Some may think tea is simple: black tea for the afternoon in Britain and green tea for Asian ceremonies. But that is just the tip of the tea leaf. There are white tea, herbal tisanes, yellow tea, kombucha, cold infusion tea, tea mixology, and so many more things to be learned from The Tea Book (DK, 2015, $24.00). Drawing on her experiences her experiences as a tea sommelier, Linda Gaylard has taken on the task of “convincing tea drinkers that there is much more to tea than a mug and a tea bag. Beyond the bag there is mystery, history, travel, industry, culture, and ceremony: a whole new world to explore.” By covering all aspects of loose-leaf tea preparation, she hopes to stoke the growing interest in what she calls “the true path of tea.”
Dorling Kindersley (DK) is known for high-quality reference books, and The Tea Book is no exception with its encyclopedic scope covering everything from growing, harvesting, drying, and storing tea leaves, to extensive details about the fifteen tea-growing regions around the world, to etiquette guidelines for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean ceremonies.
Along with the horticultural and historical aspects of tea, Gaylard also primes her readers to become tea experts with detailed notes on how to perfect all varieties of tea at home with brewing temperatures, steeping times, leaf-to-water ratios, and gadgets for preparing green, white, oolong, black, Pu’er, and yellow teas. After you have the mechanics down, Gaylard provides guidelines on how to appreciate tasting tea with a Flavour Wheel that visually makes connections to the intricacies that can come from complex flavours.
Once you begin to identify flavour profiles, Gaylard urges you to move on to the culinary science of combining classical blends. For instance, Earl Grey is well-known in the tea world, but the distinct taste can be created with a loose-leaf combination of three freshly-brewed black teas — Darjeeling, Ceylon, and Assam — along with the oil and peel of bergamot (a citrus fruit that is a cross between an orange and a lemon; the inside is quite inedible and its only practical application is the oily essence extracted from its skin as an agent for flavouring and perfume).
As well, the health benefits of tea are highlighted in the book with details about the antioxidant properties of matcha powder, probiotic powers of kombucha, and therapeutic attributes of tisanes (which are not strictly teas, but mixtures of plants and other natural elements infused into an herbal beverage). Similar to the Flavour Wheel, a Wellness Wheel identifies plants, seeds, roots, barks, and flowers as ingredients for tisanes to treat ailments, from the well-known lavender and chamomile that help induce sleep to the not-so-common treatment of fennel seed and dandelion root to treat arthritis.
Aside from learning to appreciate flavours and mixing your own blends and tisanes, readers can peruse over 50 pages of recipes. This is possibly the most eye-opening portion of the book. These recipes go beyond steeping tea leaves by featuring tea in sophisticated beverages like Jade Orchard, which combines Yunnan Green Snail tea leaves with diced pear and dried goji berries. Another recipe combines dried figs and shaved dark chocolate with Pu’er tea leaves for an earthy, sweet brew named Chocolate Fig. The blend of spices, honey, and buffalo milk added to Assam tea to make Masala Chai has become popular outside of its homeland of India, and bubble tea, which originated in Taiwan, can be made at home with tapioca pearls as the bubbles and tea boiled from taro root. Any loose-leaf tea-lover can keep busy and happy for months with the novel recipes that Gaylard introduces. The Tea Book is a wealth of knowledge for anyone looking to step beyond the normal tea bag and to be innovative with loose-leaf tea.
Darin Cook works and plays in Chatham-Kent, and is a regular contributor to eatdrink.