Book: Chinese Tea: A Cultural History and Guide


This was an interesting little book I checked out of a local library. By Liu Tong, and translated by Yue Liwen, I found it informative and colourful. It’s not a dry book, and probably my favourite aspect is how often it goes off on tangents concerning tea lore.

The book itself is organized into topics (such as history, culture and utensils); however, it is a bit disorganized because it has to jump back and forth to cover China’s timeline. It IS about China’s culture specifically, so the history section lends¬†appropriate weight to the history of tea in the different dynasties of China, and then a briefer section on China’s tea trade and routes with other countries (and the Opium wars). Because of the translation, there are a few Engrish moments, and at times Yue¬†uses two different spellings for transliterated words (kongfu then gongfu, among others). Since I haven’t read too many other books on tea history/chinese tea specifically, I can’t really accurately compare how in-depth this one is relation to them. But I did enjoy it, and I liked the prose style; as I’ve said, it’s not a dry book, and it has lots of interesting little pieces of lore and myth and historical stories of different famous tea masters.

One of the other interesting topics it covers is “Tea Books”. It spends a chapter detailing the main “Tea Classics” of China. Including Lu Yu’s Cha Ching, and a number of other titles I’d either read in passing or hadn’t seen at all. It’s a short list, but it’s fleshed out my wishlist a bit more. Assuming there are readily available translations for all of them.

It’s kind of appropriate that I finished reading this when I did, because yesterday someone (was it here or on steepster?) made mention of Laszlo Montgomery’s ten-part series on the history of tea in China. I’ve already listened to part one (I found it a little disorganized, but it IS an intro, so I took it as an ‘overview’; might not have helped that I was sleepy and nodding off on a bus at the time); it brought up an interesting connection I hadn’t pieced together earlier, concerning the historically changing character for ‘tea’ and the migration of ‘cha’ versus ‘tay’ across the continent. Makes me want to write a ‘part two’ to my earlier post about the etymology of ‘tea’.

At any rate, it’s a short read, and I’d suggest picking it up. The photos are nice as well, although I’ll point out that half of them don’t have anything to do with the topic being discussed on a given page. But they’re pretty.


  1. Nice, interesting post, something @xavier, @bram, @lazyliteratus might especially enjoy. Thanks for sharing your review with us, we’ll be looking into this now, curiosity is peaked.

  2. Also; do you check out the History of Tea podcast link, great find!

  3. @jackie I am doing it right now. :D

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