Karl Petzke, Lessley
Berry & Sara Slavin,
Tea: The Essence of the Leaf
(Chronicle, 1998)

Tea is arguably the most aristocratic of beverages. Far above the bourgeois soda or vulgar alcohol, tea seems to have a history and an evolution, traveling across the globe on the basis of its own merit. From the green teas of the east to the oolong of India to the Pekoe with bergamot imbibed in the west as Earl Grey, tea in its many incarnations is everywhere.

Tea: The Essence of the Leaf is a celebration of these leaves and a practical guide for using them, as well. And if that's not enough, it is also a visual treat, with history and legend wrapped inside -- making this an essential book for both tea lovers and beauty seekers.

Inside this thin book, you'll find out how exactly to brew a cup of tea. Though it would seem obvious -- heat water, put in leaves, let sit -- there is a subtle art that goes with it. Too long, your tea will be bitter. Too short, it will be weak. Facts like these abound, written in a poetic text that almost makes you long for a leisurely night at home.

Although the history would be enough to carry the book on its own, the authors have also added in recipes that contain tea in various forms. Items like "green tea salad" (which is tasty, I can tell you from personal experience now) and "black currant tea and fruit soup" add a unique use for the loose teas found at gourmet stores (and grocery stores, too, these days).

I couldn't properly review Tea without mentioning the stunning photography. Karl Petzke is a fantastic artist, turning photos of food and ice and tea into works that would be suitable for framing. It's the visuals that first attracted me, and even though I come back to it for the recipes and tea facts, I can't help but be impressed every time I look at the package this book is in. The use of color is awe-inspiring; the subjects seem to be artfully arranged. It's like a mini-vacation for the visually inclined.

I can find no fault with this book. The prose is good for transporting you to a gentler place in your mind, and as mentioned, the visuals are worth every penny. Even as a coffee-table book, it'd be a good purchase -- but it has the added benefit of being useful with the tea dictionary and recipes included. In short, this is a must -- a keeper. It's one for a rainy day and a summer afternoon, for history buffs and cooks, as well as any type of artist.

It's just, to put it plainly, good.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]



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