Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ron Rubin & Stuart Avery Gold's "Tea-Chings": Book Review

These two entrepreneurs from the Republic of Tea brand offer a brief overview of teas and herbs used to drink, revive, and heal. In short chapters, they sum up in a few sentences or paragraphs the essential information about the history, uses, varieties, and tastes available. For those wishing a quick definition or a basic sampler of what's out there to infuse, brew, and sip, this is helpful if very generalized in scope.

It's far from thorough, as it's a rapid read. Not everyone wants to know as much as a heftier study provides, but I started here before going on to "The Chinese Art of Tea," "Liquid Jade" and "The Story of Tea" (see below) as more comprehensive accounts of tea culture, varieties, and uses. The best feature in this overview remains its pithy descriptions and attention given in the latter half to herbs.

I found an error. Chartreuse as a liqueur is not derived from the name of Chartres Cathedral, but from its makers at the Grande Chartreuse, the Grand Charterhouse of the Carthusian order of monks. The authors cite studies that the antioxidents in black tea are but a fraction of those in green tea, but I have read counter-arguments which indicate the catechins are nearly the same for black tea as for green. The titular pun on the Tao-Te-Ching is weakened, as Taoism is not mentioned, nor is Lu Yu's "Book of Tea" by its original name, "Ch'a Ching." Religious connections with tea are minimized, with the legend of Bodhidharma's eyelids earning a few sentences.

Instead, Tea Lore interspersed as if ancient wisdom from the Minister of Leaves and his or her ilk detracts from the tone. These sounded like "wisdom" from the master to Grasshopper in "Kung Fu." The authors try to play off the Republic of Tea's diplomatic credentials here and there, but as with the attempts at profundity in the green type interspersed, they convey the aura of a New Age-meets-countercultural enterprise turned corporate success rather than genuine insights into the ancient "art of tea" pioneered in China.

Therefore, this is a helpful rapid reference or a sampler of lore and data which may assist the newcomer or remind the adept of a particular herb or fine tea varietal. For its limited purposes, it may better please a casual customer wishing to leave tea bags behind for loose-leaf, and who may wish to prepare fresh herbal distillations at home from one's garden. It's a handy reference combining basic herb with tea information, but its brevity may be its selling point or a nudge towards more.

(P.S. John Blofeld's "The Chinese Art of Tea" explores its origins and spiritual ties; Beatrice Hohenegger's "Liquid Jade" conveys East-to-West impacts; Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss' "The Story of Tea" combines a history with a culinary guide--all three reviewed by me.)

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