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Tea Readings Span the Globe

by Diana Rosen

Bookstore shelves are steeped with books on tea. Many of them are pretty books on still more delectables for traditional afternoon fare, or retellings of familiar tea stories and history. That's why when we discovered the books below, we knew that there truly can be something new under the sun.

The first time I was a guest at a Urasenke Foundation tea class to observe chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony, I came away with an aura of serenity around me that lasted for weeks. Chanoyu is the cultivated pursuit of tea; the art of tea. The precision, the discipline, the exactness of teacher and student were all-encompassing. As an observer, I felt like a part of the audience at an exquisite ballet.

The next time, I participated as a guest, following the gracious lead of our hostess/teacher, who treated everyone like nobility, following the age-old tradition of the finest hosts who observe the adage, Ichigo ichie, "One opportunity, one encounter." In some ways this could be interpreted as a more elegant version of the American truism, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." Chado, the way of tea, begins and ends with etiquette.

Had I been able to read through Tea Etiquette for Guests, supervised by the venerable teamaster Soshitsu Sen XV, I would have felt infinitely more confident and most certainly would have been a more accomplished guest. The book, first published in Japan in 1989, and published in English in 1993, has only now become more readily available in the U.S. as interest in chanoyu has increased. It is a striking black and white softcover book of photographs and accompanying text explaining every move that each guest is expected to do, e.g., how to enter and exit a teahouse, the proper opening and closing of the doors, how to examine and comment upon the tea accessories (often heirlooms of the host), and how to partake of the tea itself.

Becoming a Japanese tea ceremony host or a guest takes years of practice, really, but even the novice can experience the beauty and poetry of chanoyu.

One needn't participate in chanoyu to enjoy this book. By following the many clear photos of various movements of the guests, we can sense their concentration, and can come away refreshed as if we had actually tasted thin or thick tea and Japanese moist or dry sweets in the serenity of a Japanese teahouse. We can experience, if only vicariously, chado, the way of tea. The vocabulary of chanoyu is carefully explained in the helpful glossary printed in the back of the book. Imported from Japan from Books Nippan, it is $69.95 and available by calling (310) 604-9701.

In Green Gold: The Political Economy of China's Post-1949 Tea Industry, we have a very detailed and scholarly work on the tremendous progress the Chinese tea industry has made since 1949. Written by Dan M. Etherington and Keith Forster, the book emphasizes the need for a more solid infrastructure of research, extension, farmers' cooperatives and market information if China is to achieve a proper balance of supply and demand. With Sri Lanka, Taiwan and India further ahead in some technologies of tea production, the authors warn, China must consolidate its many household-managed gardens operating on short-term contracts to avoid plundering of age-old bushes and depleting the most critical of resources, the land.

Like all countries poised for tremendous growth, China has recognized the need for research and specialization in its agricultural colleges. The innate sense of competition to rise from number two to number one exporter in the world, overtaking India, is of great import.

This book is not an easy read, but demonstrates -- through charts, statistics and comparisons with other tea-growing countries -- the remarkable growth of the tea trade in the industry's birthplace and how each of the tea growing areas has evolved, particularly Fujian, Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangxi and Yunnan.

Keen observers of world politics and world trade have their eyes on China for many reasons, and Green Gold demonstrates that the tea industry may indeed be an excellent barometer of the financial health and growth of the world's most heavily-populated country. This hardcover from Oxford University Press is available through most major bookstores.

For a completely different pace, Englishwoman Michele Rivers' Time for Tea: Tea and Conversation with Thirteen English Women continues to touch the hearts of all its readers since its debut. The book has the obligatory recipes, and it's mainly Indian tea we see on the table, but the appeal is the thirteen distinctly different stories of intriguing women who we come to feel are our personal acquaintances. Fortunately, we can now visit them anytime by opening up this book.

The author visited women of every station: farmers and royals and artists and schoolgirls. They are mothers, grandmothers, animal lovers, retailers and each has a story to tell. Because they range in age from fifteen to eighty, we get a nice cross-section of life today in England. The author's deft interview style opened her subjects up to talk about what is important to them; what it's like to be old, young, productive, idle; and what it's like to sustain divorce, illness, alcoholism and survive to flourish. The ordinary becomes remarkable for the simple forthrightness in which the story is told. The tea, of course, is the conduit, whether a teabag plopped in a cracked mug, or carefully brewed loose leaf tea served in a classic porcelain pot.

The photos (by Ms. Rivers) are fabulous -- with portraits by Arabella Ashley. This $22 hardcover from Crown Publishers should be available at tea shops, gift stores and bookstores everywhere. Click here to order it from Amazon.com!


Diana Rosen is a freelance writer  for eZines, web site copy, and print magazine articles on food, beverage, and other lifestyle topics. The veteran journalist is also the author of 10 nonfiction books and the co-author of three others. For more information, visit write to her at dianalrosen@aol.com.



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