If you haven’t experienced Japanese tea—the real stuff, not in a teabag—you are missing out!
And don’t think that all green teas are alike. If you’ve had a green tea from China, it won’t be anything like one from Japan, and if you’ve had one type of Japanese tea, it will probably be very different from other Japanese teas.
Running the gamut from light & toasty to brisk & full-bodied to incredibly rich, Japanese teas truly must be tried!But if you are new to Japanese tea, it helps to know a bit about them, and toward that end, two recently published books focus exclusively on Japanese teas but are written for English speakers.While neither book is fully comprehensive, they both are great introductions to Japan’s tea industry and its teas, and are written by knowledgable tea experts who clearly are passionate about tea.
Japanese Tea: A Comprehensive Guide, by Simona Zavadckyte, 2017, Kyoto Obubu Publishing House (available from Amazon)
A quick read, this book takes a straightforward approach that methodically (but this absolutely does not mean boring) goes through farming aspects, tea production, tea types, chemical composition, brewing and tasting, tea history in Japan, tea today, the Japanese tea ceremony, and teaware.
Zavadckyte’s prose is clear, concise, and easy to follow, although that means that sometimes I would have liked more elaborate explanations and additional information.
Still, the book covers all the right areas, giving a very nice albeit brief overview of the country’s tea industry along with enough detail about its history and the place tea holds culturally and societally so that you can really begin to appreciate its significance in Japan. I very much like how she covered so many aspects of tea in such a readable way!
Illustrations are adequate, some quite lovely while others are too small, with too much unnecessary background, or are of low resolution.
Some light editing would have nicely polished this very informative book, so perhaps that, along with some expanded sections and improved illustrations, might be forthcoming in a future version.
The Book of Japanese Tea, by Per Oscar Brekell, 2018, Tankosha (available from Amazon Global)
This bilingual (Japanese and English) book is impressive for that alone, but unfortunately suffers from the fact that English is not Mr. Brekell’s native language. This book would have greatly benefited from a thorough run-through by an English-speaking editor, which would have brought the engaging prose up to the level of the fine illustrations. As with Zavadckyte’s book, I hope that a future printing will be more polished.
Unlike Zavadckyte’s textbook approach, Brekell takes a more poetic tack. Although this imparts more of the cultural nuances and delight of tea, it also means a somewhat convoluted approach. While there is considerable overlap of information from Zavadckyte’s book, it is a bit more difficult to follow Brekell’s arrangement of material if you are not familiar with Japanese teas.
With his artistic approach, Brekell is wordier, although not necessarily providing more factual information on some topics, than Zavadckyte. But this isn’t a flaw by any means. Both Brekell and Zavadckyte discuss the rich cultural heritage of Japan and its tea, but where Zavadckyte has dedicated sections to Japan’s history and tea ceremony, Brekell weaves these ideas throughout his book. It’s always fascinating to see how different authors present similar material!
Brekell does elaborate much more on cultivars, with his emphasis on single-estate teas, complete with a clear and comprehensive lineage chart. Indeed, his book excels in its beautifully designed graphics.
Brekell also addresses taste elements, types of tea, tea-growing regions (in quite some detail, along with helpful maps), tea production, and step-by-step brewing of select teas. Genmaicha, however, is never even mentioned.
Throughout, this book is lavishly illustrated and features beautiful, high-quality, and well-composed photographs, drawings, and charts (although I’m baffled as to why the tea-growing region section alone is in black-and-white).
In the end:
Zavadckyte’s Japanese Tea provides a very nice overall view of the entire Japanese tea industry and its teas, including its history and tea ceremony development in Japan; and
Brekell’s Book of Japanese Tea provides thorough detail about specific cultivars, tea-growing regions, and specific teas—along with stunning photographs and superb illustrations.
They actually complement each other very nicely! And you certainly won’t go wrong with either one of them.
A note: I am honored to be included on Feedspot’s Top 100 Tea Blogs! Do check out some of the terrific blogs on this list.