It’s a warm October afternoon—I have my living room windows flung open and sunshine is streaming in over my bare shoulders, arms, and hands as I type. I’m sitting on my mother’s antique couch sipping a cup of Lady Baker’s Moonlong tea. This is my first fall outside of Canada in many years. I’ve been ready for a life change for a while now but had been biding my time—waiting for the right moment. That moment came this past summer when I packed up my life of 19 years on Prince Edward Island and moved back to the island of Cyprus, where I spent 16 years of my childhood and youth. I’ve visited for short periods, but have not lived here since I was 17. You could ask me a million times where my favourite place to spend the summer is, and I will choose Cyprus every time. I’m a bit of a fish, so my idea of paradise is spending as much time floating in the turquoise water of the Mediterranean as possible. My heart is instantly at home the moment I step off the plane and inhale. Despite this, moving back has been a huge adjustment. I hadn’t realized how accustomed I had become to the culture and pace of life on PEI—nor how easy the practical elements of daily life are in Canada when compared with Cyprus.
I’ve been here for three and a half months now. A lot has happened…I did tell the universe that I was ready for change and growth, and it has delivered on both counts! So far, my time here is expanding my capacity to love, challenging me to let go of expectations, demanding that I learn to set clearer boundaries, and (very gradually!!) nurturing in me a greater degree of grace. I don’t know about you, but when faced with instability and uncertainty I lillypad my days with islands of calm. As those of you who have been reading my posts for Lady Baker’s Tea for some time know, two things that instantly calm me down are tea and books. While the days are still quite warm, the evenings are finally getting cooler. My duvet came out of hibernation last night, and I’ve been carving more time out to curl up with a cup of tea and a book, so I decided it was time for new installment of tea and book recommendations! Here are my top five fall 2023 tea/book pairings:
This has turned out to be one of my favourite reads of 2023. It opens with an anonymously written postcard being delivered to the home of the Berest family in Paris. On the front of the postcard is a photo of Paris’s Opera Garnier. On the back are written the names of the main protagonist Anne Berest’s great-grandparents Emma and Ephraim, and their children Noemie and Jacques, all of whom were killed at Auschwitz. Anne sets out to discover who sent the postcard and why, with the assistance of a private detective, a graphologist, her mother, and others. In the process of digging through her family’s history she realizes that her perception of herself, her mother, her extended family, and the country she calls home has been constructed upon a version of the truth that has protected the secrets of victims and perpetrators for too long. As she peels back the layers of history to get at the truth, she uncovers wounds that have shaped the fate of families—hers and others—for generations. Based on a true story, this novel explores what holds families and communities together, what rips them apart, and the lengths that people will go to avoid confronting the discomfort of guilt—real or perceived.
I would pair this with one of Lady Baker’s post teas—a postcard filled with enough leaves for two cups of tea. The idea behind the post teas is that you send a note to a friend, and they catch up on your news while sipping a cup of tea. I would fill the postcard with Island Strawberry Green Tea, an organic sencha from China tossed with dried papaya and Prince Edward Island strawberries.
I’m a total sucker for Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series. This is the fourth book, and they keep getting better because Osman has tactfully been peeling back layer after layer, gradually allowing us to get to know what makes each of his characters tick over the course of the last three books. I feel as though everyone in the Thursday Murder Club is a friend, which makes me invested on two levels: 1. I want to know who committed the crime; and 2. I’m curious to find out how everyone is getting along. I enjoy observing how the plot transforms each character, and I’m fascinated by how the relationships between the members of the group deepen over time. In this book a friend of the Thursday Murder Club is killed, and the mysterious package he has in his possession disappears. The process by which the group unravels the case is unexpected and witty, and this book had an added element of tenderness to it as two of the protagonists navigate through personal upheaval. I laughed. I cried. And as usual, everyone was so thoroughly deceptive that I was hanging on ‘til the end.
I would enjoy this book while sipping a good cup of English Breakfast tea because the characters in this series always seem to have the kettle on, and they are no-nonsense, robust tea drinking folks! Lady Baker’s English Breakfast tea is a full-bodied blend of bright, coppery tea from India, Kenya, China, and Sri Lanka with subtle highlights of orange. It is especially enticing with a splash of milk!
The Covenant of Water, like the river systems that are so central to the story, branches out endlessly to encompass vast Indian landscapes, multiple generations of a family, and the ways that tradition, superstition, and modern medicine transform people and land over time. Set in Kerala on India’s Malabar Coast, the story opens with image of a 12-year-old girl taking a boat ride to her wedding where she will meet her 40-year-old husband for the first time. The family that this young woman marries into suffers from a rare affliction: in every generation someone dies from drowning. Since the family lives in Kerala, there is water everywhere, and the underlying current of fear is a constant force in their daily life that affects relationships between family members and how much contact they have with the outside world. The sweeping tale looks at the ways that love and grief shape and re-shape the experiences and fate of one family. It is also a fascinating exploration of the power of modern medicine. Being a surgeon as well as a writer, Verghese uses his expertise to describe medical conditions and procedures with a precision and sensitivity that left me in awe. By setting his novel in his childhood home, he also gives his readers a sense of intimacy with the landscape and culture that would not otherwise have been possible. This is an epic novel. It is a slow read, but well worth every single minute.
I would pair this novel with Lady Baker’s Cha Cha Chai. Offering hints of ginger, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cloves and pepper, this full-bodied tea from Assam, India is bright and coppery with golden highlights. It is especially delicious with milk and sugar!
The main protagonist of this story is Elizabeth Zott—a brilliant chemist living in California in the 1960s whose efforts to pursue her education and career, and to build a personal life are continuously hampered by the sexist attitudes of her superiors, her colleagues, and even some of those who claim to be friends. There is one surprising exception: her colleague Calvin Evans, who, despite his social awkwardness and being a loner, recognizes a kindred spirit in Elizabeth and falls in love with her brilliant mind. I won’t ruin the story by saying too much, but a few years later Elizabeth is a single mother and rising star on a TV cooking show. Not surprisingly, because everything that Elizabeth does, she does well, the cooking show becomes a success—largely because her following, housewives across America, recognize it for what it really is: a challenge to question the status quo and demand equality. Her appropriation of a platform intended to reinforce gender roles for the purpose of empowering women instead is, of course, not appreciated by everyone. In the end however, Elizabeth proves that although there may be many disappointments and setbacks in life, with the stalwart support of her two and four-legged friends (one of my favourite characters is her dog, Six-Thirty) and a lot of hard work and determination, good intentions and authenticity ultimately do triumph—and empower others along the way.
I would pair this book with a mug of Matcha green tea, because I can see Elizabeth enthusiastically instructing her viewers how to whisk the finely ground powder into an airy froth. I personally like to add steamed milk and make it into a matcha latte. The process of transforming tea leaves into matcha powder is very scientific: Matcha leaves are shaded 3 weeks before plucking so that the plants produce higher than normal chlorophyll levels. Once plucked, the leaves are steamed, dried, and stripped of all stems and veins. This produces a leaf that can be stone-ground into a fine powder, thus allowing the leaf to be consumed in its entirety, which provides more nutrients!
A Walk Between Heaven and Earth is not a new book, but it is one I re-read almost every year—particularly in the fall and winter. Only 124 pages long, it is a quick read, and yet it is the kind of book that has a calming effect—you will notice your heart rate and breathing slow as you read. Written by Burghild Nina Holzer, this is a memoir written as an ode to journal writing. The author wrote it while teaching journal writing to inspire her students to embrace the writing process. It is the perfect book to read in a rocking chair on a crisp fall day.
If I were curled up with this book on my lap, I would have a steaming mug of Heaven and Earth on the table beside me—sweetened with a generous dollop of honey. This tea is a Lady Baker’s signature blend, and is a combination of black, oolong, and white teas, Prince Edward Island rose petals, calendula, and sunflower petals. It's intended to symbolize a world of cultures blended in harmony.
I hope you give my fall book and tea recommendations a try. If you do, please leave a comment below and let me know what you think! Wishing you all a beautiful fall, friends!