Sunday, August 3, 2014

Tea Sommelier, A Tea Book Review

Today's tea is not one you drink with your mouth, but one you drink with your mind. Ok, you can drink your tea book if you really want to, but as much as I love the smell of paper, I do not think it tastes the best. The other day when I posted on Twitter that I was thinking about reviewing the tea books I own (and ones I can get at my library) I asked if anyone had any requests...and the response was 'my favorite' which is a challenge in itself!

 Tea Sommelier by Gabriella Lombardi and Fabio Petroni just might fill that bill. When I first saw this book last Christmas while browsing at Barnes and Noble I knew I had to add it to my collection, I flipped through it every time I visited the bookstore (which is a lot, Ben and my favorite dates always end up with us at a bookstore...we have a thing for books) and waiting till the price on Amazon dropped to something I could afford. I just procured this book for my collection last week, and I am pleased as punch, because it is a beauty!

Looks alone do not make a book, unless it is a book that is specifically about visuals, which this one is not. Even though it has the look and incredible photography of a coffee table book, it is loaded with useful information. Tea Sommelier approaches the art of sipping tea very much so like it is an art and from a professional taster's perspective. Borrowing much of the jargon from the Wine Sommelier world and shaping it to fit the world of tea.

The book is divided into a typical brief introduction on the history of tea, the tea plant itself, various methods of preparing tea, a decent sized section on professional tea tasting (including ISO cupping standards) a whopping 135 pages devoted to different kinds of tea, and lastly a colorful selection of gourmet recipes.

There are some things about this book that I absolutely love. It is beautiful, a work of art showcasing fantastic teas, tea gear, and photography. The history of tea mentioning all three of the myths concerning the creation of tea was especially amusing, too many books skip over Bodhidharma (Daruma) tearing off his eyelids in a  fit of rage after falling asleep and said eyelids growing into tea trees. It is a weird myth but everything concerning Daruma is a little quirky. I love how it pairs each tea with foods that it tastes good with, as the person who is always in charge of matching tea to whatever foods and people's tastes at family is very nice to have a handy guide to turn to.
Note to self, I need to get a glass gaiwan, so pretty
There are, however, some things that make me go 'eh' as well, nothing is ever perfect and I tend to be picky with books. For all that the photos in this book are fantastic works of art, I really get annoyed with lightbox photography. Some of the colors of the tea just seem wrong, either too dark or too vibrantly green, I have never seen some of the delicate Chinese green teas in that shade of green either in my own sipping experience or online, it is really a minor gripe, it just weirds me out a bit. My big gripe is the whole language and approach to tea in this book seems, well, unapproachable, similar to the way gourmet cuisine and wine tasting can seem very unapproachable to someone not already in the know. This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially for someone who is already well into tea world, but if you are new to the tea world it might seem a but imposing. I suppose this is part of a greater rant that certain aspects of the tea world (lovingly and not so lovingly at times call tea snobbery) tend to come off as unwelcoming to newcomers, which is something I am strongly against. I am very much so in the 'oh hey, want to try tea, let me shower you with yummies until you find your favorite' mindset.
Why is my Genmaicha never that green? 
One thing about this book that has sent me into a near tizzy researching is the approach to the tea Huang Shan Huo Ya. Everywhere on the internet and every book I have read has called it a Yellow Tea, Tea Sommlier calls it a green tea that commonly gets labeled as a yellow tea due to poor translation. Since I was unable to find any other factual inconsistencies anywhere else in the book I really find myself wanting to know. So far, no luck.
Pardon me while I drool, that looks so good!
So, why is this book still my favorite? Because it is beautiful, because it treats tea as an art, because I still dream of one day being a Tea Sommelier. Do I recommend it? Heck yes! If you are a newbie to tea just approach with caution...the tea world is not all fancy teas, elegant teapots, and lofty concepts...we are also lovers of quirky blends, teabags, herbal teas, and re-purposed coffee mugs. Don't feel intimidated by tasting terms and Grand Cru teas. If you are a well seasoned sipper (or a well seasoned Yixing Teapot that has gained sentience) then this book is a great reference tool. Either way, the overwhelming prettiness of this book is certainly a plus!

Sunday is tea and reading time (actually I read all week, and tea all week)
So, I have a new plan for my blog...drumroll...weekends are going to have a new bit of fun attached to them! Saturdays are going to be geek and craft days, meaning I will review/ramble/showcase something geeky or craft related (or both) and Sundays are going to be Tea Book Days! I have a decent amount of tea books in my collection and have a bunch at my local library, plus I am always looking for more. I am excited about this!


  1. I love this review!
    I find that some people in the tea world are just pretentious, but with that said they are probably just pretentious people. No matter what their interest they have to feel that their knowledge is better and only the elite understand.

    1. Agree, I have seen people do that...go from one interest and being pretentious about it and then going to another interest and being pretentious. Every community and interest has it, we humans are silly things...and it is my human nature to try and bring balance to the world while mixing in heaping piles of complaining, spazzing out, and waxing poetically. :P

  2. I look forward to the tea book reviews.
    Now if only I could learn the terms of tea descriptions. No book seems to list them. I guess it's difficult to describe taste, and more difficult to describe the words we use to describe taste, lol.
    Do you have a favorite source for a comprehensive list of typical types of teas beyond black, green, etc? But not so specific that we need to learn to translate several languages to understand it?

    1. I have run into several really useful websites that have the various terms and such described in various levels of detail. about three quarters of the way from the bottom of the page there is a collection of Tea Tasting links I have collected (so far)

      So far I have not found a really good source that lists teas in that has become a pet project of mine to list all the various tea types in the world, translate them to English, and also have which type they are (green, black, etc) and where they are from. Last time I worked on the table of teas it was 33 pages long. It is a more than a little daunting at times.