Thursday, January 28, 2010

Korean Tea Texts, Classical and Modern [ii]: The Cha Bu of Hanjae Yi Mok


[[EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a series of entries by Warren Peltier on Korean tea texts. For the first and third entries, click here and here.]]

In this entry I offer a summation of the basic ideas expressed by Hanjae in Cha Bu, accompanied by my own notes and commentary.

First, Hanjae observes that the common people drink to be happy. The common people engage themselves in material things, or idle entertainment or delectable tastes. They are happy to the end of days and never tiresome of it. What kind of character is this? Like Li Bai 李白 embracing the moon (while drunk and then drowning); or like Liu Bo Lun 劉伯倫 (also known as Liu Ling 劉伶), drinking crazily all the time. It is enjoyment without restraint: occupied with collecting material things, wasting energy on fun, overindulging in food and drink. Such as was the case with Tang poet Li Bai (Li Po). Li Bai loved wine, and he wrote many poems about drinking wine. Finally, he was said to have drowned while drunk, trying to grasp the moon. Liu Ling (flourished during the Western Jin dynasty) was an even more hopeless drunkard. There are many anecdotes of his drinking bouts. For example, he would walk about the house naked; when people saw him and made some comment about his state of undress, he would remark: “Heaven and Earth is my abode; this house my clothing. What are you doing under my clothes?”

Hanjae sates himself by reading Master Lu's (Lu Yu) Classic of Tea and absorbing the essence of the book, his heart cherished this marvelous work. Moreover, enjoyment of tea is not like enjoyment of wine or song. Tea is highly efficacious; and good for the body.

Next follows a discussion of some of the Chinese characters used for tea and the names of individual teas. These include 'ming' 茗, 'chuan' 荈, and 'she' 蔎. Then there are tea names such as Immortal Palm, Sound of Thunder, Bird Beak, Sparrow's Tongue, Waxed Face, Dragon Phoenix, Tender Flower Bud, Pure Mouth, Before the Rains, After the Rains, Pre-Spring, Early Spring, Double Brook, etc.

Hanjae then names geographic areas where the soils are suitable for tea growing. He also lists many different Chinese characters containing the 'mountain' radical ('shan,' 山), and says that these are places for growing tea. Moreover, tea comes in myriad types. There are the purple, green, light-green, and yellow leaf types; early sprouting, late sprouting; short leaf, and long leaf types.

He then goes on to describe the process of brewing and drinking tea, and the scenery in which he brews tea. He has a jade-green bowl, and himself boils mountain spring water. Many ancient poets write of preferring to boil their own water personally, since they could thus be assured of the quality of the tea. And there is also much satisfaction to be taken from brewing the perfect bowl of tea. While boiling the water, he has a view of white steam rising out of kettle. This becomes an occasion for a flight of poetic fancy: he can see summer clouds and the mountain brook amid mountain gorges. The water starts to boil producing great waves like those of a river in spring. The sound of the water boiling is a swish swish sound like a frosty wind whistling in bamboo and cypress groves.

In a more literary and descriptive form, he borrows from the theme of Seven Bowls of Tea from Lu Tong's poem; and describes the environment and feeling of drinking seven bowls of tea to become light in body; able to rise to the heavens and become an immortal.

Five Functions of Tea

Hanjae also ascribes Five Functions to tea: to quench thirst; to provide abundant conversation; to aid host and guest in cherishing their mutual connection; to fight parasitic illness; and to prevent hangovers. These are all very practical reasons why one should drink tea, and drink it often.

Six Virtues of Tea

Then Hanjae says there are Six Virtues of tea. Condensed to one word apiece, they are: Longevity, Recovery, Calm, Leisure, Immortality, and Etiquette.

Hanjae makes several assertions about the drinking of tea, in the process referring to a number of well-known legendary or historical individuals (on all of whom, see below). He claims that tea
• Causes longevity; imparting to the drinker the virtue of Emperors Yao and Shun.
• Causes one to recover from illness, to have the virtue of speedy recovery just as if from treatment by the miraculous physician Bian Que.
• Causes one to have a calm mind; to have the virtue of Bai Yi and Yang Zhen.
• Causes one to be put in a leisurely mood; to have the virtue of the Two Ancients and the Four White Beards.
• Causes on to become an Immortal, like Laozi and the Yellow Emperor
• Affords one the opportunity to learn etiquette, to have the virtue of the Duke of Zhou and Confucius.

Hanjae says that Jade River (or Yu Chuan -- the refined name for Lu Tong) tasted tea with praise in his 'Seven Bowls of Tea' song. Master Lu (Lu Yu) happily tasted tea traveling about the country, surveying tea-growing areas and the quality of the teas in those places. He dedicated his life to tea without need for an official post or for material things.

Hanjae summarizes by expressing the idea, since in my heart there is tea, then what need for those impermanent, material things? Tea is sufficient contentment in and of itself to last a lifetime.

Historical Figures Mentioned in the Six Virtues of Tea

Yao 堯 and Shun 舜 were legendary emperors of China. They were benevolent rulers and their kingdoms prospered. They are often held up as examples of fairness, good rule and governance. They lived a long time. On the other hand, rulers who were cruel and vicious to their subjects had a very short rule and a short life, since the common people would rebel against them.

The story of Bian Que 扁鵲 is related in the Han Fei Zi《韓非子》. One day Bian Que went to visit Duke Cai Heng 蔡桓公. Just at glancing at him, Bian Que said: “I see that you're ill. You have an infection on your skin. If not treated, it will spread internally.” The Duke, however, was unbelieving and simply replied: “I'm not sick.” After Bian Que left, Duke Heng remarked: “Doctors always want to claim people are sick and prescribe medicines in the hope of receiving rich rewards; and thus prove to everyone they attained a high level of medical skill.”

After ten days, Bian Que again visited Duke Heng and said: “Your illness has already spread between skin and muscle. If not treated, your condition will become more serious.” Duke Heng said nothing; and Bian Que left.

After another ten days, Bian Que came to visit again. He said to Duke Heng: “Your illness has already spread into the stomach and intestines. If not treated, your condition will become more serious.” Duke Heng said nothing again; and Bian Que left.

After another ten days, Bian Que caught a glimpse of Duke Heng from afar; but this time he lowered his head and ran off without bothering to greet the Duke. Duke Heng thought this was strange, so he sent someone over to ask Bian Que what was wrong. Bian Que said: “Skin disease can be cured with hot water by scalding. Illness between skin and muscle can be treated by acupuncture. When illness spreads to stomach and intestines, it can be treated by a dose of an herbal decoction. But once illness has entered the bone marrow, doctors have no course of treatment to follow. Now your lord's illness has entered his marrow. I can't give him any treatment that will work effectively.”

Five days later, Duke Heng was suffering severe pain and sent for physician Bian Que. But Bian Que was nowhere to be found. He had escaped to the Kingdom of Qin, so as not to be blamed for the Duke's worsening condition, lack of treatment, and likely death. Duke Heng then died. The moral of this story is to always immediately seek medical attention before one's condition worsens beyond help.

Bian Que lived (407-310 BCE) during the Spring and Autumn or Warring States period. He was from what is now Jinan 濟南, in Shandong province.

Bai Yi 伯夷 (lived around 1140 BCE)
Bai Yi lived during the time of King Zhou of the Shang 商紂王. King Zhou was a ruthless king, so Bai Yi lived in seclusion in the mountains far away from his madness. He got news that King Wen had made his country stable and development was very fast; so he decided to leave the mountain and see for himself. While Bai Yi was on the road, he met the soldiers of King Wen’s son and heir, King Wu. Realizing that King Wen had died, and seeing that King Wu was using all the carts and horses to make a raid on King Zhou of the Shang, he remarked: “The father is dead and not even buried yet and already they are going to war. Is this the way to show filial piety?” Later, King Wu killed off everyone of the royal family in the Shang dynasty court, and founded a new dynasty, the Zhou dynasty. This occurred in the year 1046 BCE. Bai Yi severely detested the actions of King Wu, feeling them very shameful. He then vowed never to eat any food from the Zhou Kingdom. However, at that time, the rule of Zhou was very wide. He then went to Shou Yang Mountain 首陽山 to pick and live on wild fiddleheads. Bai Yi, however, realized he would soon die of starvation with only mountain plants to live on. And so he did, holding steadfast to his virtue. Because of his integrity and moral values, he was highly praised by Confucianists thereafter, and considered a good moral example to follow.

Yang Zhen 楊震 (59-124 CE) from a very young age loved to study. When he was older and educated, he became a dedicated teacher, accepting many students while not discriminating between rich or poor. He taught over 2,000 students, becoming very famous. Later he had even more students, and his disciples numbered over 3,000 -- a number comparable to the number of disciples that Confucius had. Because of his ideals and calm temperament, he did a great deed for society; and he serves as an example for inspiration.

The term 'Two Ancients' refers to Laozi 老子 (literally meaning “Old Master”; author of the foundational Daoist text Dao De Jing 《道德經》; venerated by Daoists as a god and immortal) and Lao Lai Zi (“Old Master Lai 老萊子), both of whom were reputed to have lived a very long time. Lao Lai Zi (599-479 BCE) lived during the same time as Confucius. He was a famous thinker and one of the original creators of Daoist philosophy, as of course was Laozi.

The term 'Four White Beards' refers to the Four White Beards of Shang Shan 商山四皓. These were four men who during the Qin period lived as recluses on Shang Mountain. Because they were all men in their eighties, with white hair, eyebrows, and beards, they are known as the “Four White Beards” ('Si Hao,' 四皓). Specifically, they were:
Dong Yuan Gong 東園公
Xia Huang Gong 夏黃公
Qi Li Ji 綺裡季
Lu Li Xian Sheng 甪裡先生
They were all highly respected and virtuous people. They were once Imperial Court Officials but left their positions to live in the mountains because of the volatile nature of the Qin imperial court.

The Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) 黃帝 (2697-2599 BCE) was one of the Five Legendary Emperors of China. In the Daoist religion, he too is venerated as an immortal. There are many anecdotes attributed to him talking about the Way.

The Duke of Zhou (also known as Zhong Gong Dan 周公旦) was thought to have been the primary creator of the Book of Changes (Yi Jing or 'I Ching' 《易經》) in its present form. A highly respected figure in the eyes of Confucius himself, he was later venerated by Confucianists, and had a profound influence on Confucian philosophy. The Duke of Zhou is also credited with writing or compiling the Er Ya dictionary, so he also has a direct connection to the history and literature tea; See Chapter 7 of Lu Yu’s Classic of Tea.

Confucius (Kong Zi 孔子), or Master Kong (551-479 BCE), was a famous philosopher and educator during the Spring and Autumn period in China. His proper name was Kong Qiu 孔丘; and his refined name was Zhong Ni 仲尼. He was from the state of Lu 魯國. He was perhaps the most influential philosopher of China, and also the founder of Confucian school of philosophy 儒家. He wrote the Analects (Lun Yu) 《 論語 》; added appendices to the Book of Changes (Zhou Yi) 《周易》; and wrote or revised many other classical texts. Confucius wrote much about propriety and etiquette,and is an important figure in the Book of Rites (Li Ji) 《禮記》, where many of his teachings are found.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Korean Tea Texts, Classical and Modern [i]: An Overview


[[EDITOR'S NOTE: In a recent review of THE TRUE HISTORY OF TEA, DougH laments that book's almost total omission of information on Korean tea culture. This is surely an important lacuna in any truly comprehensive account of tea history and culture; and indeed it is about to be remedied, in part, by the publication (by Seoul Selection) of THREE KOREAN TEA CLASSICS, a translation project headed by Brother Anthony of Taize, whose elegant THE KOREAN WAY OF TEA is a treasure; a principal contributor to this forthcoming work is Steven D. Owyoung, an eminent regular contributor to CHA DAO. But in the meantime, our readers may want to know a bit about the premodern tradition of tea in Korean culture, the classical texts that this spawned, and where to go to read some modern material (in Korean or English) on tea. Even the aficionado fairly well-versed in the teas of Pacific Asia may not have tasted the delicate and delicious teas of Korea; and even those who have had this pleasure, would probably find it difficult to name one classical Korean treatise on tea, or their writers. In fact, this almost has the nature of a trick question, as Hangul (한글 'Great Script') , the native Korean writing system, was not developed until 1443 or 1444 CE. Before that time, in any case, literary texts in Korea were written in literary Chinese (wenyanwen 文言文 = 문언문); and even after the fifteenth century, this literary form of Chinese was long in use as the language of Korean literary texts. ¶ ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Warren Peltier (well known to readers of CHA DAO as Niisonge, but also in China as Xia Yun-Feng [夏雲峰]), is currently conducting research on Chinese tea classics, and is preparing a series of tea books about his findings. His first book, tentatively titled The Ancient Art of Chinese Tea, is under contract with Tuttle Publishing; we dare to hope that it will see the light of day very soon. Watch these pages for more news about Warren's forthcoming tea books. In the meantime, we offer here the first of several entries by Warren on Korean tea texts. For the second and third entries, click here and here.]]

~~~~~~~~~~ · ~~~~~~~~~~

Just as Latin was the literary language of Europe and used by so many, so literary Chinese remained a very important scholarly lingua franca -- not only for the Chinese themselves, but also for Koreans, Japanese, and many other ethnic peoples in China and Asia, including Vietnamese and Mongolians. What follows here is, first, a summary of the main authors and basic corpus of classical Korean tea books -- composed in literary Chinese -- and then a few resources, in modern Korean and English, on tea and tea culture.



Three principal Korean authors of classical works on tea are YI MOK, JEONG YAK-YONG, and CHO UI.

• Yi Mok 이목 (李穆) (1471-1498), also known as Hanjae Yi Mok 한재 이목 (寒齋李穆) -- Hanjae being his 字 ('zi' or refined name).

• Jeong Yak-Yong 정약용 (丁若鏞) (1732-1836) was also named Dasan 茶山 or Tea Mountain; he also had other nicknames, including Three Eyebrows 三眉, Thatched Waiting Hut 俟庵, Purple Sunset Clouds Daoist 紫霞道人, Moss Old Man 苔叟, Bamboo Sheath Elder 籜翁, and Iron Horse Mountain Man 鐵馬山人. He was a noted philosopher. He is reputed to have written Dongdagi or Eastern Tea Record (東茶記 , 1785), though some hold that it was actually written by Yi Dok-Ri 李德履 (1728-?).

• Seon (Zen) Monk Cho Ui 초의 (艸衣; also written 草衣 , literally meaning “grass clothes”) (1786-1886); he was a disciple of Dasan, and studied tea for 40 years, which slowly culminated for him in a realization of tea and Buddhism. He wrote two tea books: Dasinjeon (Introduction to Tea) 茶神傳 (1830), and Dongdasong (Praise for Eastern Tea) 東茶頌 (1837).


I. Cha Bu (Tea Poetic Prose) 차부 《茶賦》

The Cha Bu is a 1,200-word text written by Hanjae Yi Mok. It is written in the literary Chinese style of short prose known as fu 賦 (Korean bu 부). This work was composed during the Joseon Dynasty (contemporaneous with the Ming Dynasty in China). During this period, Confucianism in philosophy and religion was an important facet of daily life. This is also the case in the text of the Cha Bu; Hanjae takes a very philosophical view of tea. Much of the text includes commentary on the author's own viewpoint of tea. At the same time he extols the virtues of tea. The entire text is written in a very descriptive literary style. The original Korean text gives clear evidence that Hanjae thought deeply, not only about the ideas he wanted to convey, but also about how to craft his sentences in a very creative and highly refined way.

First, he says that in the pursuit of happiness, people overindulge themselves to their own detriment. Then he implies, on the contrary, that excessive love of tea need not be detrimental to one’s health. Tea has many benefits. He then lists Five Functions of Tea, such as quenching the thirst, and so forth. Here he echoes the sentiments of previous tea-book writers of ancient China. He continues his discourse on tea philosophy by stating there are six tea virtues: Longevity, Recovery, Calm, Leisure, Immortality, and Etiquette. In this seems to be inspired by the Ten Virtues of Drinking Tea (Yin Cha Shi De) 《飲茶十德》 written by Buddhist monk Liu Zhen Liang 劉貞亮 (also known as Liu Zhen De 劉貞德) in the Tang Dynasty. Hanjae's virtues of drinking tea however, are much different from those of Liu Zhen Liang.

Hanjae concludes his text by implying that since great tea masters such as Lu Yu himself dedicated their lives to tea without seeking material gain or benefit, the quest for tea is a noble path. Therefore, there is no need for pleasures in material things which are merely impermanent. The pleasures of tea are enough to last a lifetime.

II. Dongdagi (Eastern Tea Record) 동다기 《東茶記》

The book, attributed to Jeong Yak-Yong, is around 1,700 characters in length. It is the earliest tea book in Korea. The book describes tea-plant growth according to season, saying it flowers in autumn and that buds form in winter. The tender buds are called Sparrow’s Tongue and Bird Beak. Old leaves are said to be known by various Chinese characters; such as “ming,” “jia,” “she,” and “chuan.” It states that the names for tea depend on whether the leaves were picked Before the Rains or After the Rains. Tender buds of Sparrow’s Tongue, for example, are picked Before the Rains. Leaves are also distinguished based on the number of leaves in a pluck (such as one leaf and one bud, two leaves and a bud), the length of the leaf stem, etc. It explains the bitterness and sweetness in tea; the difference between dark and light leaves; the scent and taste of tea. The book compares the taste, aroma and color of Eastern Tea 東茶 with that of some of the famous teas of China, such as Liuan tea 六安茶 and Mengshan tea 蒙山茶. The text also mentions how tea can keep one awake and be a beneficial aid in study (scholars) and meditation (monks). It also describes the growing conditions for tea: stony soils, and growing among bamboos, which can filter the light. It also describes how tea should be picked, and states that the finest tea is Tribute Tea (tea reserved only for the royal family); inferior is Official Tea (tea given to government officials).

III. Dasinjeon (Introduction to Tea) 다신전 《茶神傳》

Written by Cho Ui; this book, like the other Korean tea classics, was written in literary Chinese. This short volume (1,500 characters) is divided into 22 sections including: Picking Tea, Making Tea, Tea Differentiation, Tea Storage, Fire, Boil, Use of Old or Tender Boiled Water, Brew Method, Placing Tea, Drinking Tea, Fragrance, Color, Taste, Adding Extraneous Materials to Tea Loses Purity, Tea Can’t Be Used When its Nature is Changed, Tasting and Evaluating Springs, Well Water Unsuited to Tea, Storing Water, Tea Utensils, Tea Bowls, Bowl Wiping Cloth, Dado (or Chadao -- Way of Tea).

The entirety of this book's 22 sections are a direct, word-for-word copy of Zhang Yuan’s Record of Tea, written in the Ming dynasty. Only a small, 98-character section is appended at the end, stating that it is a copy of earlier work on the Way of Tea, and giving reference to Buddhism. It was customary in ancient times to copy books/scrolls onto paper so as to preserve copies.

IV. Dongdasong (Praise for Eastern Tea) 동다송 《東茶頌》

Written by Cho Ui, this 2,300-word book is divided into 31 verses. Each chapter has a short “verse” or main point, perhaps to offer topics for the reader's contemplation. Annotations follow each verse, to elaborate on the material.

The book contains direct or paraphrased quotes from many Chinese texts including the Er Ya dictionary, Lu Yu’s Classic of Tea, Zhang Yuan's Record of Tea, and other tea texts and historical documents of the Tang, Song and Ming Dynasties. Jeong Yak-Yong’s Eastern Tea Record is also quoted.


The Philosophy of the Way of Tea 다도철학 《茶道의哲學》. By Jung-Young Sun 정영선 .

The Korean Way of Tea 한국의 다도 《韓國之茶道》1973. By Choi Beom Sul 최범술 (崔凡述 1904-1979); contains chapters 1-6 of the Classic of Tea, translated into modern Korean.

Korean Tea Culture 韓國의茶文化《韓國之茶文化》1981. By 김운학 Kim Un Hak (金雲學).

Bonus Link: More Bibliography of Modern Korean Tea Books: 茶文獻
Note: this list also contains some Chinese and Japanese tea books, but the majority are Korean.


The Korean Way of Tea. By Brother Anthony of Taize and Hong Kyeong-hee. Seoul: Seoul Selection 2007.

The Book of Korean Tea. By Yang-Seok (Fred) Yoo. Seoul: Myung Won Cultural Foundation 2007. (Includes English translations of Dasinjeon and Dongdasong.)

Green Life with Tea. By Kim Eui-Jung. [In English and Korean.] Seoul: Design House, 2007.

Bonus Link: The AmorePacific Museum of Art's permanent display on Korean tea culture.

Bonus Link: Arthur Park of MORNING EARTH POTTERY is organizing a very special TEA TOUR OF KOREA for later this year. Sign up now to reserve your place.

Friday, January 01, 2010

READER'S CORNER: DougH on The True History of Tea by Victor H. Mair and Erling Hoh

Victor H. Mair and Erling Hoh. THE TRUE HISTORY OF TEA. London: Thames & Hudson 2009. 280 pages. ISBN 978-0-500-25146-1.

There are those who believe we in the USA are seeing -- or are about to see -- or will someday see -- a significant increase in the popularity of tea. I have some doubts about this. But one argument in favor of such optimism could be based on the recent inundation of English-language books on tea. Ten or twelve years ago, there were almost no such books; there were (and still are) the classics -- James Norwood Pratt’s The New Tea Lover’s Treasury (1999) and the Chow/Kramer All the Tea in China (1990) -- and precious little else.

Now, however, there are dozens of books on all aspects of tea, and with every conceivable aim. CHA DAO has over the last couple of years been publishing occasional reviews of a few of the more noteworthy of these (click here, here, and here for some examples).

Many of the newer books follow to some extent -- often very closely -- the model established in Pratt’s book, and to a lesser extent in the Chow/Kramer book: some account of the history of tea, something about the “culture” of tea, and something about tea itself -- the types, the tastes, the steeping, and so on.

Pratt’s book set a pretty high bar for this kind of work, certainly by the standards of such work in English, and many of the newer books I’ve seen over the past few years do not measure up to that standard, much less exceed it. One of the biggest deficiencies of these is that while almost all their authors are native speakers of English, few if any are fluent in the language family that is by far the most important in the history (and arguably the culture) of tea: the Chinese family of languages. There is a more-than-1200-year history of writing about tea in China, going back at least to Lu Yu’s 780 CE Chajing; virtually nothing other than that has been translated into English (nor, probably, into any other Western language). The history of writings on tea in non-Chinese languages -- especially Western languages -- is pretty thin compared to this; there is some history of tea writing in Japanese and Korean, but these again are languages that few if any tea writers in English know.

Of course, the span of writing history is no guarantee of worthiness or current relevance (for a brief critique of the belief that Lu Yu is of any worth other than historical for tea drinkers today, see e.g. MarshalN's comments at the end of this blog entry). However, to not only not be acquainted with by far the longest-lived body of tea writing in the world, but to not even be able to be acquainted with it (because an author doesn’t speak or read Chinese) is clearly a serious deficiency.

The work considered here, The True History of Tea, by Victor H. Mair and Erling Hoh, does not have that problem. Mair is a professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, and well known as a scholar in those fields. He has written, to quote the dust jacket, “many other works dealing with the culture and history of Central Eurasia, East Asia and South Asia.” He is clearly fluent in classical and modern Chinese. Almost all of the translations in the book are his, including two extensive translations of ancient Chinese manuscripts (included in Appendices A and B). For those interested in language as well as tea, Appendix C offers by far the most extensive treatment I have seen of the “genealogy” of words for tea in languages outside of China.

In other words, the authors can read both modern and pre-modern Chinese tea writings in their original language. And it shows. While this book is not the “be all and end all” of tea books -- and such is probably impossible and even nonsensical, since different readers will want different things from a book on tea -- it is one of the best books in English on tea I’ve seen, and probably overall the best book in English on the world history of tea. It places a more accurately proportional weight on the geographical areas covered: five chapters on China (plus portions of other chapters); two chapters on Japan; one on Russian-Chinese tea history; three chapters on the history of tea in Europe, Britain and the USA; and one on India and Sri Lanka (which inevitably includes various British figures). While this is still far from historically proportionate (perhaps 3000 years or more of Chinese tea history and roughly 1200 years of Japanese tea history compared with barely 400 years of Western tea history), it is much better than most other tea books in English accomplish.

Along the way, the authors visit China, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Russia, the “Islamic world,” India and Sri Lanka, Europe and Britain, and even the USA. About the only significant tea culture the authors miss, for unknown (and unmentioned) reasons, is Korea, despite a tea history apparently at least as long as Japan’s (see, e.g., the articles here). The last chapter very briefly and thinly updates the narrative to the present.

You should know what this book is not. It is not a book along the Pratt line: other than a tiny little bit in the last chapter, there is nothing about the current tea scene anywhere in the world, the types of tea, the steeping or taste of tea, and so on. The closest to the latter occurs in the Acknowledgements at the end of the book, where we find the authors’ own tea preferences (p. 268). Paradoxically, perhaps, the Sinologist Mair’s love is Indian tea, and the Scandinavian Hoh’s love is Chinese tea. This work, as its title says, is primarily a history book, with a secondary emphasis on the tea culture of the various periods. If you want to learn to make tea, or learn about types of tea, or tastes of tea, you must go elsewhere.

The Prologue gives an excellent overview of the book and subject. Chapter 1 is a bit of an oddity. It seems more of an extension of the Prologue than a part of the book proper, and it’s a bit unclear to me why the authors spent valuable pages on a quick rundown of other stimulant alternatives to tea throughout the world. Given inevitable space limitations, this material seems a waste of space: surely these pages could have been devoted to something more relevant to the book’s topic, such as Korean tea history, or more extensive Chinese tea history (late-Qing and post-Qing, including Taiwan), or better coverage of the transition from powdered to loose-leaf tea.

Chapter 2 thus is really the beginning of the book’s subject. It quickly surveys the botany of tea (and other Camellia family members); the authors claim “botanists now place the center of its natural distribution in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra river in the Indian province of Assam, the northern parts of Burma and Thailand, Indochina and southwest China” -- followed by an even more whirlwind overview of the non-steeping tea preparation practices of various Asian peoples.

The chapter ends with a few pages covering both facts and informed speculation about the oldest-known uses of tea in China. It is apparently (and not surprisingly) quite difficult to determine much concrete information for the first millennia or so of tea in China -- basically all dates BCE. For example, the Ba people, who lived in what is now Sichuan province, are the earliest-known recorded users of tea (apparently around the first century BCE; see p. 29). The authors also note here a question that “has vexed generations of Chinese etymologists and bedevils the study of Chinese tea history all the way up to the Tang dynasty” (p. 29): the distinction, if any, between the historical use of the Chinese characters tu (荼) and cha (茶). In other words, when ancient texts used the character tu, did they really mean the tea plant, the same plant now referred to as cha? Apparently, nobody knows for sure, making it nearly impossible to truly uncover the earliest history of tea.

Chapters 3-6 and Chapter 9 cover the history of Chinese tea from essentially the first century CE through the fall of the Ming dynasty with the invasion of the Manchu in 1644, then to some extent into the resulting Qing (Manchu) dynasty.
The authors cover tea and tea history in the following broad subject areas in these chapters: Chapter 3: pre-Tang; Chapter 4: Tang Dynasty (618-907, including the famous Lù Yŭ); Chapter 5: Song Dynasty (960-1279); Chapter 6: the tea and horse trade, primarily with Tibet; Chapter 9: Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. The authors cover in interesting detail much relevant history in these periods, though Chapter 9 is specifically about tea and tea culture during those dynasties, with much less of the historical context prevalent in Chapters 3-6.

There is one subject that is in my opinion poorly covered but is the most momentous development in the history of Chinese tea (and indeed in the history of all tea throughout the world). During the Tang and much of the Song, tea was powdered. In the Tang, the tea was boiled in an iron pot with salt, then ladled into bowls for drinking (p. 62). During the Song, this practice changed so that the powdered tea was placed directly into the bowls, boiling water poured in and the mixture whisked into a froth; this was the style brought to Japan by Zen monks, which eventually became the tea used in chanoyu. However, by the late Song (Southern Song), loose-leaf green tea, brewed by steeping, had been developed and apparently spread rapidly (p. 70), so that by the beginning of the Ming, ground tea was history and leaf tea was the standard (p. 110). The further development of tea production and steeping from then on consisted of elaborations on the new themes of a) whole loose-leaf tea, and b) steeping that tea in some kind of vessel. So the style of tea production and preparation that had prevailed for more than half a millennium was apparently overturned within the span of a century. Yet the authors basically present this major transformation as a fait accompli (pp. 62, 110), with no description and none of the detail they bring to the rest of the book. For writers who can read the original sources to miss the opportunity to bring this information to English-speaking audiences is a major oversight, in fact the biggest shortcoming by far of this book. (It was suggested to me during the writing of this review that there may not be any ancient sources that mention this transformation, and that its details are lost to history. That’s possible. It would have been nice, then, if the authors had at least noted this in some way. But surely there must be more information than they give.)

Chapters 7 and 8 cover tea in historical Japan, from its reintroduction by the Buddhist monk Myōan Eisai in 1191 to the ritual seppuku (suicide) of Sen Rikyū in 1591. Though tea had earlier been introduced to Japan (in the period around 805-810 CE) by the Japanese Buddhist monks Saichō and Kūkai, it had not yet caught on. But the culture was much more receptive to tea the second time around. These chapters cover tea in this period in extensive detail. They end with a sidebar (p. 108) on the development of sencha tea (originally imported from China in the late sixteenth century), and gyokuro tea (developed in Japan in the mid-nineteenth century).

If there is criticism to be made of the Japanese chapters, it is that they end their history too soon, and that they spend the greater part of twenty pages building up to and describing an aspect of Japanese tea drinking -- the tea ceremony -- that represents a tiny minority of Japanese tea drinkers for the last several centuries; they devote less than two paragraphs (in the sidebar and part of another paragraph in the last chapter) on the way the vast majority of Japanese drink tea (and have drunk it, for multiple centuries) the vast majority of the time. Uncharacteristically, the authors seem fixated on the hyper-ceremonial aspects of Japanese tea, and virtually ignore everything else, especially since the death of Rikyū.

Chapter 10 covers tea in Tibet and Mongolia, and the relationships among the Tibetans, the Mongolians and the Chinese. Tea was known in Tibet at least as early as 781. In contrast, there are few or no historical references to tea in Mongolia until the Mongols conquered China and established the Yuan dynasty (1271 [or 1279]-1368). The chapter describes many political reversals, deals, and alliances in the relationship of the Mongols and Tibetans; one meeting, for example, resulted in the creation of the title “Dalai Lama” by the Mongolian Altan Khan. Unlike most of the other chapters, this one follows its subject right up to the present, where we learn that “[o]n average, a Tibetan consumes 33 lb. of tea per year, a Mongolian 18 lb.” (p. 136).

Chapter 11 describes the tea relationship and trade between the Chinese and the Russians. It runs from the first recorded Russians to taste tea (a pair of Cossack envoys in 1616, p. 138), to the history of the samovar, to the establishment of the empire’s first tea garden in Georgia in 1893 (p. 150).

Chapter 12 covers tea in the “Islamic world.” Arabs and Chinese had met each other by at least 751 CE (p. 151). Arab traders were in Canton by the ninth century CE (p. 151). The authors briefly outline quite a bit of subsequent history and geography, including Persia/Iran, Morocco, Afghanistan, Turkey, Bukhara, and other areas of central Asia. They even more briefly bring that history up to the recent past, where by “the 1960s, every country in North Africa and the Middle East, except Algeria and Israel, drank more tea than coffee, and the region now absorbs almost one quarter of the world’s tea imports” (p. 163). Among current Muslim tea-drinking countries, the Qataris drink the most tea -- 6.9 pounds per year per person (p. 163). This chapter covers 1300 years of history of a large geographical area with many peoples, and thus is more superficial than many of the other chapters.

Chapters 13-17 document the history of tea in Europe, Britain, India and Sri Lanka, and the USA. The first European reference to tea appears in a collection of Italian geographical accounts published in 1545 (p. 165). The earliest actual shipment of tea may have arrived in Europe aboard Dutch ships in 1610, though “this date remains conjectural” (p. 166). In England, tea was being served at least in Thomas Garway’s coffee house by 1657 (p. 169).

These chapters follow the ups, downs, twists, and turns of tea importing, tea drinking, national adoption, national abandonment, smuggling (supposedly during the 1770s more than 7 million pounds of tea were smuggled into England per year, and only 5 million imported legally!), debates over health benefits or harms, two Opium Wars, and the obligatory story of the clipper ships. They finish by bringing the story of British tea up into the early twentieth century.

I assume the chapter on India and “Ceylon” is included in this progression because tea cultivation in those countries was started by British adventurers and capitalists. The chapter covers this history in some detail. The passages on the huge increase in tea gardens and speculation (pp. 214-215) sound much like the recent real-estate boom and bust in Florida! However, while the chapter does devote a few paragraphs to the horrible abuses inflicted on huge numbers of Indian workers by agents of the various tea companies and plantations, in my opinion it seriously underplays how bad that situation really was (see, e.g., Chapter 4 in Roy Moxham's Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire and, to a lesser extent, Chapters 8 and 11 in Iris and Alex MacFarlane's The Empire of Tea).

Finally, Chapter 18, “Vignettes from the Global Village,” attempts to bring the world history of tea (briefly) both up to the present, and to a close. It’s here that the only significant mention of Korea is made, and almost all of the two relevant paragraphs deal with twentieth-century developments.

As mentioned earlier, Appendices A and B are translations by the authors of two Chinese manuscripts, the first a brief autobiography of Lu Yu, the second “A Debate Between Tea and Beer.” Lastly, Appendix C is, as also previously stated, the most extensive and informative discussion I have seen of the genealogy of words for tea in non-Chinese languages across the world.

The book itself is nicely produced and constructed, with an attractive cover (especially the back) and a nicely readable typeface. It is 280 pages long, including a six-page index in very small type. The chapters are well organized, and for the most part proceed in roughly chronological order, though of necessity there is some backtracking to give background for each geographical area. The specifics of tea history at a given time and place are positioned with just enough political/cultural and other historical information to provide useful context for the discussion. The writing is clear and succinct, and not at all pedantic; however, not least because of the detail, the book does have a bit of an academic flavor, and is in fact currently being used in at least one college course on Chinese culture and tea. The book includes some interesting sidebars on subjects often only tenuously related to the surrounding text; see, e.g., pp. 46, 66, 134, 108, 188.

There are some figures and pictures, but none in color. In the tea books I’ve seen, there seems almost an inverse proportion between pictures and information: the more and nicer the pictures, the worse the information, and vice versa. The current book is on the sparer end of that continuum; a few more pictures and figures than the most sparsely-illustrated books (like Moxham's Tea: Addiction, Exploitation, and Empire and Hohenegger's Liquid Jade), but far fewer than in some of the fluffier (but nicer-looking) volumes. However, I would much rather have lots of good, accurate information than lots of nice pictures accompanied by small amounts of mediocre text. (Of course, at US $27, one might reasonably expect both lots of nice pictures and lots of good, accurate information.)

If you are interested in the history of tea -- especially a full world history of tea, and not just one that starts when tea came to Europe -- this book is for you. It is reasonably complete (with the exceptions noted here), but not so extensive that it is a chore to finish. The fact that at least one of the authors can read and translate original Chinese documents really lifts this book above most others of its kind.

Author’s Note: I would like to thank – with the usual admonition that all errors, misinterpretations, etc. are mine alone – the following for their help while I was writing this review: corax, MarshalN, and niisonge. Any of these worthies would be far more qualified to review this book than I am, but for some strange reason, they left it to me.