Like a cup of your favourite tea, Tea Sommelier is a book that invites you to slow down, even if for a moment.
As with many books on tea, Tea Sommelier begins with an overview of where it all began for the humble tea leaf: Ancient China.
The story is perhaps a familiar one to many tea lovers and history buffs. Let’s recap: after the steady dissemination of tea from southwest China, tea culture develops and flowers in the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties.
Chan (Zen) Buddhist monks had much to do with the spread of tea culture across China and over to Japan. Producers there refined powdered tea into the matcha we know and love today.
Over the centuries, Europe and the rest of the world too caught on to tea’s magic.
As the introduction (p. 17) rightfully states, “tea is one of the major Chinese contributions to humanity and civilization.”
A Valuable Resource for any Tea Sommelier
There’s also its undoubted “coffee table” appeal for tea lovers in general.
The bulk of the book is arranged by the six “types” of tea based on their colour when brewed.
These are green, white, yellow, “blue-green” (oolong), red (or black tea, outside East Asia) and “black” (in other words, Pu’er tea).
Each entry includes tips on how to prepare the tea (with Chinese and Western brewing methods). There are also tasting notes and even food pairing suggestions: a very “Western” approach to tea appreciation.
In the “blue-green” tea chapter, there’s a distinction between oolongs from China, such as Shuixian oolong, and those from Taiwan, such as Dongding and “milky” Jinxuan. The distinction is artificial. Tie Guan Yin is listed under oolongs teas from China (which is fair enough), but it is also produced in Taiwan.
The “black” tea chapter on Pu’er is very short, reflecting a (mistaken) belief that it’s of limited interest to Western readers. The white tea chapter focuses exclusively on teas from Fujian, and curiously, one from Sri Lanka. The “red” tea chapter surveys teas from India, Sri Lanka and (happily) Yunnan.
While not without its faults, Tea Sommelier really comes into its own in the quality of the photography, the clean layout and large pages (larger than A4 size paper). Not forgetting the dazzling fusion recipes found in its back pages.
Keen to make something new in the kitchen?
Try your hand at the Herb Salad and Edible Flowers and Black Pu’er Tea Rice Chips (pictured).
It’s just one of twenty tempting recipes developed and prepared for the book by leading chef Giovanni Ruggieri.