A great gift tea, or a talking point to brew with guests. Green tea » Chinese » Basket-Fired » Pearl leaf balls, ★★★
This tea’s obvious selling point is its shape. These beautiful, 1-cm, hand-rolled balls resemble calligraphic ink swirls on a page, or, as the name suggests, Rolling Clouds. To my liking, this tea is one of the few unfurling tea varieties that isn’t flavoured with flowers.
Brewed, this tea tastes slightly sweet and slightly floral, but otherwise unremarkable. Its speciality, again, is its leaf shape, which serves not only as a talking point, but also slows down the unfurling of the leaves, giving rise to a longer-lasting brew (耐泡). This makes Rolling Clouds an ideal catalyst for an afternoon of conversation with friends and family. Note that the brew is exceptionally light in colour, but not in taste.
If anyone knows the Chinese name for this tea, then please let me know. The best I’ve found is a Russian website that calls it “卷云”, but that sounds a little inauthentic to me.
I wouldn’t buy this tea for myself, but I would buy it as a gift. I’d also bring it with me when visiting family or friends. ★★★
A sweet book. Persuasion to be polite, or just self-affirming reminder of common sense. 226 pages, ★★★★★
This book’s sleeve is made from textured paper (rather than coated paper), which makes touching it for the first time feel like opening a slab of chocolate. Inside the book, the fonts change playfully every few paragraphs, giving you the impression that by reading it, you’re mingling at a cocktail party. Despite the playful editing, the underlying narrative remains remarkably intact: the cocktail party that is The Art of Civilized Conversation certainly has a theme.
Most of this book is “what not to say” rather than “what to say”. It tells us repeatedly that keeping etiquette is most easily achieved by remaining silent (and not by using either nonsense or something offensive to fill all conversational gaps). This book reminds us not to get angry when talking to bigots. It reminds us to be patient when talking to drunks and deaf people. By not lecturing the reader, the author treats us with utmost respect. I wish I could express myself as politely and as delicately as she does.
The Art of Civilized Conversation leaves me with two homework assignments. First, I’ll react appropriately to other people’s conversational slip-ups. This book demonstrated that the conceited individuals one meets at (Oxford and Cambridge) dinner parties in fact know no more about the rules of etiquette than I do. When those obnoxious social ladder-climbers offend me in person next time, I shall respond more appropriately with lines from this book. Second, I’ll be looking out for stereotypes. The Art of Civilized Conversation introduced several types of poor conversationalists (the Schoolteacher, the Complainer, the Bore, and many more). Not only will I be hunting them down, but I’ll be trying to avoid becoming one as well.
Interestingly, this book contradicts the “brag pompously and name-drop like confetti” thesis of How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (click for my review).How To Talk was written in pompous language that made me uncomfortable; and it broke all the rules of The Art of Civilized Conversation. Should I ever encounter a How To Talk snob, I’ll flatten them with this book, while breaking no rules of etiquette myself. At least, that’s the theory.
This is not a self-help book. It’s more of a sweet, pleasant reminder to be aware of one’s own actions. The hardback edition is a pleasure to hold, a pleasure to read, and will provide me with the ability to amuse myself ad infintum at the next bigot-filled garden party I choose to attend. Recommended for everyone. ★★★★★