I’m reading: The Far-Reaching Fragrance of Tea

It is possible to debate whether you love tea or coffee more, and find very different and personal reasons to love both – as author Candace Rardon beautifully shares here and here. Personally some of my fondest childhood memories are of seeing black tea prepared from loose leaves kept in a reused tin box. Tea has such a big tradition and reputation in my birth country – Portugal – that several language metaphors speak to its value and status. Tea stands in for culture, opportunity, and good manners. Most of all, though, tea stands for the opportunity to reconnect with oneself and others around a shared table.

I abruptly interrupted my holiday, as many others around the world have, to return home to an ongoing self-isolation period. Happy as I was to be safely back, I confess to only truly feeling home when holding a small cup of hot pale green liquid with both hands the next morning. As the days in self-isolation continue, the number of people we can share our real cups of tea with remain limited. My art and books have both been great companions to tea breaks in this period.

It has been well over a year since my last book recommendation here, while I focused on other projects. Today I am restarting this feature on my site, partially for the reason above. Perhaps you find yourself equally limited in the number of people who you can connect with in person. Maybe it will provide an extra opportunity for a refreshing pause as well as a suggestion for your next companion or a future travel destination.

Fittingly, the book I am recommending today is focused on both tea and art. When visiting Taiwan a couple of years back, I wandered through the most exquisite exhibition. Devoted exclusively to tea and its accessories it took place in the southern branch of the National Palace Museum. Tea has a long tradition in Taiwan, and has been influenced by both Chinese and Japanese culture. This permanent exhibition and its accompanying catalogue dwell in the details of the different preparation methods and ceremonies throughout history. Here is why I love this catalogue so much:

  1. Evolutionary. The exhibition as well as the catalogue provide a historically comprehensive timeline of tea culture in Taiwan through its ancestors in China, and influences from Japan. It is much more than a snapshot of a particular period or type of tea ceremony.
  2. Diverse. The materials covered include ceramic, lacquerware and painting. Each country’s relevant aspects are duly highlighted, as well as the variety of techniques within each artistic field.
  3. Evocative. The preparation process as well as the different settings of tea appreciation for each period are very well described, and in some cases architecturally rebuilt for us (three different tea pavilions are on display in the museum).

As was the case in my previous recommendation from the same institution, some typos persist throughout the English edition. Rest assured, the quality of the imagery and detail will get your mind over those quickly enough.

Edited by Liao Bao-xu and Written by: Liao Bao-xu (Chapters 1 & 3 and appendix), Huang Yun-ju (Chapter 2), and Akanuma Taka, written in Chinese and English

ISBN: 978-957-562-746-1

National Palace Museum publications are available to order here. A title search is enough to find this book, though shipping restrictions are likely applicable right now:

www.npmeshop.com

Below a link to the permanent exhibition summary description:

The Far-Reaching Fragrance of Tea