As a boy growing up in Yorkshire, England, Kevin Gascoyne, like many Britons, was raised sipping copious cups of tea.
So it isn't a stretch to understand how he got hooked on everything about tea, especially Darjeeling, the strong full-bodied black tea grown in India’s province of the same name in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Gascoyne’s passion for tea grew as he backpacked through Asia visiting the different growing regions.
In doing so, he met and became friends with growers and finally other enthusiasts who were also following the tea roads leading to China, Japan, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam and East Africa.
“I started writing about my travels and research for magazines in the U.S., Japan and the U.K.,” Gascoyne said in a recent interview from his office in Montreal.
He and other fellow tea experts whom he met during his journeys have put together a comprehensive guide to the world’s non-herbal teas.
“Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties” (Firefly Books, $24.95, paperback) is the work of Gascoyne, Francois Marchand, Jasmin Desharnais, Hugo Americi and editor Jonathan Racine.
All are professional tea tasters and the owners of Camellia Sinensis Tea House in Montreal.
Gascoyne, speaking for his colleagues about the book, says all find when they visit their chosen tea country that they are able to select from the best producers, “the ones who make the best quality and who focus on what is happening in their region.”
He adds that as buyers of quality teas “it is important to specialize because of the palate. You are making financial decisions based on what you are tasting while also building a network in that area.”
Gascoyne, 45, has been travelling to India for at least a month per year for the last 18 years, “so I have made a lot of good friends from that.”
He explains that the source of all non-herbal teas is the plant Camellia sinensis. Its leaves are processed three different ways to produce the major classes of teas: black, green, wulong or oolong, white, yellow, Pu'er and also flavoured scented and smoked teas.
Gascoyne concedes that coffee is ahead of tea consumption in North America, but the latter is definitely growing.
“As more and more research is being done, we are finding many varieties such as green tea to have enormous health benefits,” he says. “And black tea, white tea and oolong tea are high in antioxidants.”
Asked whether he prefers loose leaf tea or tea bags, Gascoyne is very diplomatic.
“If you want to take tea to a slightly higher level, you do have to go for loose leaf,” he says with a chuckle. “Put in a paper or cloth bag means it is good for you, even if it doesn't taste of anything.”
The comprehensive book which would appeal to tea aficionados, chefs, food historians as well as the health conscious features an abundance of colour photos.
It also has a concise and authoritative text, detailed charts, tables and graphs.