The Book of Japanese Tea by Per Oscar Brekell
I first made the acquaintance of Per Oscar Brekell after several tea friends met him on a tea tour to Japan. We have yet to meet in person as my work schedule seems to disagree whenever he visits New York. When I heard that he was publishing a tea book that was in both Japanese and English, I just knew that I had to order it. Finding a place where I could find it was another story but thankfully Oscar shared directions for ordering on Facebook. Stay tuned at the end of the review for a quick guide to getting a copy of your own!
This is a slim volume, at just 96 pages, but don’t let that fool you. It is jam packed with information. Oscar starts the book by defining Japanese tea and explaining the volatile compounds that cause us to experience aromas in tea. This is something I’m seeing discussed in tea books more and more lately and I am very glad to see it. When I first got into tea, I don’t think anyone in the west even really knew of the existence of these compounds or their roles.
He then dives into the different types of Japanese teas. There is a handy flow chart that shows how the teas are classified and how they relate to each other. There is so much more to Japanese tea than sencha and he does a great job of briefly describing each of them. The insights into how aracha is processed is very useful, especially for those that are just starting to learn. Most tea books that I’ve read did not mention much more than the steaming of the leaves. Blending and tea evaluation are also given their due.
The part of this book that really grabbed my attention was the lineage of selected Japanese cultivars. It basically gives us a family tree of some of the most common Japanese cultivars. It is even color coded for taste and flavor characteristics. Nerdy tea charts make me so happy! This is definitely not information that I have seen elsewhere, other than the writing of fellow tea blogger Ricardo at My Japanese Green Tea.
While I have some knowledge of Japan’s growing regions, the section on geography was really eye opening. Elevation is rarely discussed in relation to Japanese teas but Oscar shows a clear differentiation between tea grown in mountainous areas versus tea grown in flatter regions. Maps were very useful to me as a reader, enabling me to visualize a place that I have never been. The book is concluded with a requisite guide to brewing Japanese teas in various ways. I especially enjoyed the cold brewing directions and discussion of the RTD tea beverages that are so popular in Japan now.
Whether you are just getting started with Japanese teas or a hardened gyokuro addict, this book has something to offer everyone. I will definitely be adding this to my tea reference library, especially for the sections on cultivars and geography.
You can find this book on Amazon Japan here.
How to Order
When you first get to the Japanese version of Amazon, scroll down to the bottom and click on the globe icon. Change the language to English. You should then be able to check out as you usually would. You will need to sign up for a new account, even if you have a regular Amazon.com account. The book itself was about $14 after the exchange rate and shipping was just under $9. I could not believe how quickly it arrived to my home here in NJ. I’ve waited much longer for domestic packages from Amazon!