Heavy Books About Tea

You may never have considered that the focus of a book review might be inspired by weight. But it suddenly occurred to me as I was adding my newest tea book to the “library” that there are some unusually heavy books about tea. The only other large books on my shelves are a few art books. And I’m not sure what other niche might publish this kind of sizable books anymore. Thinking back to the days of encyclopedias, I’m not sure that individual volumes used to weigh as much as these tea books. So, I know that the physical size of a book isn’t something we usually discuss, BUT, it was when I received my latest big & heavy tea book, The Tale of Tea: A Comprehensive History of Tea from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day by George van Driem, that I started to ponder this factor. Even the title of the book suggested something vast and weighty.

But, before I comment on this book individually, I want to group it with three other hefty tomes. There is, All About Tea by William Ukers that has served as a foundation in tea literature and research and is now available in both digital and print versions. And then, for tea science nerds, there’s Tea In Health and Disease Prevention by Victor R. Preedy which is also available as a Kindle E-Book. And, of course, the entire world of tea is beautifully shared in Jane Pettigrew’s World of Tea: Discovering Producing Regions and their Teas.

Family and Friends Ask . . .

Have you really read all of these? Conversations sometimes drift into comparisons between physical books and virtual content. I know people who are far more comfortable with reading digital versions, not having the clutter of more paper, the guilt about destroying trees, and being able to use advanced search features. Each one of these books weighs more than my laptop. And my laptop could store hundreds of books like this.

But it’s not really about the choice between which version more comfortably fits our lifestyle. We don’t have to choose. We can enjoy the benefits of both. The importance of published tea books in every form is the professional research and development that allows us to have a little more confidence in the content.

What Big Tea Books Really Do For Me

I often say that there is more to know about tea than I will ever be able to know. As James Norwood Pratt often says, “It’s a lifetime study. And I will forever be a student of tea.” 

These oversized editions tend to amaze people new (and not) to tea that there is that much to say, they still remind me why I continue to make tea such a large part of my daily life and work. They refresh and inspire and consistently lure me back with something new that I’ve never heard before and then entice me to spend an entire day following the threads of this fascinating tapestry.

Four of the largest tea books

Twenty-Five Pounds of Tea Books

Taken together as a genre of size, these four books weigh out to over 25 pounds! In financial terms, the total cost is something in the ballpark of a modern kitchen appliance. So, I consider it fortunate that, as the publisher of T Ching, I can legitimately write them off of my taxes as a business expense. I admit that I’m old-school! While I know that almost every fact in print can be searched and found online, there is something about books in general and these oversized books specifically that is very comforting.

It’s not just the luxurious sensory pleasure of reading physical books vs. the edgy and almost hypnotic experience of Internet searches. Two different ideas came together this week. As I was preparing for T Ching to face the upcoming changes to the Google algorithm, I realized their intention to evaluate authority. On a massive scale, Google and other search engines use formulas for the way we interact with online content to determine if it has “authority”.
I realized that there is an authority to printed books where a huge investment has been made to write, edit, print, bind, market and ship them. I’ve warehoused and shipped a lot of books in my career, so I have a pretty good idea of what it takes to deliver these 5, 6, and 7 pounders.

5 lb, 15.3 oz

World of Tea by Jane Pettigrew

6 lb.

All About Tea by William Ukers

6 lb. 2 oz.

7 lb. 11 oz.

Have You Really Read All These Books?

Not yet. But I visit them often. They have an authority about tea, not just because of their physical size but because of the effort that a great many people invested in each one to be factual and accurate. To be useful and provide something meaningful and lasting to our community. We’re beginning to realize how the convenience of a quick Internet search can promote misinformation and misunderstanding. It makes it easy and therefore tempting to get things wrong.

But here is where I come to something different about this new addition, The Tale of Tea.

The Tale of Tea by George van Driem

,The Tale of Tea; A Comprehensive History of Tea from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day

Written by George van Driem.  Published by Brill, 2019. Nine hundred and four pages. Paperback version weighs 5 lbs., 15.3 ounces.

George van Driem directs the Linguistics Institute at the University of Bern and is the Chair of Historical Linguistics. 

It’s not often that I think of non-fiction books as page-turners; something that we can’t put down and unintentionally while away the hours or pull all-nighters. And that includes the footnotes! Especially the footnotes! But, for a tea nerd of some twenty years, van Driem has organized the world of tea in an interesting and useful way. He begins with a section called, The Primordial Origins of Tea and then follows up with ten sections chronologically to cover tea’s colored history. But he concludes with a section on science and another on the tea gardens and agriculture.

From the Preface:

The history of tea is the saga of globalisation. Yet much of popular thinking about tea and much popular tea history is fraught with myth and inaccuracy. … This tale of tea tells the story of the hidden origins of tea in the eastern Himalayan highlands and takes us across seas and deserts to the emergence of today’s globalised beverage in its many modern guises.  (Pokhara, 4 February 2018)

Van Driem challenges the legends that have been the romance of the specialty tea industry with his linguistics research and then adjusts the filter on our previously held beliefs and assumptions. It’s a new perspective, to be sure. And it’s best enjoyed with a large pot of . . . TEA . . . of course!

But, lest I make The Tale of Tea sound too academic, I’ll end with one of my favorite things about it. The poetry. One translated version of a poem by Baisao, the Japanese “tea peddling sage” (Translation by Norman Waddell) is:

Seventy years of Zen

got me nowhere at all

shed my black robe 

became a shaggy crank. 

Now I have no business

with sacred or profane

just simmer tea for folks 

And hold starvation back.