James A. Benn
's new book is a history of tea as a religious and cultural commodity in China before it became a global commodity in the nineteenth century. Focusing on the Tang and Song dynasties (with brief extensions earlier and later), Tea in China: A Religious and Cultural History
(University of Hawaii Press, 2015) demonstrates that a "shift to drinking tea" in China "brought with it a total reorientation of Chinese culture." Benn pays careful attention to the challenges and opportunities offered by the sources of China's tea history, and each chapter offers a critical introduction to and analysis of some of those sources while also narrating a key moment and theme in the history of tea. (Because of this wonderful focus on the sources of tea historiography - including some great partial and whole translations of key documents of all sorts - the book makes not only a great read, but also a very useful pedagogical resource!) The coverage of Tea in China
ranges from the earliest possible textual references to tea, to accounts of tea in medieval anomaly accounts and Buddhist texts, to Tang tea poetry by Li Bai and others, to Lu Yu's Classic of Tea
, to a twelfth-century Japanese work on tea, to Ming practices of tea connoisseurship. Enjoy!