for clarity especially, and typos (for the foreign words that is. F.e. they were pretty consequent in writing usucha, which is the correct term I think, and then suddenly used usacha for a whole subchapter) etc.
Sep 02, 2008 Painting rated it it was amazing
This is a great reference book, so I bought it for myself! I learned that black and oolong teas are not fermented, but "oxidized" and the differences among various kinds of Chinese and Japanese green teas as well as the definition of "white" tea.
This isn't exactly a cookbook but I'm filing it as such because it's about food.

It's history filled and some parts are pretty interesting if you care this much about tea... it's a little bit snobby though and at times a bit boring.
Apr 09, 2015 Carol-Anne rated it liked it
A good general reference book on tea for those interested in tea and its origins. It covers a little of everything from history, tea production, customs and cultures and a few recipes to try.
Jun 07, 2013 ~v~ marked it as to-read
This book is so cool: I love drinking tea so to learn little known historical and cultural facts about various teas is awesome! I read it periodically as it's placed near my TV for a quick read.
Janne Asmala
Apr 25, 2010 Janne Asmala rated it really liked it
Shelves: tea
A true labor of love, this book does a great job at communicating the story and tradition behind the teas we drink through firsthand experiences, encyclopedic information, and beautiful pictures.
Oct 16, 2013 Kelly rated it really liked it
This is the book that almost all Tea Master's suggest reading and owning. It is well written and it doesn't feel like a textbook. This book is very full and rich with so much knowledge.
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“A simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter.” 50 likes
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