By Ariana Salvo
I am writing this at my kitchen table on a crisp December morning. Beside me is a steaming hot cup of Harmony Holiday Spice tea sweetened with a generous dollop of local creamed honey. Outside the window two crows are playing in the bare branches of a tree against a canvas of blue sky. We’ve had a lot of rainy days lately, which has meant a lot of evenings curled up in my rocking chair with a book. As we head into the holiday season, I know many of us book and tea lovers will be heading to our local bookstores in search of the perfect stories to carry us and our loved ones through the long winter months ahead. I’ve read several recently released books that I’ve really enjoyed, so when the Lady Baker’s Tea team reached out to ask if I’d be up for another installment of tea and books blog posts, I immediately agreed.
For those of you who are new to my pairing posts, as a writer I spend a lot of my down time reading. I’m also a great lover of tea—Lady Baker’s Tea being the female-owned and run local business where I get my tea. I’ve always loved the tradition of pairing cheese or chocolate with wine, but as a Baha’i I don’t drink alcohol. One day while deciding which tea to enjoy while immersed in the pages of the book I was reading at the time it occurred to me that it would be fun to apply the idea of pairing to two things I love: tea and books. I pulled books I particularly enjoyed out of my bookshelf and paired them with specific teas that I thought would complement them. I wrote my first tea and books blog post back in 2018 and have gone on to write many more since (visit Lady Baker’s blog and search for ‘tea and books’ for my previous tea and book recommendations).
Below are my tea and book recommendations for the winter of 2023. If you try them out, I’d love to hear what you think!
The Light We Carry is Michelle Obama’s new release. It’s a work of non-fiction about the tools she’s developed over the years for navigating through life with greater resilience. Learning how to adapt to change without allowing it to overwhelm us is key to personal and collective wellbeing. Drawing from her personal experiences as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, leader and First Lady, Obama shares strategies and practices that have helped her and her loved ones steady themselves even when so much was out of their control. This book gives us practical habits we can adopt that will help us to reclaim personal power, strengthen our relationships with others, and contribute to building communities that are unified, empowered, and resilient. Obama’s reflections on building and maintaining strong personal relationships were particularly illuminating and grounding.
I recommend pairing this book with Genmaicha, a green sencha from Japan blended with fire-roasted rice that looks like popcorn. It has a clean, toasty, and slightly sweet flavour, and is particularly warming and comforting on cold winter days. I chose this tea because it owes its’ unique flavour to the roasted rice kernels—a process which takes time and patience, and necessitates subjecting the rice to high temperatures for an extended period of time. Not all the roasted rice kernels pop, but those that do are transformed by the heat and pressure, which makes this a fitting tea to sip while contemplating how to become more resilient and better adapted to change ourselves.
- Power: A woman’s guide to living and leading without apology by Kemi Nekvapil & Scottish Breakfast
I was introduced to Kemi Nekvapil and her work in an online interview she did with the author Elizabeth Gilbert. Nekvapil grew up as a black woman in the foster care system in the UK—an experience that emphasized her powerlessness in a system designed to perpetually reinforce a white, predominantly male power structure. Through her work as a facilitator and coach she began to question a belief that many women hold: that power is destructive, and that it is something that belongs to others, not to us. Her questions about what power is, who holds it and whether redefining it might help reshape our relationship to it have been transformative for countless individuals and organizations around the globe.
Most of us have areas in our lives in which we feel powerful and areas where we feel powerless. Reading Nekvapil’s book has helped me to begin to question what power is; how my definition of it empowers and disempowers (me and those around me); who holds power; and what steps I can take today to develop a healthier relationship with power and equip myself to contribute to building a more just, equitable and empowering society. I won’t lie: this book is brilliant and illuminating, and it is also a little overwhelming. It lays out facts and asks questions that aren’t easy or comfortable to reflect upon or answer. It demands that we take responsibility and action as individuals and collectively as a global community. Change is necessary, and power dynamics play a huge role in determining the direction that change takes. I personally would rather be an active participant in shaping it than a passive observer sitting at the sidelines though, and this book is an invitation to act; to reclaim our power and to redefine what we want power to look and feel like as we move forward.
I paired this book with Scottish Breakfast, a full-bodied blend of black teas from India, Kenya, China, and Sri Lanka. Bright and coppery with subtle highlights of orange, Scottish breakfast is robust in flavour and is the perfect tea to start the day with. I chose to pair it with Nekvapil’s book because its’ presence in my cup is the direct result of outdated power dynamics: a natural resource taken from its source by a colonising power and appropriated as a symbol of British identity. As I drank this tea, I began to ask myself if there was any action I could take today that would contribute to empowerment and equality in the tea industry.
When I heard that Louise Penny’s 18th Gamache book was coming out at the end of November I decided that I’d include my review of it in this blog post. I’ve spent the last few days immersed in spring in the village of Three Pines, where life is reemerging after another long winter. Unfortunately, it isn’t just spring flowers that are making a long-awaited reappearance; a brother and sister who were the victims of an earlier Gamache case turn up as well, introducing doubt and distrust into the community. Gamache and his next in line Beauvoir get to work to figure out the connection between a dead body, an old letter, a secret room that has been sealed up for over 100 years, and the oddly timed arrival of the siblings in the middle of a murder case. When the community unseals the secret room, they discover a Pandora’s box of puzzles and not much time to solve them if they want to find the killers before they themselves are killed.
There was a lot more going on in this book than in most of Penny’s previous novels. The story jumps back and forth in time from describing a crime that took place many years earlier to the modern day one, and I found that all the movement and the large number of characters made it hard to keep track of everyone. That said, it was still hard to put down, and while I didn’t feel as engaged with the characters as I have felt in her previous books because there was just too much going on, I was hooked by the plot twists, and remained unsure how things would turn out until the end. If you enjoy plot-driven novels I would recommend getting your hands on this one.
This novel is best enjoyed while sipping a cup of Cinnfully Cinnamon
tea. This black tea from China combined with spices from Ceylon makes a naturally sweet liqueur with some spicy heat. I like to enjoy mine with a splash of milk. I chose this tea to pair this novel with because there are several characters in the story who spend a good portion of the book fully immersed in the act of sinning! I also thought it would be the perfect tea to sip on a chilly early spring day in Two Pines!
Joy Harjo’s new collection of fifty poems represents her fifty years as a poet. The book begins with one of the first poems she wrote as a young writer still finding her voice as a Native American poet and ends with a reflection on our modern world. In between the collection explores life and death; love and loss; the intimate relationship between humans and animals; the process of ageing; transformation and growth; the experiences of Native Peoples; the meaning of home and displacement; the wisdom of the ancestors, and the power and mystery of the natural world—all within the context of a spiritual journey. Harjo’s language and imagery brought the poems alive around me. Butterflies emerged and fluttered past; the sun rose and set across the land; I looked deep into the “mouth of the dark with its shiny moon teeth”; the rain fell in sheets soaking me and the earth; and the spirits of the ancestors circled around me. Not including the endnotes, this collection is only 97 pages long, but in them Harjo manages to capture the vast richness and endless expanse of a life fully lived. When I reached the last page, I felt like I’d just been given the gift of experiencing the fullness of life on this planet. If you are looking for a timeless collection of poetry that will expand your humanity and invite you into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the world around you, I highly recommend Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light.
I paired this book of poetry with Jasmine Dragon Tears. These handcrafted jasmine pearls from China unfurl slowly in your cup. You can infuse them multiple times, and the more subtle sweetness of the jasmine flowers slowly reveals itself as the more pungent flavours of the tea leaves soften. I chose this tea to pair with this collection because it takes time and presence to unveil and savour the layers of story that are revealed by multiple infusions of the leaves just as it takes a lifetime of travel and love and loss and relationship to be able to convey the vast experience of life that Harjo leads us through in the storyscape of her book.
I chose Songbirds as my fifth book recommendation for several reasons. First, it is set in Cyprus, the island I grew up on. Second, it is written by a female writer who has chosen to highlight the intimate human side of issues that we often only see or hear about in the news from a macro, overly politicized point of view. Finally, I chose this book because it focuses on two issues that don’t get as much attention as they should because their importance pales in comparison to the ongoing political division of the island, otherwise known as the ‘Cyprus Problem.’
The novel tells the interwoven stories of Petra, a single upper-class working mother living in the capital city of Nicosia; Nisha, her Sri-Lankan maid and nanny to her daughter, who has left her own daughter to be raised by relatives on the other side of the world in order to make enough money to provide for her; and Yiannis, a poacher who traps protected songbirds that stop in Cyprus on their way from Africa to Europe, and sells them on the black market. Yiannis rents an apartment from Petra. When Nisha disappears, Petra’s efforts to find her reveal that neither Nisha nor Yiannis were who she thought they were, and force Petra and Yiannis to reckon with the systemic prejudice, injustice, greed, and corruption that, by choosing to look the other way, they have been complicit in perpetuating. Lefteri’s language is not overly poetic, and the story moves slowly, and is fairly predictable. But she successfully captures the multi-dimensional humanity of characters whose stories could very easily have been reduced and over-simplified to the point where the reader would have been unable to empathise with them due to their livelihood, class, and nationality. By making her characters deeply human and relatable, Lefteri draws us into a story that sheds light on the largely ignored human right abuses being perpetuated against domestic workers in Cyprus, and the illegal hunting of migratory birds that continues today despite the efforts by Birdlife Cyprus https://birdlifecyprus.org/ to catch and bring those engaged in it to justice.
I sipped Organic Ceylon (otherwise known as Orange Pekoe)
while reading this novel because it comes from Sri Lanka just like Nisha, and is enjoyed by tea lovers across the planet. As I enjoyed this golden hued, full-bodied tea with its floral overtones I found myself wondering whether the people who grew this tea were paid any better than Nisha would have been, or if, like her, many of them also leave their families to care for someone else’s to make a living. I’m still considering how I, as a consumer, could contribute to better working conditions in tea plantations on the other side of the world.
If you have any tea and book pairing recommendations of your own to add to my list, please leave those in the comments section below! I’m always looking for new books to add to my reading pile!