Kakuzo Okakura’s “The Book of Tea” first was published in 1906. It’s never been out of print, and it’s one of the most influential books written for tea-lovers.
“The Book of Tea” recently was released by Perryville’s Benjamin Press, with an introduction by world-renowned tea blender and writer Bruce Richardson. He said “The Book of Tea” was in anybody’s library who was in to tea or art.
“He basically interpreted the Japanese art aesthetic to the Western world at the turn of the 20th century,” Richardson explained in a telephone interview. “He was the art guru of Boston.”
The central theme of “The Book of Tea” is using tea as an instrument to simplify your life, Richardson added.
“(The book) is for anybody who has the art spirit within them, or anybody who is looking to de-clutter their life, or anyone who is investigating the way of tea,” he said.
Richardson noted wealthy Bostonians were looking for ways to simplify their lives during the height of the Industrial Revolution. Kakuzo Okakura had come from Japan to be the first head of the Asian art division at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He told the people of Boston, and the visitors to and workers at the museum, about items he’d brought from Japan.
“He’d tell stories about them and serve them tea,” Richardson noted.
Kakuzo Okakura talked to Bostonians about cutting out clutter, and focusing on tea and the handleless teacup — to focus on one flower rather than 1,000.
“He looked around and saw a common metaphor of the teacup to interpret the simplicity of Asian art to busy Bostonians,” Richardson added.
Richardson said there’s a story in his opening chapter about Georgia O’Keeffe discovering the book. It became one of her favorites. When Richardson and wife Shelley were in Santa Fe a few years ago, they interviewed a woman who stayed with O’Keeffe when the artist was in her 90s.
“She read every night from ‘The Book of Tea,’” Richardson noted. “This book had a profound impact on many luminaries of the 20th century in the art and tea worlds.
“When I go around the country speaking, I often talk about ‘The Book of Tea.’ I’ve found a lot of people have not heard of it.”
Not only does Richardson have a new book on the market but he also has been named Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, opening June 24 in Boston Harbor.
“This museum, and its three replicas of the East India ships, will be the iconic look of Boston’s waterfront for years to come,” Richardson said.
He packaged tea for the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the National Park Service — that’s how the Boston folks found about him. He did research a few years ago about the teas that were thrown overboard during the Boston Tea Party. All of this paved the road to Richardson being named the Tea Master.
“What I’m doing is designing a line for them and also supervising the setup of their tea room,” he explained.
The tea room will seat 110 people, and organizers project about 2,000 people will go through it daily. There also will be gift shops and theaters to interpret the historical events.
“So my job is to make sure they get the tea right,” Richardson noted. “We supply tea now to the National Park Service for all the National Parks in Boston.
“It’s kinda fun.¿It’s a historical event for the city of Boston and state of Massachusetts. They are investing heavily in the project to rebuild three Boston tea party ships that they’ll put smack dab in Boston Harbor.”