Monday, June 28, 2010

Reader's Corner: DougH on The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss

Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss. THE STORY OF TEA: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press 2007. xiv + 418 pages. ISBN 978-1580087452.

The book reviewed here is another of the “recent inundation of English-language books on tea” that I mentioned in my previous review. Judging by the number (and percentage) of positive reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, the number of online tea vendors who carry this book (even though the authors are actually competitors, having their own online tea store, and its high placing in various food book award competitions), this book has made something of a splash in the tea-book world.

Unlike the Mair/Hoh book, this book is in the mold of James Norwood Pratt’s The New Tea Lover’s Treasury (1999): it includes some account of the history of tea, something about the “culture” of tea, and something about tea itself – the types, the tastes, the steeping. But this book has twice as many pages as Pratt’s, is physically larger, and feels about twice the weight. A lot of work, time and research obviously went into this book.

There is a brief Preface and an equally brief Introduction; both of these are for the most part so general as to provide very little of use. There is no overview of the book’s chapters or structure (as, for example, the Mair/Hoh book’s prologue did nicely). However, this Preface does give us the authors’ statement of the book’s purpose (p. x):
This book is our attempt to transmit the information and knowledge that we have garnered trekking along the tea trail to our interested readers. We hope to cut through the sometimes confusing prattle about tea by providing in-depth information and understanding about processes that many people have written about but few have actually witnessed .... [W]e have attempted to provide in this book material that appeals to beginning tea enthusiasts as well as to seasoned tea professionals. Our goal is to give readers the behind-the-scenes information about the life rhythms and works cycles in a tea village or factory.
Chapter 1, “A Brief History of Tea,” is indeed brief, covering the entire world history of tea in around twenty-seven pages. For illustration, there are around sixteen pages or so for China, at most two pages for Japan (almost half of it devoted to the development of the tea ceremony), perhaps two and a half pages on tea in Europe, two pages on the Boston Tea Party and events leading up to it, two or three pages on the British in India, one paragraph on the British and Sri Lanka, a paragraph or so on the Dutch in Indonesia, one paragraph on Africa. As was unfortunately true in the Mair/Hoh book as well, there is no coverage of Korean tea history, which is as long or nearly as long as Japanese tea history, though there is the obligatory material here on the tea clippers, as a nearly page-long sidebar (p. 27). There is essentially nothing – maybe a couple of sentences – on any developments since World War II.

Chapter 2, “The Life of a Tea Bush,” discusses aspects of the tea plant itself. The authors give some history of the plant. They then introduce three varieties of tea bush – sinensis, assamica, cambodi (which they call “Java bush”) – and their respective characteristics. The authors discuss the concept of the tea-bush “table” – the managed plucking height of the tea bush. There are also sections on “The Terroir of Tea” and “The Yearly Cycle of a Tea Bush.”

Chapter 3, “Manufacture: From Fresh Leaves to Distinctive Tea,” is about the processing of different types of tea. The authors introduce “The Six Classes of Leaf Manufacture” and “The Eight Elements of Tea Production,” then go on to cover, each in its own section, the processing for each of the categories they name. These processing descriptions are quite interesting, and go into often great detail, apparently much of it directly observed by the authors. For example, they have sections not just on green tea but on “Sun-dried Green Tea,” “Basket-Fired Green Tea,” “Pan-Fired Green Tea,” “Tumble-Dried Green Tea,” “Oven-Dried Green Tea,” and “Steamed Green Tea.”

In the section on “Black Tea” (p. 84), the authors are thankfully quite clear on the distinction between and correct use of the terms “oxidized” and “fermented.” Interestingly, the authors also express doubt (p. 83) that much will come of “South Asian” efforts to produce oolongs.

One questionable section is the somewhat confusing “outline” of pu’er types and characteristics on page 96. For example, maocha is purported to be associated only with sheng pu’er. Also, “wet storage, quickly aged” processing is supposedly associated only with shu pu’er manufacture. Both implications are incorrect. Maocha is the initial raw material for both kinds of pu’er, and “wet storage” is mostly or entirely a means for speeding up the aging of sheng pu’er, not shu (for which it would typically be considered irrelevant).

Chapter 4, “Journeying Along the Tea Trail,” is the longest chapter in the book (around 142 pages). It examines the teas of various countries, often by province or state. Some teas are covered at substantial length, others simply mentioned by name, or in a single sentence. The chapter covers China (with individual sections on various provinces and tea types), Japan, Korea, India – with sections on Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri, Russia, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, Africa - concentrating on Kenya and Tanzania, Vietnam and Thailand, plus mentions for quite a few newer small producing areas. Kenya, astoundingly, in 2004 was the third-largest producer of black tea in the world, and the largest exporter of tea in the world, figures reached in only 50 years or less of tea production. Kenya also is one of the few, if not the only, tea-producing area outside of East Asia where the majority of production is on family (or “smallholder” as the book calls them) farms – over 60% of the country’s tea is produced on 400,000 such farms (p. 240), with the rest produced on large (presumably plantation-style) estates (p. 241).

In this chapter, the authors mention many teas by name, singling out various ones here and there for further discussion. Curiously, they spend four pages (131-135) on a tea known in the West as “Lapsang Souchong” and in China as Zhengshan xiaozhong, considerably more print than they spend on any other Chinese tea, though this tea is not as popular – at least in the USA – as some others. The authors spend considerable effort trying to establish that there are actually two teas here: a lower-grade one known (including in China) as “Lapsang Souchong,” and a much higher-grade one known in China as Zhengshan xiaozhong. However, my understanding from tea-knowledgeable native Chinese friends is that in China and Taiwan, the usual view is instead that these are different grades (varying considerably in rarity and price) of a single tea, both of which are known by the name Zhengshan xiaozhong. And, despite their efforts, the authors did not get to see how these teas are made.

Chapter 5, “An Encyclopedia of Tea,” presents a series of half-page entries on thirty-one specific teas, including a couple of white teas, some Chinese and Japanese greens, a few oolongs and black teas (i.e. hongcha), a shu and a sheng pu’er, some scented teas, and a few others. The information provided for each tea includes origin, brewing recommendations, short descriptions, an even shorter indication of the flavor, etc., along with a picture of both the steeped liquor and dry leaf. This chapter, despite being pretty short and sketchy for something termed an “encyclopedia,” will probably be useful to people unfamiliar with the teas presented.

Chapter 6, “Brewing the Perfect Cup,” provides pretty detailed instructions and suggestions for buying and storing tea, for choosing water and for steeping. The chapter ends with a couple of pages describing professional tea tasting. While one might have quibbles with certain details, and the steeping descriptions are only for Western-style brewing (e.g., nothing here on gongfu steeping), there is a lot of useful information here. (For the authors’ description of gongfu steeping, see Chapter 7, p. 308.)

Chapter 7, “Tea Customs and Culture,” is the third longest chapter (around 56 pages). The chapter presents aspects of the tea culture of China, Japan, Europe (without Russia), the USA, the Russian Federation, Tibet and Morocco. Much of this chapter is actually bits and pieces of history. The longest sections by far are, not surprisingly, those on China and Japan. The chapter covers not only practices (styles of tea making, tea ceremonies, etc.), but also items like teapots, cups and other tea ware, samovars, and even sweets such as Japanese wagashi.

Chapter 8, “The Health Benefits of Tea,” is the mandatory contribution to the “tea and health” literature. Fortunately, and somewhat unexpectedly, given that the authors are also tea vendors, this chapter is for the most part a cautious – and cautionary – handling of the subject, emphasizing how tentative the current state of knowledge is about this subject. They conclude one section in this chapter with:
So, when it comes to tea, think tonic not curative, healthful collaborator not redeemer .... Drink tea to relax and connect with the spiritual nature of life’s simple pleasures. Enjoy the flavors and the subtle and not so subtle differences waiting to be discovered in the world of tea offerings, and should the rich doses of flavanoids [sic] in each cup of tea be determined to cure what ails you, you will be ahead of the curve. [p. 357]
One blot on an otherwise respectable chapter, in the section “Caffeine in Tea,” is the sidebar on p. 360, where the authors repeat (as always, with no citation) the usual Western tea industry myth regarding do-it-yourself caffeine reduction: “After thirty seconds of extraction, it is reasonable to expect a reduction in the caffeine content of black leaf tea by 50 to 70 percent.” Though the “50 to 70 percent” hedge may, charitably, be somewhat less wrong than the usual 80% claim, it is still wrong. See Nigel Melican's now-famous essay in CHA DAO on this subject for state-of-the-art information on this subject.

In Chapter 9, “Ethics in the Tea Trade,” the authors “explore several of the social and political aspects of tea production and marketing.” Not only is this rarely discussed in English-language tea books, in my experience: this book's is also by far the most extensive and detailed treatment of the subject I’ve seen. The chapter is divided into sections “Organically Grown Tea,” “Fair Trade,” and the “Ethical Tea Partnership.” Each section includes descriptions of the concepts, background, relevant regulations, agencies, and so on. If this chapter has a flaw, it is a perhaps too-rosy view of the actual situation of many tea estate workers; there is perhaps also a lack of discrimination between the situation of workers in former Euro/British “possessions” – who work on plantations, except in Kenya – and that of workers in most of East Asia, where tea is grown largely on family or “tribal” farms. Otherwise, this chapter is definitely a contribution to popular English-language tea literature.

Chapter 10: “Cooking with Tea,” is the authors’ – also now apparently obligatory – contribution to tea cuisine, providing ten or so recipes. If this kind of thing is of particular interest to you, you may find something useful here. In my opinion, it is the least significant chapter of the book; but it occupies only fifteen pages or so out of over 400.

The book ends with three appendix-like sections, plus an approximately eleven-page Index (which I didn’t use much, but had inconsistent results with when I did). “Buyer's Resources” lists a handful of online tea dealers (all USA dealers except Ten Ren), including the authors’ own two shops (Cooks Shop Here and Tea Trekker), but also excluding a number of well-known vendors. The “Glossary” is seven pages of “descriptive and explanatory terms associated with tea” (p. 396); this is somewhat idiosyncratically organized, but may be useful to some. The “Bibliography” lists two and a half pages of English-language print resources. There are no endnotes or footnotes.

The book is very nicely designed and laid out, with lots of sidebars, very nice typography, and a nice color picture on the dust jacket. This book is an exception to my observation that, in English-language tea books at least, there seems to be an inverse relation between many nice pictures and good information. There are lots of high-quality pictures – all or virtually all in color – throughout the book, many of them taken by the authors. In short, it’s a beautiful book.

The authors try hard to provide both wide and reasonably deep coverage of their subject. They’ve made extensive visits to tea areas in Asia, apparently multiple times (p. ix). The book has probably the most detailed information on the production process for various teas that I’ve seen (with the exception of Mike Petro’s pu’er site). There are various charts and tables and other figures scattered throughout, though there is no page-listing or index of these.

If the above is all you require from a tea book, stop here. Go out and buy it now, and you will probably be very happy.

However, if you want more from a tea book, especially one with the aspirations this one so evidently has, you may want to read on.


(To keep this part of the review from becoming too tedious, I’ve furnished -- on a separate page, provided by Our Gracious Host -- a list of 'Addenda et Corrigenda,' with additional information for those who share my concerns over this sort of thing.)

My criticisms of the book mostly fall into the following categories:
• To use the authors’ own word: sensibilities
• Poor organization and editing of the material
• Grossly inadequate historical coverage
• Romanization, translation and other terminological issues
• Miscellaneous

The text virtually never cites any source, however informally, so it’s usually impossible to know where questionable information has come from.


The authors say in the Preface, “We also offer our sensibilities regarding the complexity and intrigue of an ancient beverage in today’s fast-paced, modern world” (p. x). Unfortunately, my own sensibilities are daggers-drawn at odds with theirs.

One example epitomizes the problem (as well as some editing issues): “Had the Song stayed in power, or had the coarse Mongols not been their predecessors [sic], China mostly likely would have seen their evolving tea culture culminate into a glorious, formal, stylized tea ceremony” (p. 15). First, the Mongol Yuan dynasty was the successor to the Song. Second, there is no way to begin to know what would have happened if the Mongols hadn’t successfully invaded, and the Song dynasty had continued. Further, the Song did have formal tea ceremonies or rituals, as the authors themselves say on the same page: “... the elaborate tea rituals of the Song dynasty came to a swift and unfortunate halt....” Fourth, to call the Mongols “coarse” seems both extreme and ignorant. Worst of all, the core of this statement – that a “formal, stylized tea ceremony” is “glorious” – epitomizes a pretty extreme sort of orientalist, Asian-romanticizing viewpoint.

An even better example – which also illustrates the authors’ ignorance of Chinese characters (hanzi) – is the sidebar on the opening page of Chapter 8 (p. 351). This sidebar purports to deconstruct the Chinese character for tea, cha (茶), into three individually meaningful parts. For brevity, I will quote only the concluding sentence: “The sum of this character's elements creates the Chinese pictorial for tea as, 'The revered plant that sustains man in his situation on earth.’” This is both wrong and a kind of trap, a trap the authors dove headfirst into precisely because of their orientalist sensibility: they want this to be true. This kind of thing drives Chinese language experts (and many knowledgeable native speakers) up the wall. Relatively few modern Chinese characters are constructed in anything like the way this sidebar describes, and cha is definitely not one of them. The authors evince no knowledge of the usage-history of the character tu (荼) as distinct from that of the character cha (茶). The latter didn’t even exist until the Tang (perhaps mid-eighth century), and was clearly created by a slight modification to the tu character, possibly even by Lu Yu himself. See, in my review of Mair/Hoh, the paragraphs on “Chapter 2”, and especially see Appendix “C” in Mair/Hoh, particularly the section entitled “Writing” (p. 264).

This orientalist sensibility pops up throughout the book. And it was completely unnecessary: the authors’ information on tea is generally good and plentiful, and the book is beautiful. Trying to make tea and Asian tea culture and tea history into something romantic and exotic is a serious – and typically Western – misrepresentation of both. (For more, see "Addenda et Corrigenda" under "Sensibilities.")


While the appearance and layout of the book are beautiful, the actual editing leaves something to be desired. While there are errors of the type one would hope a copy-editor would catch, a few of these will usually sneak through even in the most carefully and rigorously edited book, at least in its first printing. But, while some of these are fairly blatant, there is a worse problem. The book’s organization is rather ... disorganized.

Though there is a chapter on history, there is historical material scattered over multiple other chapters, especially in Chapters 4 and 7.There is no history of Korea in Chapter 1, but some 3.5 pages of Korean history in Chapter 4 (p. 187). There are almost half as many pages of Chinese history in Chapter 7 as there are in the 'history' chapter (Chapter 1), and more pages of Japanese history in Chapter 7 than in Chapter 1.

One could adduce many more examples (see "Addenda et Corrigenda" under "Organization and Editing"), but that’s enough for the moment. The overall impression one draws from this lack of sensible organization is that the book is rambling and repetitive. Yet if there had been a decent editing phase, it would have been reasonably easy to consolidate the wide-flung material into a much tighter, more cohesive whole.


The authors’ historical coverage in this book is unacceptably cursory, given the book’s size, and given that it has the word “history” in its subtitle. Chapter 1 barely qualifies as even an overview of the history of tea. Even if you add in the perhaps roughly-equal number of pages of history scattered throughout the other chapters of the book, the result is an inadequate body of material, much of it driven by the same orientalist, romantic view discussed earlier.

While the authors shouldn’t be criticized for not doing something they didn’t intend to do, we can evaluate how useful what they did do is. The history coverage in this book is not worthy of it, and does not compare with the breadth and depth of coverage the authors give to other areas of tea. (For more, see "Addenda et Corrigenda" under "History.")

Language and terminology

There is no evidence in the book -- or on the authors' website -- that either of them speaks any version of Chinese, or any other East Asian (or South Asian) language. They list no Asian language sources in the bibliography. As with many English-only tea writers (and tea vendors), the author’s Chinese romanization is often faulty and/or inconsistent. The translations they provide, usually of names, are often “iffy” if not flat-out wrong.

One of the most blatant translation mistakes is in the title of the “Black Tea” section (p. 84), where the Chinese term “qi hong” is used as the translation for “Red Tea”; the correct pinyin for “red tea” is hongcha, whereas qihong refers specifically to the Keemun/Qimen variety of hongcha. The authors repeat this error in another section title on page 127 (where they use the spelling “Qihong” [no space]), yet they themselves provide the correct pinyin for “red tea” in the same section at the bottom of p. 127.

Another example of faulty translation: they repeatedly translate the name of the Wuyi oolong dahongpao (which they spell as Da Hong Pao) as “Royal Red Robe” (see e.g. pp. 144, 146, 263). This, again, is simply wrong. In this context, da (大) means (and in this context is almost always translated as) “big,” or possibly “great” -- thus: “Big Red Robe.” There is no way to get anything like “royal” from it. Just because a few other tea vendors also make such a mistake doesn’t mean it should be repeated in a reference work like this. And many tea vendors do correctly translate this tea name. (For more, see "Addenda et Corrigenda" under "Romanization, Translation, Terminology.")

Book Dedication

The book is dedicated to William H. Ukers: “You blazed the trail and in your footsteps we all follow.” Ukers’ 1935 All About Tea was apparently long considered by some (at least in the USA) to be a sort of standard reference or “bible” for tea, and especially for the American tea industry; though why an “industry” whose business for many decades was to serve up the lowest-quality tea fannings and dust, in the cheapest possible tea bags, to a small minority of the American population, needed a standard reference is a mystery to me. The obvious questions, on seeing this dedication, are: a) what “trail,” and b) who is “we all”? This dedication is typically overreaching, unless by “trail” the authors simply mean “writing tea books,” and by “we” they mean only “American laowai.” I doubt if even Europeans would want to be included in that “we all,” and I imagine the East Asian tea industry would laugh at the whole idea. One could also be forgiven for thinking this dedication might indicate greater ambitions than the authors openly indicate.

Tea Categories

One last issue that struck me as problematic is the initial section of Chapter 3, on the “six classes” of tea. The authors first describe supposedly existing classification schemes, then propose one of their own, which I believe is somewhat faulty (though better than the straw-man system they claim is “still popular today”). For fuller discussion, see "Addenda et Corrigenda" under "Tea Categories."


To sum up, let’s first consider the book on the authors' own terms, as presented in the citation at the beginning of this review. Do the authors achieve the goals they set out for themselves? I would answer with a rather qualified “yes.” The book contains a mass of information, which the authors gathered in part through research and in part through multiple visits to tea farms, plantations and factories in East and South Asia, talking extensively with relevant personnel to learn tea growing and production processes. Thus, they do present “information and knowledge that we have garnered trekking along the tea trail to our interested readers,” and they do provide "in-depth information and understanding about processes that many people have written about.” Whether they successfully “give readers the behind-the-scenes information about the life rhythms and works cycles in a tea village or factory” is less clear, but they do try. And they do all this in a beautiful, easy-to-read package.

Then why the “qualified yes”? Because we ought also to consider how effectively and efficiently the authors go about their business. Here the authors do not score nearly as well. The book is poorly organized and would have benefitted a lot from much more thorough editing. As mentioned earlier, this makes the book seem rambling and repetitive, which among other things makes it harder than it should be to find things you want, or that you remember reading somewhere, thus harming its usability, thus reducing its usefulness.

Further, I couldn’t avoid the occasional impression that the authors were showing off a little, with their constant presentation of foreign language names – mostly Chinese – as well as the kind of foreign-language terms that few people except certified tea heads are going to care about or remember. However, I am one of those certified tea heads, I do care, and I think that if you are going to show off your knowledge, you’d best get it right. And here the authors also fall down on the job. Their romanization of Chinese is often wrong or inconsistent, and their translations of names and terms are often either wrong or at best dubious. The authors would have been better leaving this kind of thing out if they couldn’t do it better than they did.

Finally, their inadequate, sanitized history of tea does a disservice, both to the book as a reference, and to their readers; and their pervasive – and so typically Western – tendency to view Asian tea and tea culture in an exotic light distorts and undermines their presentation.

So, do I recommend the book? If you have the money and inclination to buy more than one tea book, I would say “yes.” There is plenty of good stuff here. But when you buy this book, also get as many of those I’ve mentioned (or others) as you can. If you really only want one book, I would have a hard time giving The Story of Tea more than a very half-hearted recommendation.

~~~~~ · ~~~~~

Acknowledgements: I would again like to thank – with the usual admonition that all errors, misinterpretations, etc. are most definitely mine alone – the following for their help while I was writing this review: corax and MarshalN. As before, either of these worthies would be far more qualified to review this book than I am, but again, they left it to me. I would also like to thank K. Dodgson, V. H. Mair, and Lew Perin for their time and help – also with the usual “the bad stuff is all mine” admonition. Finally, special extra thanks to Lew Perin for the ever-valuable labor of love that is BABELCARP – what would we monoglot laowai do without it?


Anonymous said...

First of all, I would like to express my deep admiration and happiness to see someone so thoroughly take down Orientalism in the tea industry. Especially when it is 2010 and put forth by people who trade on this notion of enlightened world-traveled tea sages (the authors of the book). So happy to see that. Having just been to the World Tea Expo I realize a certain amount of Orientalism is almost inevitable to how the tea industry in how the tea manufacturing world is structured and how tea is marketed and sold in America (such as staging photos of tea pickers wearing more photo friendly coordinated minority costumes while picking)--which is of course unfortunate and really upsetting. So I'm glad to see tea enthusiasts like yourself calling it out.

Anyways, bravo again for doing such a thorough dissection of the book, combing it for inaccuracies, and calling the writers out on ridiculous Orientalist claims (like that whole thing about "coarse Mongols" and the possibility of a highly refined and glamorous tea ceremony preserved since the Song dynasty in China--made me cringe reading it. Which anyways, that claim doesn't make sense because what, did they think their romanticized notion of a highly rarefied tea ceremony was going to survive the cultural revolution anyways?)

Austin Hodge said...

I would like to comment in support of Mary Lou and Robert Heiss's book. In 2009 we gave a couple of copies to tea scholars at the Chinese International Tea Culture Institute Research Center in Hangzhou to evaluate. I am an honorary directer at the institute and I wanted get their opinions. They responded that the Heiss's book demonstrated a level of knowledge about tea and tea culture that had surprised them even if they did not agree with many details. As is the typical response in Chinese culture they were appreciative that Americans would take to time and interest in studying aspects of Chinese Culture.

It seems to me to be a bit absurd for Westerners to be accusing other Westerners of oriental-ism, and said with such a tone as if it equated to racism. Here is what Wikipedia has to say case people don't understand what it means.

Having been a student of Chinese tea and tea culture for many years I can testify to doing research in China is very difficult, and no Westerner some away with a clear understanding. In fact Chinese Culture in not so much interested in establishing a clear understanding as is defined in the West. Chinese Culture cultivates ambiguity rather than fact, and research that strives for the establishment of fact in China will always end up frustrated.It doesn't matter how well a Westerner can speak Chinese or read Chinese, still we can't be more than orientalists.

I think it to be regrettable that the conversations that occur on the internet can be so disrespectful facilitated by remaining anonymous and personally unaccountable for their own opinions socially.

The Heiss's are not charlatans nor should they be dismissed because they are also tea merchants. I have never known them to present themselves as 'tea sages' though there are quite a few Americans that do. They did a respectable job, as judged by the Chinese scholars. Writing a book is hard work and they also supplied most of the photographs. As any tea scholar knows, tea and tea culture is a very dense subject. It is a very hard area of study. It certainly can not be learned by reading blog posts and newsgroup chats, although the conversations online add significantly to the sophistication of tea enthusiasts.

In my opinion, through both of their books, they have raised the bar for tea literature, even if there are points of disagreement. Their work deserves respect.

DougH said...


Thanks very much for your comments. I'm glad you're reasonably satisfied with what I tried to do and how I did it.

Your mention of staging tea photos is interesting. I too have seen many that practically screamed "staged".

I will say, however, that I don't remember seeing any such photos in the Heiss and Heiss book. Their many photos seemed pretty realistic (to me, at least, FWIW).

Thanks again for the kind words.


Matts said...

Do you have a recommendation for a tea history book that outdoes this one?

DougH said...


If you are specifically looking for a tea history book, then I mentioned a number in the "Addenda et Corrigenda" page:, under "History". Mair/Hoh is best overall world tea history book that I know of, but the others are good at least for South Asian / European tea history.


MarshalN said...

@Austin: I have not read Heiss' book in detail as Doug has done. I can safely say, however, that the response you got from the folks at the tea institute in Hangzhou is indicative of the reservation they have about the book. It is very unlikely that they will tell you the book is bad, even if they thought so, especially since you're an honourary director of the institute there. The fact that they mentioned they disagreed with details in the book can be read both ways.

As for the issue of Orientalism, I would say that Heiss' treatment of certain subjects certainly reflect such sentiments that are, as the first anonymous poster also mentioned, quite prevalent in the tea industry in the United States. Also, talking about the Mongols as "coarse", for instance, is simply quite unacceptable, not for political correctness but because it is false. The Mongols did not build a world empire just by being barbarians.

The Heiss' effort is certainly commendable, but I don't think simply having published a book means the authors should automatically be accorded respect. Respect is earned through effort, sure, but also through quality, and there are a number of problems that Doug highlighted that calls into question the veracity of the information in the book. The quality of information in a printed book is not necessarily any higher than those that appear in blogs, and your instant dismissal of blog or other online materials is curious for its lack of "respect" for the authors of said articles. For example, when there are simple romanization mistakes for tea names, especially in a printed book, the ultimate result is further confusion among readers who do not have access to Chinese sources. These are not matters of interpretation that are up for debates; they are matters of fact that need to be corrected. This book certainly appears to have a number of these problems, and as such, I wonder why it is wrong for Doug to highlight the problems that he sees.

Austin Hodge said...

@Marshall I have been close friends with the people at the institute for many years, and feel we have had many honest and open conversations. My point is that they found it to be a respectable effort. The tea research community in China is steeped in controversy that is part of the process that is never likely to me to be resolved and is ever changing. I was honored for my contribution in the form of publishing a paper written by me, which was accepted not without controversy but with respect. They offered the same respectful acceptance to the Heiss book.

As far as the Mongol issue is concerned, you will not find anyone in China that believes that the Yuan Dynasty added anything to Chinese culture tea or otherwise. Whether or not having this opinion rises to the level of Orientalism as defined by Edward Said is something to be considered, unless you are saying the same thing about the Chinese themselves. Come on, the Mongols did conquer using some pretty barbarous tactics. If you have ever had any Mongolian tea, you might agree that it is pretty coarse. Chinese history is pretty hard since each dynasty rewrites it.

There are not consistent rules that are universally applied for writing Pinyin; Da Hong Pao, Dahongpao are commonly used. Taiwan and Hong Kong still don't use Pinyin. Yes, it is confusing. Do we call Taiwan oolong, or wulong? These are not black and white issues. Nor, are they, in my opinion, substantive.

Having spent a lot of time doing research inside of China, the mistakes that I have found in their book are mistakes commonly perpetrated by Chinese inside of China where Chinese people aren't anymore educated about the finer details of tea and tea culture. Tea vendors in China as you know are notorious for supplying inaccurate information. Nothing as egregious as James Norwood Pratt claiming that white tea has no chlorophyll, and he is rightly treated with respect for his contributions. The Mair/Hoh book fails to identify the outlawing of cake tea by Ming Hong Wu in 1392 bringing an end to powdered tea in China and gave birth to all of the tea making techniques in use today. That's a pretty big thing to miss- still, their book is excellent nonetheless.

I gave no instant dismissal to either blog or other online materials, nor did I compare the writing to books, in fact I acknowledged the value of online discourse. Let's not forget that I have been a blogger for many years myself and hope that my company and I have contributed to that discourse. I have read their book and found it to be pretty good, and I like their newer book even more, even though it was a much smaller book.

I was not criticizing Doug for having written the review, I was writing in defense of the Heiss's work, which in my opinion has been noteworthy. I disagreed with the tone of the review, and it was clear that he put a lot of work into it, but really I have never read a book review that took issue with the book's dedication.

I hope that you read their books and see if you still feel the same way. I subscribe to your blog and am looking forward to your opinion.

DougH said...

Mr. Hodge,

Thanks for your extensive response. It's unclear whether all of your comments are directed at my review, or if some are directed at the first commenter, so I apologize if I’ve misunderstood anything.

It is interesting that you are one of the earliest commenters, as I was just discussing with someone a few days ago the difference between the Heiss/Heiss handling of tea information and details compared to the - in our view - greater rigor and accuracy of the Seven Cups website.

I'm sure your friends in Hangzhou were impressed with the Heiss/Heiss book. I imagine they know or have heard that the general level of tea knowledge in the USA is less than pathetic, and Heiss and Heiss obviously know a lot and have been to China (and other tea areas) multiple times, as I pointed out.

It is, of course, totally legitimate for Westerners to recognize and point out orientalist (or "exoticist" or whatever similar term one prefers) attitudes in other Westerners, in the same way it's entirely legitimate for Westerners to recognize and point out racist remarks or assumptions or ethnocentric attitudes or "ugly American" behavior or similar undesirable attributes of fellow Westerners. I never said Heiss and Heiss were racist, nor do I think that, nor did I say or imply they were charlatans nor did I dismiss them because they are tea merchants - if I had, I wouldn't even have read, much less reviewed, their book.

I'm not sure what relevance your comments in your third paragraph on research in China has to the review. The book has, in fact, lots of hard facts about tea and its growing and manufacturing and that is one of its greatest strengths. Apparently, despite my best efforts, I didn't get across in the review what I meant by "orientalism," as you seem to be talking about something completely different. I'm referring to what I call the author's "sensibility" or attitude or approach, their "it's so glorious, it's so breath-taking, it's so exotic, it's so ritualistic and ceremonial, it's just so darn Asian" mentality. This sensibility is what I find to be disrespectful - both of those cultures and of the book's readers. By their deliberate transformation of the quotidian - of tea production and especially tea drinking - into something mysterious, something that is Other, something that can't be understood by "us", they grossly misrepresent the everyday realities of tea production and tea drinking in East and South Asia.

I would agree that they have raised the bar in some respects for English-language tea literature (though I imagine that those familiar with Chinese, Japanese or Korean tea literature would not be so impressed if judging the book against their own standards), but then, that was not the highest bar around to start with. The authors most definitely did not raise the bar in other respects, such as tea history, or demonstrating consistent and correct romanization for and translation of Chinese tea names and terms, or being consistent in applying regional terminology or process descriptions only to the regions to which it applies, or of presenting in a coherent, well-organized manner the large amount of interesting information they had to offer. These aspects of the book could have and should have been done much better.

I also agree that writing a book - especially one this size - is hard work, and I agree the author's have provided lots of good information, and I agree the authors have provided lots of their own excellent photographs - and I said all this in the review.

Because of a length limitation in the Blogger software, I’m continuing this in the next comment.

DougH said...

Continued from the previous comment (because of a length limitation in the Blogger software).

While you made a number of very general, abstract points, and mentioned how other people liked the book, you didn't actually point out any mistakes in the review, or even make any specific reference to it at all. As far as I can tell, all you've really done is object to anyone having any objections to the book.

The world does not need another pat-on-the-back review of this book. It's been out for three years, to mostly favorable reviews, as I said in the text. It would be a waste of everybody's time, starting with that of the master of this blog, if that's all I wanted to do. It would also be doing a serious disservice to the readers of this blog, because that isn't what they are interested in. If someone is only interested in superficial, rosy, "good job" articles, they can go to the authors' own web site and read all the positive reviews there. A 400 page book deserves a serious effort to dig into it and find the positive and the negative. From your comments, one might think I trashed the book from start to finish, and that is manifestly false. I did my best to point out what was good, as well as what was bad. Nor do I think I was disrespectful, nor would CHA DAO blogmeister corax allow that. If I had quoted in the review all of the comments I got from Chinese language experts about such stunts as the bogus deconstruction of cha (茶), Master corax would have likely started running short of virtual blue ink.

And, finally, how is it that a substantial review that is part laudatory, part neutral and part critical gets counted as being "disrespectful", while 2-3 paragraph gee-whiz reviews - some of which could have been written without even reading the book - are considered as simply the authors' due?


DougH said...

Well, talk about electrons crossing in the net void! As is hopefully clear, my reply is to Mr. Hodge's first post, not the one he posted just a few minutes before mine. I apologize for not posting this earlier, but I have a day job which prevented me from posting my reply in a more timely manner. Then I too had a problem with Blogger, with the comment limit, which it doesn't tell you about until after you've written or pasted your comment! When I first started to insert my response, Mr. Hodge's second comment wasn't there, and when I finally got it all done, there was his new comment, and here I am feeling a little foolish!

While Mr. Hodge's second post is mostly to MarshalN, I do want to point out that Mair/Hoh does in fact mention the "outlawing of cake tea by Ming Hong Wu", on the first page of Ch. 9, in the first sentence (p. 110).


Austin Hodge said...

Thanks for the kind words about our site. Thank you also to the reference in Mair/Hoh book. My point was not that they didn't mention the event so much as the impact that it had on the tea industry that took 150 years to recover, but gave us frying and baking in various combinations and eventually wulong, black, and white tea. It also facilitated the ability for tea to be consumed by common people. This quote is from your review of their book which I very much agree with.

"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."

I don't think anyone is going pay anyone for a long time to publish the book that would satisfy the dedicated readers of Cha Dao with the depth of information that you are perhaps you are talking about. From my prospective anyone that raises the bar at all deserves respect. I'm not saying review that by any means lacked substance, and I found it to be on balance a very positive review, and some of what I was saying in my first comment was direct more at comments, and where things can go in general online.

You clearly put a lot a lot of work and thought into your reviews. You have no reason to feel foolish.

MarshalN said...

@Austin: I'm a professional historian who studies China, and I'm Chinese myself. I do not study the Mongols, but I can say with great certainty that just because the Chinese now (and then) view the Mongols as coarse barbarians doesn't mean that they were. They were far from it, and the Chinese tendency to view them as nothing more than a bunch of good horse riders who conquered China through sheer force is just self delusion that makes themselves feel better about being conquered. A lot of what you see developed in Ming and later times came from the Mongols, be it in art, society, or politics, and we may also have the Mongols to thank for the wonderful variety of loose leaf teas that we now enjoy, something that may not have happened without the Mongol interruption. To assign such terms of derision on the Mongols is grossly simplifying what happened, and yes, I would apply that term without hesitation to any Chinese who does so as well.

As for romanization -- it doesn't matter what system you use -- pinyin, wade-giles, etc, but it must be applied consistently. If you use oolong in one paragraph and wulong two pages later, the only thing it does is to confuse the reader who does now know that they are, in fact, the same thing. Since the Heiss' have applied, generally, pinyin romanization, then they should stick with it and not use anything that will deviate from that spelling. That's all I ask, and that is indeed black and white.

Stephane said...

I haven't read the book. But I would like to contribute some points to the discussion:

- The Mongols may have been barabaric in their wars, but they made contributions to the tea culture. They liked the blue sky and white clouds, which is why the Qinghua pottery developed during the Yuan dynasty (while it started during Tang). A wonderful example are their cups. Here a good replica:

- Spending several pages on Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong is OK. It is the first red tea. Its smoking technique with pine wood is special. And it's, in my opinion, the best red tea, if one can obtain the genuine leaves. There is indeed a different name for top grade Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong: Zhun Mei (often preceded by Jin for gold or yin for silver). It is made with buds. However, chances to purchase a genuine version of this tea are even lower.

DougH said...


Thanks for your input.

I really like the higher-end ZSXZ myself, so I didn't mind the extended coverage of it. I was just curious why the authors chose to spend so much more print on it that almost any other tea of any type. Maybe they really like it too!

I've also tried some of the yin junmei you mentioned. It's very different from and much milder than even the high grades of the regular ZSXZ, and I didn't like it much - it just didn't seem to have much character.


Stephane said...


There's a lot of hype around Yin/Jin Jun Mei and therefore also a lot of faking. I even heard of a friend of a friend buying some from a farmer in WuYi, paying a small fortune (several dollars per gram) and when we tried it we found out it was not genuine.

(And if I ever attempt to write a tea book in english, I'll send it to you for editing BEFORE publishing!)

Anonymous said...


Part one of two

I just clicked on Cha Dao in hopes of finding a new posting and was pleasantly surprised by the thorough review of Heiss and Heiss by Doug H. Although I have not read the Story of Tea, I was interested to see its critique and the general conformation of my impression of Western writings on tea. As you know, I have recently been looking into the history of the introduction of tea to Europe, a subject that spans a period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and later. What I have found from my studies is that, historically speaking, the understanding of tea in the West was incremental, a gradual illumination of the plant and leaf as a botanical, beverage, and medicinal. In this light, the tea book by Heiss and Heiss represents yet another stepping stone across a broad, historical stream. The metaphor of the tea as flowing water is apt insofar as every attempt to elucidate the tradition – a stone on which to step and thus understand tea more fully – can only traverse a discrete span of the tradition but cannot encompass its entirety. It is a dilemma every writer on tea of any generation or culture must face. Luckily for us, none has quailed, and we carry on.

As you know, my initial interest in the Western side of tea was the curious word tsiology, a neologism meaning the study of tea. As I delved into the etymological roots of tsiology, I was confronted with a formidable body of words that European languages devised to respresent cha and te, the Cantonese/Mandarin and Amoy pronunciation of the ideograph 茶. It is from this peculiar vantage point that I observe that much of the contemporary confusion about the identification and spelling of words for tea and their many forms can be traced to transcriptions and romanizations by numerous European writers in various Western languages prior to and during the seventeeth century, a period before dictionaries when spelling was quite inconsistant and variable. Later ruminations on Chinese teas like Bohea, Lapsang souchong, Singlo, Oolong, etc. still bear the stamp of pidgeon, the singsong lingua franca of the Chinese hong merchants and the supercargoes of the East India Company. From an historical point of view, today’s use and abuse of pinyin or Wade-Giles, or any modern romanization system for Chinese is therefore merely a continuation of a perennial problem centuries old. Be that as it may, while non academicians might be conceded a lesser standard, consistancy of romanization ought nonetheless to be an avowed aspiration for any publication.

Continued in Part two

Steven D. Owyoung

Anonymous said...


Part two of two

The commentary to Doug H’s review dwelt at length on the Heiss’s unfortunate but common mistake concerning the Mongols and their cultural sophistication or perceived lack thereof. The tea of the Mongols and their successors the Manchu was every bit as sophisticated as the Song. And, although the milk tea of the steppes was favored at the Yüan and Qing courts, the quality of the tea was imperial in the fullest sense. One simply cannot imagine the likes of Khublai Khan or the Qianlong emperor settling for anything less. As for the tea tradition, the Mongol reign did not diminish the Chinese enthusiasm for the Song and variations of its style. Indeed, despite the abolition of caked tea by the Hongwu emperor in 1391 of the Ming dynasty, Song style tea continued to be practiced within the imperial family until the near mid fifteenth century. Inevitably, with the depleted stores of caked tea, even the staunchest Ming practitioner of Song style tea succumbed to the complete use of leaf tea.

As an avowed advocate of tea culture and its Chinese, Japanese, and Korean forms, I remain rather puzzled by the continued disregard for the Korean tea tradition. While I confess to have consciously sought out sources of Korean tea history, writings in English are numerous enough for other authors, particularly those who profess to write the story of tea, to attempt to pay homage to Korea and its rich history of the herb. In the electronic age, there is little excuse to ignore one of the great tea traditions of the Far East, especially when there are the online writings of Cha Dao, Brother Anthony of Taizé, Mattcha’s blog, et al. The continued emphasis on China as the original tea culture and the transmission of tea to Japan and the flourishing of chanoyu is understandable and readily reflected in the Western history of tea beginning in the sixteenth century. One needs only to read the European response to the Jesuit letter books from Nagasaki and the descriptions of tea, published by the Vatican, to realize that all of Europe was fascinated by the Japanese cult of tea. Yet, nigh on five hundred years later, it would seem reasonable that Korea deserves its place in the tea literature of the West.

A final remark on Doug H.’s review and the pointed and sometimes argumentative commentaries that followed: In the long European history of tea, it was hardly rare to see such passion expressed for such a humble herb and its dissertation. The denigration of tea by the German physician Simon Pauli in the seventeenth century is a true testiment to the great force of tea and the conflicting emotions that the leaf arouses. Nonetheless, it is altogether gratifying to see the relative civility of the exchange and the determined and knowledgeable commitment of all who have participated in what can only be described as a community of like minded people devoted to the understanding and promotion of the divine herb.

From one cup to another,

Steven D. Owyoung

Anonymous said...

One of the most remarkable aspects of this review is that, although the author is not a Sinologist, he takes his Chinese tea terminology very seriously, and has obviously gone to extraordinary lengths to get it right. Not only does he strive to ensure that the names of Chinese teas and their English translations are correct, he expends tremendous energy to use proper romanizations, sensibly opting for Hanyu Pinyin for, in the author's words, "the foreseeable future." This is most unusual in a world of Western tea experts who display little respect for the languages with which they deal. Not everyone has the time or reason to be a philologist, but at least they should demonstrate consistency and make a minimal effort to set things right with their terminology.

I particularly recommend that readers of Cha Dao not overlook the Addenda et Corrigenda, which are linked at several places from within the second half of the review:

I also encourage you to at least take a look at all of the links provided by the reviewer, especially in the Addenda et Corrigenda, for you will find some amazing things in them.

There are so many aspects of this review I admire that I could go on for pages more, but I will close with just three additional observations. The first is that, although the reviewer is obviously a highly dedicated aficionado of tea, especially East Asian tea, not only does he resist the impulse to indulge in Orientalism and exoticism, he is sharply critical of them. This is evident, for example, in the way he cuts through all the nonsense about Chinese characters pertaining to tea that sends less sober enthusiasts into ecstatic, mystical raptures. The second is that the reviewer firmly adheres to a passionate defense of tea workers without in the slightest romanticizing them; he strongly defends their interests, but not from an elevated PC position of noblesse oblige, rather through identifying with them. This leads him to some very sharp remarks about tea plantations in India, the likes of which I have never before encountered: terse, yet trenchant. The third (and I could mention many others, but choose to relate this one because it is so totally unexpected) is that the reviewer quickly disposes of William H. Ukers' book, which is usually regarded as a sort of bible of tsiologists. Indeed, I myself had partially fallen under the spell of All about Tea, without really knowing why, yet I always had an uncomfortable feeling when reading it that Ukers was a tool of industry, not a genuine lover or true scholar of tea. The reviewer's comments on Ukers are devastating without being vicious.

Before reading this review and the previous review in Cha Dao by the same author, I never dreamed that I would encounter critical scholarship of this caliber on the history and culture of tea, because I never imagined that anyone would care enough to invest the necessary time and energy to equip himself with the requisite skills and knowledge. Little did I realize that tea does matter sufficiently to at least one intelligent reviewer that he felt compelled to carry out the necessary historical and linguistic research to write such impressive reviews as these two.

DougH's review of the Heisses' The Story of Tea is honest and impartial, informative and enlightening. I for one am most grateful to him for having written it and look forward to other offerings from him in the future. I am sure that they will be equally valuable. Don't expect something to appear from him soon, however, for this kind of writing takes a tremendous amount of time and energy.

All in all, a learned, literate assessment. We can be grateful to the reviewer for having written it.

DougH said...

Mr. Owyoung,

Thanks very much for your comments and information.

I, too, am somewhat puzzled by the lack of coverage of Korea. One reason I've heard is that tea was suppressed or discouraged during much of the Joseon/Yi dynasty (1397 to somewhere around the beginning of the 20th C.), thus there actually isn't much Korean tea history during most of that time. I've also heard that, as a result, contemporary Korean tea culture is really a recreation based in some considerable part on the classical writings that niisonge wrote about here earlier this year (, classical writings that are mostly relatively recent (1800's).

However, I'm totally ignorant of Korea, and have no idea if there is any truth to this picture. I also have no idea how popular tea historically was in Korea outside of the court and the monasteries that seem to have kept it alive for so long. I'm sure CHA DAO readers would appreciate more articles from you (and niisonge!) on these or related issues - I know I would.


DougH said...


I'm assuming you are a different Anonymous from the first commenter. If not, my apologies for any misunderstandings.

Thanks very much for your comments. I truly wish I were worthy of them! As I mentioned to the first Anon. commenter, I'm glad you're satisfied with what I tried to do and how I did it. I particularly appreciate your favorable notice of the small section in the review on tea workers.

Whether I will do more reviews is partly up to the amount of free time I have, and partly up to corax and his publishing desires and needs. As you allude to, this review was far more effort than I imagined before I started (or I might not have started!).


Anonymous said...


Part one of two

I understand some of the explanations given for the neglect of the history of Korean tea. Unfortunately, the excuses reflect the broader position of the Western academic establishment during the latter twentieth century during which the pursuit of Korean history, language, and culture were unsupported by faculty, curricula, or funding. Since the economic rise of South Korea, the situation has improved due in part to state and corporate funding from Seoul. Yet, despite ample evidence of peninsula’s historical and pivotal role as an innovative receptor, preserver, and transmitter of Far Eastern culture, there remains an inexplicable and lingering delinquency regarding Korea, especially among those who are scholars of Asian tea, to say nothing of the serious non academicians.

But to address the concerns you raise about Korean tea, firstly, tea was not suppressed during the Yi dynasty. What was suppressed was the influence of the Koryŏ nobility and the Buddhist establishment to which the aristocrats were closely tied. The Confucian Yi dismantled the Buddhist hierarchy and closed the vast majority of the monasteries and temples throughout the country, leaving only a token number to ritually insure the secular and spiritual security of the state. Under the Koryŏ, Buddhism maintained a high level of tea in its monastic culture as ceremony, meditational aid, agricultural product, and social beverage. Moreover, the Koryŏ court incorporated tea into state ceremony, utilizing caked and powdered teas from China, taxing tea produced in the south, and developing celadons that rivaled the palace tea ceramics of Kaifeng and Hangzhou. Like the Koryŏ, the Yi purposefully institutionalized tea in its state rituals and bureaucracies, government and private academies, as well as among its scholar officials who comprised the literati. In lieu of indigenous tea, the Yi came to depend on tribute teas and imports directly from China. Buddhist tea was still practiced in the state temples and by the disbanded priesthood that fled into the southern mountains to live in small monkish communities and hermitages. Gradually, the habit of tea disappeared from common use By the late sixteenth century, tea was relegated to court ritual, and even the Korean king would deny drinking tea, saying to a Chinese imperial envoy, “Lord Yang…it is the custom of our country not to drink tea.” Even more drastic was the royal decree in the eighteenth century abolishing tea in state ceremonies; wine or mere water would be substitituted. But tea did not totally vanish. The monks in the south still clung to the belief that “Zen and tea were one and the same,” that “the taste of tea is the taste of Zen,” that the ideals of the leaf were realized in their cultivation, production, and drinking of tea. Inspired by a few Zen priests, the literati and temple revival of tea began in the nineteenth century and continues to this day. The story of Korean tea is long and illustrious, salted with intriguing encounters with its neighbors China and Japan, and peppered with vivid and profoundly moving characters. Surely, it is a tale worth telling.

Continued in Part two

Steven D. Owyoung

Anonymous said...


Part two of two

Secondly, historically speaking, China was perhaps the only country where tea was universally enjoyed by all strata of society at any point in time. In most other places, the populace had to wait their turn for tea. From the Tang dynasty onward, tea was transmitted from China to elsewhere as a high cultural pursuit and as imperial and court tribute and a costly luxury. In Korea and Japan, tea was the purview of renowned Buddhist monks and their aristocratic patrons. Only when tea was cultivated and produced on monastic and other private lands did tea finally reach the common man. In Europe, imported tea was so rare and expensive, only nobility and the wealthy could afford to buy and drink it. As the Dutch and then the English promoted tea with cheap prices and cheaper grades, only then did tea, along with sugar, became the stimulant of the masses, ultimately powering the Industrial Revolution. With commercial tea production in Asia, South Asia, Africa, and South America, tea is available and used world wide as a popular phenomenon.

Thirdly, contemporary Korean tea follows a pattern similar to the modern tea movements of other Asian cultures, and likewise is based on economic growth. After World War II, tea was generally seen as an export product, but in the seventies through the nineties as Asian middle classes grew financially secure enough to pursue cultural activities, tea culture flourished. In today’s world, popular tea culture sustains high tea culture, but as your review shows, enthusiasm, however knowledgeable, oftentimes obscures and hinders. Still, a surfeit of tea literature is preferable to a dearth, and even Western writing on Korean tea is making slow and steady progress.

Steven D. Owyoung

Matt said...

Steven D. Owyoung and Doug,

Firstly, one would like to praise this review and the following commentary. Forums like this raise the bar for upcoming information on tea, continually push for even higher standards when presenting knowledge on tea, and suggest subjects in the world of tea that are lacking and worthy of future research and presentation.

One such area is Korean tea history and culture.

Secondly, one would like to partly defended Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss when it comes to the lack of Korean content in their book. You have to remember that this book was published in 2007. Mattcha's Blog started up in early 2008, at that time a google search for "Korean Tea" would virtually come up with no relevant results in English. In 2007 the only English info online about Korean tea was Brother Anthony of Taize's pages and at that time they were much less detailed as they are now. There were also no English books on Korean tea, as there are today.

With English info on Korean tea that scarce, it is commendable that they even had a few pages about Korean tea, probably more than any other English book before 2007, which only have a few lines or paragraphs, in any info on Korean tea.

They did contact one a few years ago regarding Korean tea, history, and culture. Believe it was for their up coming book on teaware. Hopefully, they will take into consideration some of the criticism presented here and release an even better book. Chances are Korea will be much represented.

Thirdly, Steven D. Owyoung thanks for, as always, continuing to put out a wealth of information about Korea's too frequently overlooked tea culture. To add to your reasons of why tea culture in Korea has remained unnoticed throughout the world. One would also add that Joseon Dynasty's isolationist policies and the destruction of many historical (tea) documents during the Japanese and Manchurian invasions also are main reasons as to why much of the world has not heard much about Korea tea culture.


Anonymous said...

For those interested in a reference in English for Korean Tea, a good introduction is the special issue of Koreana: A Quarterly on Korean Art and Culture which features the following essays on Korean “Tea and Tea Culure”:

Koreana (Winter, 1997), vol.11, no 4, pp. 4-43.

“History and Philosophy of Korean Tea Art”
By Venerable Suk Yong-un

“Characteristics of Korean Tea Culture”
By Jung Young-sun

“The Poetry of Tea”
By Chung Min

“Tea Ceremony and Implements”
By Choi Ha-rim

“Teas and Their Medicinal Effects”
By Yu Tae-jong

“Korea's Contemporary Tea Culture”
By Park Hee-jun

The essays are available online as a back issue of Koreana journal.

On a personal and professional note, the essays prepared me for a trip to South Korea in 2000 under the auspices of the Korea Foundation and its Annual Workshop for Curators of Korean Art. On that trip, Brother Anthony of Taizé and Mr. Hong Hyeung-Hee provided many memorable experiences of Korean tea and its flourishing culture.

Steven D. Owyoung

DougH said...


Thanks for your comments and information. I have heard that the various invasions had resulted in serious cultural destruction. It is always good to keep information like that in mind, as those of us in countries that have never suffered significant invasion, occupation or war damage often can't even comprehend how destructive those can be.

With the likes of you and Steven Owyoung around, we can all hope to see more Korean tea information and history in the future.


Matt said...

Doug & Steven,

For easy reference for readers here is the link to that Koreana Issue:

This statement by Steven D. Owyoung seemed to stick in ones mind:

"The story of Korean tea is long and illustrious, salted with intriguing encounters with its neighbours China and Japan, and peppered with vivid and profoundly moving characters. Surely, it is a tale worth telling."

One started to think, "Sure it is a tale worth telling but can it be told?". How many stories of Korean Tea are actually still out there in Chinese or Korean or maybe even Japanese print? Surely not that many?

Young Ho Lee, in the English book "Ch'oui Uisun" (ISBN:978-0-89581-968-0) by Jain Publishing lists a fairly condensed list of historical records that mention Korean tea (pages 267-273).

First he translates some of the first mentions of Korean tea from the Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) and Samguk yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms). Then he goes on to list 9 historical figures from the Shilla dynasty (668-935), some famous monks, famous scholars, and royalty that have left personal writings about tea or that include records of famous people consuming tea.

He mentions that the Koreo Dynasty (918-1392) kings were active in the way of tea and mentions 6 specifically. He then mentions 2 eminent monks during the Koreo period that were considered great tea masters. He goes on to say that there are records of 6 famous poems that mention or are specifically about tea from this era and there is also a Song Chinese record about how Korea made and served tea as well as statements on Korean culture.

He mentions 4 poems that have survived from teamasters of the Choson Period (1392-1897) that predate Ch'oui Uisun's works (although these are just the popular pieces- there are at least a few more).

All in all, there aren't that many records of Korean tea, most of these one is quite familiar with. It seems that they could almost be divided into either Korean historical records with mention of tea, Korean historical figures who appreciate tea, Korean Diplomacy and government deportment involving tea, and tea poems. With that said, a book featuring Korean tea poems and the authors/tea master that composed them would be a real treasure (hint).

In "Ch'oui Uison" on page 273: "Although there was a considerable amount of literature which simply mentioned the writer's appreciation of tea or described a situation in which tea appeared, there was no single monographic text about tea in Korea until Ch'oui's works."

Young Ho Lee then goes on to translate Tasinjon and Tongdasong in their entirety as well as translating other minor mentions of tea in Ch'oui's poems and writings as well as other mentions of Ch'oui and tea.

This just goes to show you that although there is some Korean tea writing the pickings are slim.

While one writes these words a copy of "Korean Tea Classics" is sitting on the desk- thanks for this wonderful book. Hopefully there will be more to come in the near future.