And for the record, it seems the correct English spelling is now considered 'Wulong' (as used by dozens of other authors). But either way, this book is all about wulong from higher elevations. The reason I tagged it with one star is because this book makes no obvious claim at being so. Instead of this being a book about the art and alchemy of Chinese tea, it should be called Enjoying High Moutnain Wulong (or Oolong).
I drink a lot of loose leaf tea and appreciate all styles, even though I don't regularly go for some. I especially enjoy Chinese green, white, and wulong tea. But I also enjoy Japanese tea immensely. I was actually quite offended that the author made several snide remarks about the Japanese tea ceremony. I kind of understand that he is trying to say the Chinese method of tea enjoyment is less formal... but to belittle a ceremony that has stood for 400 years and is regarded as an art form in and of itself? I felt his remarks in bad taste. Here are his remarks:
"The formal, Japanese way of tea is a ceremony, very strict and serious, and it's not much fun. The tea tastes like raw grass, you must dress a particular way, you must say the right thing at the right time, and you must kneel on a mat until your knees are numb."
I felt this completely snide remark pretty much sums up the author's attitude: High Mountain Oolong is the only tea worth drinking. It's also interesting to note that the preferred and more common method of Japanese tea consumption (other than bottled and chilled green tea) is Senchado: the art of serving sencha, which is very similar to the Chinese methods and is a much more relaxed style of tea enjoyment. Chado is a refined art that is beautiful to behold, even if you are not partaking. It is one of the keys to understanding Japanese culture, and obviously the author is so uneducated about this topic that it would have been better for him to keep quiet on a subject he obviously does not understand. I get what he is trying to say about it being a tea ceremony that is fine once in awhile, it's just rather rude and condescending the way he wrote about it. And the Japanese public at large tend to not practice formal chado on a daily basis.
But regardless, a lot of this material is just reprinting of his e-mails and blogs on his website. But I feel that this book is rather one dimensional. If you are interested in only Chinese mountain oolong, then here is your book! If you like any other tea, especially if you are interested in tea culture in various countries then look elsewhere. I recommend the following tea texts instead:
The Tea Drinker's Handbook - 5 stars
I really like that the authors picked what they consider the 50 best teas in the world and highlighted production, style, tasting notes, and brewing tips for each of these teas. The text also highlights tea growth and production in various countries. We can read on Japanese production of green tea and their method of steaming to preserve the grassy fresh aromas or production from Brazil made to emulate Japanese Sencha. The entire world of tea is covered at least in mention, from the Azores to Cameroon, to Taiwan, China, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and beyond! The book does not spend too much time on the history of tea other than to mention the origin legend, and the expansion of tea from China. There is a fair amount spent on the cultivation of the tea plant and the life cycle of the tree as well as touching on possible origins based on wild tea trees (all but gone now... most wild tea trees were cultivated at some time in the last 1300 years). This is one of the finest educational tea books I have read.
Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties - 5 stars
This text would be worth purchasing for the pictures and the scientific analyses contained within. The caffeine chart alone makes one ponder the myth that white and green tea have lower caffeine than wulong and black tea. What I really liked about this book was that each section seemed to contain a good amount of content on the topic without going into overkill. Production is described for each style in a very concise manner, but each step is explained so that the reader understands production even if this is the first tea book they have read. There are some tasting notes on particular teas the authors have chosen. But probably the best aspect of this book and the one that lends the most credibility is the periodic inclusion of interviews with tea growers, harvesters, buyers, and sellers.
The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide - 4 stars
This is a rather large and bulky text on tea. There is a lot of good information, and I would consider this the runner up to The Tea Drinker's Handbook. The writing is very nice, descriptions very well conveyed, and the pictures are pretty nice. The main issue is the format and layout. There is a lot of information, but finding things really takes a lot of digging. It is laid out more like a 'book' and less like a 'text'. If you know what I mean. It's more narrative in style, though it is educational, it lends itself to reading in order rather than flipping to a pertinent section that you might enjoy.
The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook: A Guide to the World's Best Teas - 4 stars
This is another text that I enjoy and rate highly, though it falls short on content compared to The Story of Tea or The Tea Drinker's Handbook. It makes for a nice and quick reference and is pretty well written and laid out well.
Way of Tea - 4 stars
An oddly translated book that nonetheless contains some nice stories. For less than a dollar used it's worth adding to the collection. But the translation is pretty horrific in places. Especially with tea names and styles. It is more of a guide to the history, story of, and serving of tea. I actually gave it five stars in my review though based on it being more of a fun addition to the tea library and a great value.
The New Tea Companion - 3 stars
A book with good illustrations, but rather lacking in overall depth. It does describe various teas and shows the leaf and the color of the brewed liquid. Of course this is not very helpful in the long run for adding to knowledge of tea. I doubt many people who buy the book will be blind tasting tea in order to ascertain the origin. But it's nice to refer to every now and again. It's rather unnecessary though if you own any other thorough tea book.
And there are others, but these seem to be the most popular and widely available texts on the world of tea as a whole. And I am familiar with these. There are others, many that I have flipped through in Powell's that are not worth even mentioning here. Too many focus on the British style of tea and spend a lot of time on Indian tea and tea etiquette in the English style. Others focus too heavily on the Eastern tea ceremonies and overlook India, Sri Lanka, and other tea producing countries.
And I also highly highly recommend the documentary All In This Tea. So brew a pot of your favorite and enjoy!