Tuesday, May 26, 2015

History and Mystery of an Ancient Addiction

Review: New Tea Lover’s Treasury by James Norwood Pratt


It was at Copia, that museum-like celebration of food, wine and California culture which at one time was to be found in Napa, California, that I first encountered James Norwood Pratt, the amiable author of the New Tea Lover’s Treasury. Pratt was there to speak about the cultural aspects of enjoying tea.

Instead, with an enthusiastic audience to encourage him, he began an extempore presentation about the history of tea and its impact on the world stage. Merchantilism, British Imperialism in China and India, Yankee Clippers and the beginnings of caffeine addiction all rose from the trade in this ancient plant, relative of the camellia.

The New Tea Lover’s Treasury is the printed version, with copious illustrations, of that engrossing presentation. Pratt’s expertise in tea trading, culture and history shines in every section of this book, from the introduction: 

Just as wine is the Christian sacrament, tea is the Taoist/Buddhist communion and its story illuminates all Asian life and culture, not to mention much else besides…

to the clipper races:
Regardless of the real quality, everybody who was anybody in England wanted to offer their guests a sample from the cargo of the year’s fastest and most famous ship… To the public at large, the excitement of the tea clipper races was rivaled only by the Derby.

to the end of Communist isolationism:
It was on Wednesday, 22 October 1958, exactly three hundred years after China tea had first been tasted in London… that China tea came under the hammer again in Mincing Lane and, for the first time, the producers themselves sold their tea in the West.

Pratt gives us a lucid view of tea history in the first half of the book. The second half is devoted to detailing the varieties of tea available today, and how to infuse and enjoy them. Whether your taste is for making and drinking tea, or reading about it, the New Tea Lover’s Treasury satisfies. I recommend reading it beside a fire in winter, with a mug or cup of your favorite infusion close to hand.

Surely everyone is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a wintry fireside: candles at four o’clock, warm hearth rugs, tea, a fair tea maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies to the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without. —Thomas de Quincy, Confessions of an English Opium Eater

Pratt’s publisher, PTA, is a small San Francisco house. As a result, the books are not easily available, even from Amazon. Give them two weeks to deliver, or order directly from Pratt’s Tea Society. As a companion volume of fiction for that winter’s night, I recommend Tea With the Black Dragon by R. A McAvoy.

Liner Notes:


  • The Treasury is not available for Kindle. Tea With the Black Dragon is.
  • Jane Chord: Tea Ultimate.