Over the past two decades, Sebastian Beckwith has amassed an impressive amount of knowledge as the head of In Pursuit of Tea, bringing loose leaves from across the world to legendary New York restaurants like Eleven Madison Park, Daniel, and Gramercy Tavern and other local customers. Alongside his business, Beckwith sees education as a calling of sorts and, after lectures at Columbia, the French Culinary Institute, and the American Museum of Natural History, he is offering his expertise in a new book that is a combination of history, cultural study, and instruction manual. Written in collaboration with Caroline Paul and with homey illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton, A Little Tea Book is meant for “people who have an interest in tea, but who aren’t trying to do their thesis on it,” Beckwith laughs. “Maybe they’d like to know a little bit more about this drink that they enjoy and drink every day.”
A former adventure travel guide who cultivated his love of tea over repeated trips to Bhutan, Darjeeling, and Sikkim, Beckwith is conversational and encouraging, introducing readers to some of his many providers from far-flung locations and discussing the drink’s momentous cultural import. “People all over the world are making tea and drinking tea, and all in so widely differing ways,” he explains. “Tea is so strongly attached to every culture, but it’s so very different. The Moroccans, their national identity is tied with tea, the English, the Japanese, the Chinese, but if you had any of those sit down, they’re diametrically opposed in how they treat the leaf, how they treat the preparation, and all these things. Nothing is wrong there, it’s just a different way.”
And just as he avoids comparing tea traditions from different cultures, Beckwith emphasizes that there is no one right way to drink tea. He is happy to offer suggestions and clarify misconceptions—”No one knows what English breakfast is,” he notes—but insists that the perfect cup comes down to the individual. “It’s not rocket science,” he offers. “With a minimal amount of awareness and thinking about the tea, you could understand that it’s really easy to make, it’s really easy to enjoy, and you don’t have to be so strict with these rules of this and that. It’s easy to make a cup of tea and you can enjoy it as you enjoy it. It doesn’t have to be how someone else likes it. You want to learn a little bit and then make your tea preparation work with how you like it.”
Pick up your copy of A Little Tea Book here. Beckwith will be signing copies this evening at Dashwood Books, New York.