The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzô 岡倉 覚三 (1862-1913) is an insightful book about the history of tea and the traditions of tea drinking, the art of the tea ceremony, its religious and philosophical background of Taoism and Zen Buddhism.
It begins with the interesting introduction about The Cup of Humanity:
“Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a religion of aestheticism—Teaism. Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”
This first lines drew me into the book and further on I learned about the different Schools of Tea mainly in Japan and China, about different techniques of “the Boiled Tea, the Whipped Tea, and the Steeped Tea”, I had not known about before.
I also liked the fourth chapter, where the author writes about the design and function of a traditional tea-room, which you find even nowadays in Japan.
All in all it is written in a clear style, poetic and philosophical. Although it is a small booklet with about 60 pages it was very influential in the West. Interestingly it was originally written in English. Today it is a classic book about tea and a delightful read.
There are many printed versions of the book on the market since it was published first in 1906. I cannot say, which one is preferable, because I read the ebook available for free at gutenberg.org.
Okakura Kakuzô: The Book of Tea, 1906.