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Book Review Cha Dao: The Way of Tea, Tea as a Way of Life by Solala Towler

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Cha Dao: The Way of Tea, Tea As as a Way of Life is as much about philosophy and history as it is about the revered beverage of the East. Solala Tower's book begins as a background of how tea was first discovered — and there are several conflicting tales. However essentially, someone first put a dried Camellia sinensis leaf into a pot of bowling water, tasted it and realized it wasn't like bitter herbs at all.

At first tea, or cha in most Chinese dialects, was a medicinal brew because it was made of water purified (by the boiled water) of germs and kept people awake and aware thanks to the caffeine. This was especially prized by the Daoist monks who appreciated the way they were able to meditate for many long hours longer thanks to the tea.

tea leaf Later, tea became so prized it became tribute for the emperor. Peasants worked an entire month a year at nothing but producing tea for the emperor. Their families went hungry, and the pitiful wages they earned were spent in whorehouses and gambling establishments in the shantytowns that popped up around the fields. Eventually, the economy couldn't sustain the tribute-tea work and the custom died out. However, the middle-class began drinking tea in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.) A man named Lu Yu wrote a vast treatise on tea and became the emperor's first Master of the Way of Tea.

A Zen priest then took tea to Japan. The Chinese had perfected a way of powdering green tea and then beating it into a froth. The Japanese took to this style with a vengeance. Today this is still done in the Japanese tea ceremony, chanoyu. (The beaten green tea has since fallen out of favor in China). In Japan, the ceremony took on a very austere style. Implements became simple and wooden, sometimes even scratched and bowls or cups elliptical instead of round. This was called raku style. This mirrored the particular, severe type of Buddhism called Chan Buddhism and was popular with the Samurai, who frequented the tea ceremonies. For them the tea ceremony was an isolated place of serenity. They overlaid the teahouse with their own mode of bushido, which translates as bushi, samurai, do, way — a strict code of honor.

This section of the book goes on for some time, making the reader wonder if the tome is really about Japan, but suddenly it switches back to China. There are some fairly mystical stories about tea masters and Daoism, not even clear to the most dedicated Daoist. (But then is the Zen koan clear to the Buddhist student?) Then Towler gets into the details of holding the gong fu (not kung fu) tea ceremony in China. It's quite a bit different than its Japanese cousin. There seems to be copious amounts of water spilled about to keep the pot and cups ready for the hot tea. Boiling water is not added to tea, which must be cooled to just a touch below boiling point (shattering one of the rules this tea aficionado had kept sacred). A special cup is held for smelling the tea only. The first pot of tea is tossed away. (Yow!) This probably cuts down on the caffeine content of the subsequent pots of tea, however. Then, unlike the Zen ceremony, participants are not limited in what they may discuss, but a rather free and easy discussion takes place.

At the end of the book, Towler offers lists of important Chinese teas, black (which he calls red), oolong, and green. Unfortunately, he goes along with the common wisdom that green is the most healthful tea for you, when increasing amounts of research are showing that certain black teas have just as many polyphenols as green tea. Plus pu-ehr, a special black tea that is formed into bricks, has been shown to protect against heart attacks. In fact, there has been a lot of discrimination going on. Otherwise, her heath information is fairly good, even his information about caffeine, a subject many people often want to run away from.

Unfortunately, Towler, a resident of the Pacific Northwest makes no effort to find tea emporiums or tea sellers in other parts of the United States or Canada — only areas near him. Surely, he could have tried a little bit to look in some of the major cities where Chinese people have settled. Instead, he just lists places in Portland, Seattle, and other places in his vicinity. This is truly lazy and if we were giving star ratings for books, this would knock a star off immediately. In other words, If you are looking for lung jing or Dragon Well, the tea the author praises most, you have to hit the Internet yourself — with no help from him.

Still, this is a most unusual book, if not the most helpful. I'm not a Daoist nor a Zen Buddhist, but I now have some idea of how a tea ceremony is conducted, I know the finest teas that are served in China, and I even know why the British got so hooked on tea and started the Opium Wars. (No, they didn't want the opium.)

I still think the book belongs in the food section of the bookstore, but I can understand if others argue that it should be placed on the philosophy shelf or even under eastern religion.

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About Lynn Voedisch

  • doug m

    When will the writer and her supporters be offering up their apologies to Bob and others? I don’t want to miss it

  • But you still can’t conjugate your old English correctly.

  • we have cleared things up and changed pronouns accordingly – chilleth!

  • Just out of curiosity, Bob. How did you come about this interest in the tea ceremony?

    I’m not being facetious.

  • Bob

    Look, I don’t know Solala Towler and she may well be a woman, but it’s an unusual enough name and Qigong is a small enough field in America that when I see repeated references to a Qigong practitioner and author named Solala Towler that describe him as male I feel pretty confident accepting them: I got my information from places like Amazon.com and from various websites with reviews of his books (and one interview with his ex wife Christine Payne-Towler). Who knows; maybe there are dozens of Qigong-practicing Solala Towlers of both sexes running around. Or maybe all those websites have got it wrong. Anything’s possible. In any case, I don’t really care and I have absolutely nothing to gain from either outcome.

    I also haven’t yet read this book, so I have no way of knowing whose errors are reflected in the review, the author’s or the reviewer’s. I commented here in the first place only to point out that there are errors; who made them is really irrelevant to me, and again, I have nothing to gain in either case. But rather than the exchange of ideas I expected, the discussion rapidly devolved into something very strange and ultimately pointless, and I see no reason to and have no interest in and nothing to gain from continuing it further.

  • I want this to end. I don’t want to persecute the guy. He obviously has gender issues. Let’s just call it a day (or several).

  • Don’t want to out the guy. Let’s leave him alone…

  • Not sure who you think you are talking to, but you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar

  • Re-emerging in Stockholm. Many insane things have been said here that I absolutely refuse to indulge any more arguments. However there is a quite serious issue of gender bending, transgendering. Even from where I am, a liberal place where such matters are passed off as quite normal, things are not right when the public record can be changed willy nilly. I am looking into this. Don’t make accusations if you don’t know the persons involved.
    I’m looking at you, El Bicho. Not another word.
    Faux Bob and fellow travelers have been outed and I will not respond to them. Yes, Cindy. ‘Tis true.
    What was a nice little book review has turned into a travesty. Look up the etymology of the word for some yuks.
    And I don’t expect to be attacked on my professionalism again, unless you want to be set upon by some of my former editors at daily metro dailies who still think well of me. And don’t think I won’t do it. I’m on vacation. And I will find out about this GBLT on my own time. Sorry to be so blunt, but I’m sick of this. The next time dry, logical delivery is described as “hysterical” (or words to that effect,) I suggest the writer step back and look into their own soul. I don’t have time for this foolishness.

  • Well…I guess I’ve been away too long. Anyway, I think what faux Bob is suggesting is good idea and we should take it a little further. From now on, the critics should write the books, assign themselves the reviews, and then review them. Self publishing would be another plus, as well as doing your own publicity.

    As for you GeekGirl–watch who you’re flirting with, after all I thought you wanted a bunch of baby bugs or maggots or whatever they are called.
    The real –bob (using FCE’s computer because mine doesn’t work with the hotel’s wireless. WTF?)

  • What a crazy thread this is becoming. GG thinks Bob is a ‘boob’, so, therefore he must be female?


  • Later then, GG.

  • Rog, you have to take it all in. France and Spain I haven’t seen yet. I just love to travel. That seasonal moving is truly in my blood. I get down-right ornery when I stay put too long. And now I’m off to play trivia.
    Wish me luck boys… and Bob. Hopefully gender won’t be a part of the equation tonight.

  • I knew it! Ha!

  • “El B, are you flirting with me?”

    If by “flirting with” you mean “correcting”, then yes I was

  • In terms of scenery perhaps, yes. I just haven’t heard much good about the Swiss – too neutral and anal-retentive. Don’t forget, what’s his name, Freud’s disciple. His main project was to unravel the Swiss retarded psyche.

    I’m into people – French, Italians, Puerto Ricans. People are fun. Everything else be damned.

  • Still, if you love Paris Geneva will set you on fire. Very similar with the arches and the lights in the trees at night, but the lake and the fountain… there just aren’t words.

  • You know, I lived on Muhlstrasse, 40k from the border of France for 5 years. You could see the border from my garden. It was so close I always thought it would be an easy trip. Went to Italy, England, Netherlands, Switzerland, travelled all over the North, but I never did make it to Paris. I went to Octoberfest and into the Black Forest, I was there when the Wall came down. But missing Paris is one of my biggest regrets.

  • But my goodness. It’s still the Engelbert Humperdinck era. Even then, we knew it was cheesy.

  • Romance, I should say.

  • Actually I was singing this to you. And yeah. I do have that outfit. The boot fetish, you know? Just for you 😉

  • I passed through the Alps once, by train. It was a godly sight. It was so close you felt you could almost touch the mountains.

    It’s still Paris for me – the city of eternal love.

  • I know. Lynn was kind enough to let me know.

  • Don’t worry about Lynn, she’s on a plane as we type, heading to one of my most favorite places in the world. That’s where we should be right now. I’d take you to see the little two room apartment I lived in above the Schaeferstube, then up to Castle Nanstein–we could explore the tunnels that they built underground to escape invading forces, then a night train to Blumenhoven, it’s a train ride to die for. We’d have to end our trip in Geneva, because you haven’t really lived until you’ve had a long, deep kiss in the moonlight in front of the Jet d’Eau. I promise–no Abba songs this time.

  • Or this, more modern stuff, a la disco?

  • So this is what you must mean.

    All home-grown girls, I suppose, an offshoot of Cher.

    My goodness, it’s going back quite a while.

  • I surely do. As to the rest, it’s but a matter of reading between the lines.

    Have been doing it all my life.

  • A Geek Girl

    You do get me. That’s just one of my frickin’ charms 😉

  • A Geek Girl

    That was Abba Babe. I’m gonna have to take you out. You need some culture.

  • BTW, now I realize where you get your sense of (gallows?) humor from. Your roots.

  • Don’t look at it that way. It was fun while it lasted. Not to Lynn, of course.

  • Bob is doing Alan, actually, being scrupulous to a fault, but without Alan’s twist.

    Alan Kurtz, that is.

  • A Geek Girl

    Rog, I’ve tried. It does no good. It’ll just be something else next, probably that we need to research the subjects of books before we review them again. The horses are all long dead. The beating continues.

    So an answer? You know, I was defeated… you won the war.

  • A Geek Girl

    El B, are you flirting with me? Honestly, you only have to ask.

    Bob, you keep arguing about what the author said about tea ceremonies, tell Him
    (for you my darling–I stand corrected, although spanking may be in order just the same)

  • I know you have, Bob, to a fault. Perhaps it’s your dryness she found objectionable.

    Communications are more on the nature of relating than transmitting information, even on the net.

    But that’s just my crazy idea.

  • Bob

    Really, Roger? I’ve been polite throughout; it’s the rest of you who have been rude and condescending, starting with Lynn herself. Go back and read my first post at #4, which didn’t even mention Lynn, and see how she responded to it (“Well, blame the author then. That’s what SHE said”, and, “Take it up with Solala. I’m not going to”).

  • Perhaps it’s the manner in which you have done it, Bob, just guessing.

  • Bob

    And again, if you think the errors were made by the author and not the reviewer–entirely possible as I’ve already said–then why are you (and she) so upset about them being pointed out?

  • Odd that the publishers of “Tales from the Tao” wouldn’t know that. The back of the book states “Solala Towler publishes the Taoist journal, The Empty Vessel, He is past president of the National Qigong Association….”

    You might want to notify Amazon where Towler’s bio reads “He has studied the Daoist arts for over 20 years, and has led many tours to China and Tibet to visit sacred mountains and temples of Daoism. He has published nine books on Qi gong and the Daoist philosophy…

    Or maybe you are thinking of someone else?

  • Well, you’re on a roll too. No need to cross-reference this one.

    It sticks out like a sore thumb.

  • A Geek Girl

    That’s brill Bob, and again… something you should take up with the author.

  • A Geek Girl

    Rog, it’s all in the missing vowels. Like o’s Boooob — and e’s (according to my hateful lover) Geeeek.

    The missing penis is a pretty good sign too.
    Shall I let you cross-reference that? Yes. I think I definitely should.

  • Bob

    “wasn’t Lynn talking about ancient tea ceremonies (as indicated by her “samurai” reference)? Old customs have a way of evolving, I should think.”

    Not a great deal when it comes to Japanese tea ceremony, actually, and in any case that wouldn’t change the errors. Raku is still and has always been a style of pottery associated with Japanese tea ceremony and not a style of tea ceremony, for instance. Plus the samurai era ended in 1868 and wabi tea (which is to say, the “austere” style of Japanese tea ceremony as it’s practiced today) traces its history to the 1500s.

  • A Geek Girl

    Thanks El B. The author is a woman. I’ve read her magazine. But you know I’d never call you a woman, unless you want me to. I have plans for you. heheh

  • It’s all in the chromosomes, then, or perhaps the level of estrogen.

  • Calling the book’s author a woman when he’s a man is an error. Kinda like what you are doing to Bob, Geek, which may explain why you don’t see it.

    BC syndicates at Seattle PI.

  • I’ll call her Boobie then. You say potato…

  • Or Roberta perhaps.

  • Well, GG. I’ve met some fastidious women in my life, but I know men can be just as finicky if not more.

    Let’s call her Bobbie from now on.

  • Rog, you’re missing the point. That’s a girl. Or maybe she just omitted an ‘o’ in her name?

    You’re on a roll today. I’m a’ start hanging out on your page. You’re fun.

  • Well, Bob, now you have a real axe to grind. If I were you, I would harass the editors of that publication for being so naive.

    Besides, wasn’t Lynn talking about ancient tea ceremonies (as indicated by her “samurai” reference)? Old customs have a way of evolving, I should think.

  • What errors? I don’t see any.

    Congrats Lynn. This Book Review was picked up by Seattlepi. You rock!

  • Bob

    My sentence got cut off, but no matter.

    I’m not upset by it. Why are you upset by my pointing out the errors in it?

  • “but here the reviewer is claiming the author didn’t despite having no special knowledge” I have no idea what that means.

    No. You don’t have to have any understanding of the subject matter to write a book review. A well-written book is a well-written book, regardless of a reviewer’s academic knowledge on the subject.

    Bob, Why are you so upset by this review?

    Girl. Def.

  • Bob

    “since when do you have to be an expert on the subject to review a book?”

    You don’t, not for a non-academic review of a book of this sort. But you do need to actually read it carefully and have some understanding of the subject matter, or else why review it? And failing to get even basic information right? That’s just laziness. It took me all of 30 seconds to confirm the author’s sex using a magical tool called Google, but our intrepid reviewer didn’t bother.

    And it should go without saying that the onus is on the author to get it right, but here the reviewer is claiming the author didn’t despite having no special knowledge

    Finally, the comment section for a book review was the last place I would have expected to have my masculinity/sexuality clumsily and childishly challenged (as though that would provoke me to take offense or respond with a flame war). Being called a girl doesn’t bother me, “Geek Girl”; it only demonstrates your own ignorance.

  • A Geek Girl

    Bob, since when do you have to be an expert on the subject to review a book? Are you a total nimrod are what? Go have some tea, decaf I hope. Or write a book. Better yet… go research a book, since obviously an author shouldn’t be expected to understand their subject. It’s the job of the reviewer to research for them.

    Seems like it’s not just the tea that’s green around here. Yes, she’s a professional writer. Just chafes, doesn’t it?

    PS. I don’t think they have your sex right either, missy.

  • Bob

    I never implied the errors were Lynn’s until my third post, but I’m now fairly certain they are or she wouldn’t have reacted the way she has. It seems pretty clear that she didn’t read the book carefully, has no specialist knowledge of the subject, and didn’t do any research before writing this review, all lazy enough for a lay person, but worse for a self-proclaimed “experienced journalist” — she didn’t even get the author’s sex right: Solala Towler is a man, not, as Lynn Voedisch repeatedly says, a woman.

  • Bob is a fastidious creature. I wouldn’t want him as part of my life.

  • 15 – (bob prefers to whisk them 🙂

  • doug m

    It’s rather clear that Bob only said there were errors. It’s not his fault some readers are overly sensitive. Maybe a cup of tea would help level out the horomones

  • I’d tend to agree. Even the best argument can be beat to death.

  • Bob–Beaten any dead horses lately? Lynn is offended because you started your barrage with comments that made it appear that she had made the errors, rather than the author. I am sure there is an audience (of, at least, one) for all the nitpicking, but it’s about as entertaining as listening to someone show off their expertise behind an alias.

  • Bob

    What I find strange, Lynn, is your rather extreme reactions to my comments. If the issue, as you say, is with the author rather than yourself, I can’t imagine why you’re behaving as though my comments are a personal affront.

    Details are important. When we speak of Chan Buddhism, we’re speaking of a particular type of Buddhism as it is practiced in China, versus Zen Buddhism, which refers to a particular type of Buddhism as it is practiced in Japan. To say that the samurai practiced Chan is to be inaccurate. The same applies to “beaten” vs “whisked.” For example, in English we usually say eggs are beaten. By the same token, recipes often call for “whisking in” certain ingredients like milk, but never for “beating” them in. In Japanese, the term for making tea in a tea ceremony is “tateru,” for which there is no English translation; all English sources on Japanese tea ceremony with which I’m familiar describe the motion as “whisking.” The differences are slight, but, to those of us who care about accuracy, important, not “picky.” And while we’re attending to details, one would not use the term “tea mistress,” even for a woman. The term is tea master.

    But again, since you are not, as you say, responsible for the errors, I fail to see why you’re so upset about them being pointed out — unless the errors are a result of your misreading the text, that is. I find it very hard to believe, for instance, that anyone writing a book on tea would confuse Raku with wabi, or make the outlandish claim that pottery isn’t used in tea ceremony (just what are all those “cups” supposed to be made of?).

  • the question is – who are your companions?

  • doug m

    Looks like Bob wins. All this does have me in the mood for a cup

  • Details, details, and more details.

    The devil is in the details.

  • This is tiresome. I’m Episcopalian because I am American. But you can also call me Anglican. No harm, no foul. They are the same, because they are of the same communion. Can we get off this, please?

    Dictionary: beaten: (of food) whipped to a uniform consistency.
    whisked: beat or stir (a substance, esp. cream or eggs) with a light, rapid movement.
    Is it me, or is there not much difference at all?

    Anyway, you keep at this as if I wrote the book. If you have any more objections, write Solala Towler in care of her publisher and have it out with her. I’m not going to answer any more questions on these extremely picky issues. I have other things to do.

  • Bob

    Matcha is prepared by all schools of Japanese tea ceremony using a whisk; some make it frothy, but not all. The two largest schools of Japanese tea ceremony are Urasenke and Omotesenke; Urasenke makes tea with a lot of froth, Omotesenke with a minimum of froth.

    If the author said the simple style of Japanese tea ceremony we know today is called raku, then she’s mistaken, as a simple Google search will tell you. The correct term is wabi, as in wabi-cha or wabi tea. If she said that pottery is not used in Japanese tea ceremony, then she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Read the Wikipedia entry on Raku ware.

    A bowl is different from a cup, and cups are not used for drinking matcha in Japanese tea ceremony. Large bowls are used — they have to be large enough to accommodate the whisks used for mixing the tea.

    As for Chan and Zen, Chan is the Chinese term for Zen; samurai were Japanese, so it is ZEN that is associated with them.

  • It’s good to know, Lynn. I’m of the mind to leave KY, a God-forsaken place, and Chicago is a possibility (though California is still my love of loves).

  • Thanks, Roger. We have that in Chicago too. So very handy.

  • You might be interested in the following company, Lynn – Peet’s Coffee & Tea – a California outlet.

    Here’s a link to their excellent selection of black teas.

  • Well, blame the author then. That’s what SHE said. She said it was beaten and “frothed.” (I have a Japanese friend who wanted to be a tea mistress and she also said beaten, so you may be on shaky ground there. Could be the translation.) Author said raku, and said pottery was simply not used. Bowls/cups, all a matter of semantics here. The cups are very small. She was extremely adamant about Chan, which is a TYPE of Zen. All of this is Zen Buddhism.
    Take it up with Solala. I’m not going to.
    I will talk to my Japanese pal next time I see her.

  • Bob

    There are several errors here. Matcha (powdered tea) isn’t beaten, it’s whisked. There are no cups used in Japanese tea ceremony; tea is made in and drunk from bowls. The simple style associated with modern tea ceremony is not called raku, it’s called wabi. Raku is a type of low-heat fired pottery associated with tea bowls. Additionally, Chan Buddhism was NOT associated with the samurai; that would be Zen Buddhism.

  • I never liked green tea much either, but there are some really good types, and they are in this book. Like gunpowder. Turns out it’s an oolong. Never knew that.
    Really want to try that Dragon Well, but it looks like a trip to Chinatown for me, since the author so was so forthcoming with help (snark, snark).

  • I hadn’t heard of pu-ehr. Like most people I had no idea that black tea could be just as healthful as green. Very interesting. And good for me… I really don’t like green tea.

    Very interesting book review. Sounds like it’s right up my alley.

  • For some reason the link, that was working when I posted this article, is not working now. So here it is again.
    Check it out. Much more research has been done on black tea, so don’t ignore it. And oolong is also one of your best friends.