Twenty-five tins that contain—or once contained tea—line the shelves and cupboards of my home. While I consider myself more of a coffee drinker than a tea fan, those special cups of tea remind me of dozens of “tea reads” over time.
The main character of my original story world, Melissa Travis of Destiny at Dolphin Bay (Desert Island Diaries #1), was brought up in a teashop in urban Baltimore. Because her mother, Susanne, combined books and magazines with china and scones, she called her library/shop “Tea Reads.” Almost rhymes with tea leaves, right?
In that book, I used tea leaves as one motif for destiny. If you read the story, you’ll recall that the villain claims to decipher the dregs in Melissa’s teacup to signify her death in the island of Chauquelín. Although Melissa doesn’t believe in either his dubious ability or his authenticity, she does later experience a near-fatal accident. And who knows? In a later series, maybe this writer will have her die in Chauquelín… in her 90’s 😊.
But both Melissa and I trust in the sovereignty of God rather than the various versions of fortunetelling. However our tea reads, our God transcends and superintends our destiny.
The “tea reads” I’m talking about today are the books associated with special times in my life. Does that happen to you?
Give U.S. Sweet Tea
Although it’s difficult for us coffee-guzzling Americans to grasp, after plain water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. And in the U. S., 80% of that is sipped as iced tea, or sweet tea as it’s called in Southern cuisine.
When we studied in language school decades ago, we made sun tea on the back doorstep. But of course we drank it cold on the Tex-Mex border! I can’t help associating iced tea with Modern Spanish and Curso Intensivo en Español (or “intensive cursing,” as we jokingly called it).
Some years later, my cousin gave me the first of my tea tins, a blue box sprinkled with blue-and-white teapots and a little girl enjoying a tea party with her teddy bear. It’s traveled with me for decades and much the worse for wear, I’m afraid, but I’m still fond of it.
“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” –C. S. Lewis
My cousin also gifted me my first real china teacup and saucer, along with an Elisabeth Elliot book. My thoughts often return there as I finish Pursuit of the Pudú Deer (Desert Island Diaries #2). How old-fashioned they seem now—both the teacups and the tea reads—and yet, how we need to steep our hearts again in that robust reality.
Moving to Canada
I can’t pretend to be a tea connoisseur in either knowledge or taste. In the home where I grew up, tea was reserved for sick people. Believe it or not, I drank my first cup of tea while on my honeymoon in Canada. A friend’s kind mother set a mug of hearty Maritime brew with milk in front of me…and I nearly gagged.
But it grows on you. Over time, I learned to love tea parties with the Canadian ladies. While perhaps not up to the glorious heights of a London high tea, they still had their dainty finger sandwiches, pound cake, and squares/pastries. And of course, tea in English bone china poured from a silver teapot. But no bags in the cups, and hold the milk for me, please.
“Tea and books–Mmmmm, two of life’s exquisite pleasures that bring together near-bliss.” –Christine Hanrahan
I have a couple of King Cole tea containers, gifts from a generous sponsoring church. One is a stamped wooden box. The other, a small square tin canister, celebrates the Barbour Company’s 125th anniversary (King Cole’s parent) and highlights scenes from New Brunswick history. A tour of tea reads, like the wonderful murals in Sussex, NB, Barbour’s hometown.
In Atlantic Canada, King Cole and Red Rose constitute the most common tea labels. Both brands feature a blended grade of black teas called orange pekoe, which is part of a classification system based on origin, quality, and size of leaves. My sister in Connecticut always requests Canadian tea when I visit, and I could never figure out the difference until I read that American-made Red Rose uses black pekoe. Who knew?
Yet another appeal for Canadian tea…
…comes from my writer friend in Chile. She specifically wanted Organic Cream of Earl Grey by DavidsTea, an exclusive Canadian brand. That tin is a navy cylinder with white lettering. After my friend introduced me to this lovely tea, I treated her to Coni’s Biscotti, a double-baked almond cookie perfect for dunking.
Coni, by the way, tells her story in my Swan Island Secrets series (yet to be published). It’s definitely one of my favorite tea reads. She once dipped her biscotti in chocolate for unexpected dinner guests. I can’t seem to leave food out of my books!
So naturally, I loved the Wisteria Tearoom in Patrice Greenwood’s A Fatal Twist of Lemon, which I read while in a hospital waiting room during the long hours of my husband’s knee replacement surgery. Although not technically a tea read, I connected that story with scones, Earl Grey, and Coni’s murder mystery.
Over to the Island
While we’re still in Canada, let’s slip over to the Island. The “Island” in eastern Canada means only one place, Prince Edward Island of Anne of Green Gables fame. Following a trip to PEI, my dear aunt sent a wooden box of Green Gables ginger tea for my Christmas stocking one year.
Although genuine ginger tea is deliciously sweet and spicy, I associate Anne more with a certain raspberry cordial incident. One of your favorite tea reads too? Even though my grandmother lent me the series long before tea became part of my diet, the Anne of Green Gables books continue to entertain and inspire me, even as the years roll by.
“Society is a strong solution of books. It draws the virtue out of what is best worth reading, as hot water draws the strength of tea-leaves.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes
The box says my Green Gables tea was processed in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Oh, well. As we head for tea reads overseas, we may eventually make a stop there. But before then, I’d like to pause in Korea, which, like China and Japan, has an ancient tea tradition.
Boil slices of fresh ginger root, sweeten the infusion with honey, stir with cinnamon, and perhaps garnish with pine nuts. You have warming, comforting Saenggang Cha, Korea’s ginger tea par excellence for both refreshment and folk medicine. This concoction not only counteracts inflammation, it may have the power to cure a bad mood.
Anne of Green Gables could always restore my soul too.
Around the World
In Japan, green (unoxidized) tea is called bancha. There they pour it over cooked short-grained rice in a popular dish called Ochazuke. (O-cha-zuke = honorific O + cha, tea + zuke, meaning “moistened or submerged.”) This floating tea rice cleanses the palate and may be served with a variety of toppings: fish flakes, nori (dried seaweed), or wasabi (a hot bronze-green condiment akin to horseradish).
Though I’ve never traveled to Japan, I learned this in 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die by Mimi Sheraton, another riveting tea read. The 1000…Before You Die series also includes Books to Read and Places to See. A complete education by themselves! Books, travel, and food—what more could anyone want?
“Of making books, there is no end” (Eccl. 12:12), just like the making of teas: Matcha is a kind of green tea, finely ground to powdered form. White tea is another unprocessed variety picked before the leaves have fully matured.
And as we move on across to Taiwan, we find the 1980’s birthplace of bubble (or boba) tea. When I first encountered this at a teashop in Coquimbo, Chile, I assumed it had something bubbly added to it. Sparkling water, ginger ale, champagne? Not at all. This cold tea is mixed with tapioca (boba). I haven’t tried it yet, but I intend to on one of my tea-read visits, not to Susanne’s Tea Reads, but to El Jardín de Sindempart as spring approaches here.
If tea is good for the body and books are good for the mind, then surely both together blend in a soul match made in heaven. In the next post we’ll explore some classics as I continue on our tea reads-and-writes around the world.