Monday, February 5, 2018

Book Review: A Social History of Tea


The history of the world is intimately tied to the history of tea. For those of us nerds who happen to love both, information tends to be gathered piecemeal. There are few comprehensive resources to feed our quest for knowledge and a lot of misinformation along the way. Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson are two people who definitely know their stuff so I was super excited to dig into this book.


The book starts out with a brief discussion of the origin of tea (Sheng Nong, et al.) but the main focus is on British and American tea history. I really love that the chapters are organized by century. This makes will make it super easy to find material for reference in the future. There are lots of photographs, illustrations, and paintings throughout that help to tell the story as well.

It's hard to make a huge amount of facts readable but the tone was pretty conversational throughout. Everything was very well researched and backed up by an extensive bibliography. There wasn't a lot of information that was necessarily new to me but I've been reading every book on tea that I could find for the last ten years. This book is an excellent resource, especially for those that are fairly new to tea and looking for historical context.

One thing that I don't think I've ever seen included in any book is the modern history of tea. The authors covered the founding of World Tea Expo, the release of James Norwood Pratt's Tea Dictionary, and more. This part is brief but its inclusion made me really happy. I doubt that a traditional publisher would be even understood the importance. Thankfully this tea book and many others are published by Benjamin Press (the publishing division of Bruce Richardson's company, Elmwood Inn Fine Teas).

As luck would have it, I bought this book out of necessity. I carried my copy of The New Tea Companion with me to Las Vegas for World Tea Expo 2016 so that I could get it signed by the authors. I was a bit heartbroken to find that I had somehow left in my hotel room. Bruce Richardson was selling copies of A Social History of Tea so I purchased one on the spot. Unfortunately, Jane Pettigrew wasn't able to attend that year but I'm so glad that I was able to meet Bruce and get this book signed. He was even kind enough to pose for a picture.