By Jane Pettigrew
I found The Tea Companion about a decade ago while I was on a walk in the hills of Silver Lake. It was left on a wall by some stairs with a book on reincarnation and a box that had “Free” written on the side, which contained kitchen odds and ends. Normally I would just snap a picture of such an unexpected scene and continue on my walk, but for some reason I felt compelled to take the books with me. I still have them both, and find them extremely interesting. I am not sure why someone would want to part with them, but I am glad they did. So, many thanks to that generous stranger who apparently has had enough of tea for one lifetime!
I had sampled some wonderful teas throughout the years, but The Tea Companion was my first real introduction to the world of fine tea, and it has become the cornerstone of my tea library. It covers all the basics, from the origins of tea, to distinguishing different types of tea, to recommendations of when to serve each type. If you have ever felt slightly overwhelmed by tea shops, this is THE book to read to give you the confidence to find teas that you will love.
It will also give you an idea of which teas you might not enjoy. For example, I had read about Lapsang Souchong in The Tea Companion, and I wasn’t sure that I would like a tea with that much smokiness. One whiff at the tea shop confirmed what The Tea Companion had described, so now I just don’t even bother with them.
The author, Jane Pettigrew, is considered “London’s leading lady of tea,” and it is easy to see why. She has a profound knowledge of all things tea, with an interesting and accessible presentation style. This particular edition of The Tea Companion is presented with the participation of Mariage Frere, which inspired the choice of teas in the book. And who can argue with their choices…I still dream of a single cup of Mariage Frere The Rouge that I tried years ago, and I don’t usually like rooibos!
The “Global Tea Directory” is perhaps the most essential part of The Tea Companion, in my opinion. The short descriptions, characteristics, and brewing hints ensure you know what to look for when buying tea and preparing tea. I disagree with the drinking recommendations from time to time, though. I agree that Tung Ting oolong should be served without milk on “very special occasions,” but I also don’t have a problem with splurging on some fine tea just because it is a weekday or the sun is shining. After all, isn’t life a very special occasion? 😀