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Tea and Books: Spring 2024 Pairings

By Ariana Salvo

I’m writing this on spring equinox—which in Canada is very early spring—often characterized by the first shy crocuses peeking up through melting snow—but where I am in the Mediterranean is a landscape teeming with colour and abundance. For weeks now the Cypriot hillsides, coasts and valleys have been awash with wildflowers: white and fuchsia cyclamen; violet irises; pale purple, yellow and white anemones; bright red and pastel yellow poppies, intricately patterned orchids; aubergine fritillaria, pale pink asphodels, lime green smyrnium, and most recently the soft palms of pink and white rock rose confettiing the hillsides, and deep ruby tulips standing to attention against the blue sky. Even the almond trees have been transformed into a collage of pink and white clouds of sweet-smelling blossoms vibrating with the industrious bodies of bees. It has been a long time since I’ve been in this part of the world at this time of year. I’m in awe of the island’s spring palette and perfume!

I’ve taken a few trips out of the city to immerse myself in the flower festival that the land is throwing, but today I’m home with a cold, curled up in my rocking chair sipping a hot cup of tea. While I do love frolicking in the flowers, having my body force me to slow down has given me time to read, so when I was asked to share my new tea and book pairing recommendations, I was able to wholeheartedly accept. As always, if you have any recommendations of your own, please share them in the comments section below this post. Here are my spring 2024 recommendations:   

  1. Braiding Sweetgrass  by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Abegweit Lullaby  

Friends have been recommending that I read Braiding Sweetgrass for a while now, but every time I picked it up, I ended up putting it back down again. They say a story comes to us when we are ready to receive it. This past Christmas I picked it up again, and the time was right!  

Robin Wall Kimmerer is an Indigenous writer and botanist whose desire to learn to speak the language of plants led her to become a botanist only to realize that while western science did help her hone the skill of close observation, her own Indigenous wisdom is an essential and integral part of the language of plants. This collection of personal narratives braids together Indigenous wisdom and scientific understanding to create a fuller picture of the perfection of nature; explore how we got so out of tune with the natural world to which we used to so seamlessly belong; and get curious about ways we might be able to start healing our relationship with the rest of creation. The writing is rich and poetic; the descriptions of place and relationships profound and intimate; and the arguments for re-building a reciprocal relationship with the wild natural world upon which the health and wellbeing of all living things so desperately depends powerful. Kimmerer invites us to enter a more conscious relationship with the landscapes we inhabit and the plants, animals and people that make up our communities. She asks us to reflect upon the language we use to describe the non-human world, and the values inherent to it; the ways in which our connection with the natural world shifts when we get to know a place over a lifetime; the role that rituals and myths play in maintaining a healthy relationship with the plants and animals that surround us, and the value of an honourable harvest—one that allows us to take care of ourselves without undermining the long-term health of the non-human world.

I would pair this book with Abegweit Lullaby, a Lady Baker Signature Blend of chamomile, valerian root, lemongrass, and peppermint - a soothing bedtime tea that is a combination of ingredients that grow naturally in the wild, and in many places can still be foraged—a practice which has nurtured a deeper intimacy with the natural world for Kimmerer. Abegweit, which in English means 'cradle on the waves,' is the name used by the Mi'Kmaq Nation for Prince Edward Island—Canada’s smallest province, and home of Lady Baker’s Tea.  

  1. Held by Anne Michaels, and Moonlong 

If I had to make a list of my favourite authors, Anne Michaels would be at the top of my list. Due to the painstaking research that goes into her books, it takes her between ten and fifteen years to complete a novel. So when I heard that she had a new one out, I couldn’t wait to get a copy. Held is a novel written in poetic form. Or perhaps a poem written as a novel. Although each section is given a time and place, the narrative refuses in both form and storyline to be constrained by either time or place, spanning four generations of the life of a family, but nebulously resisting linearity. I read it once through and then went back to the beginning and began again. I knew the first time through that it began with the end of a man’s life, with flashbacks to moments of choice and chance that defined his world and the lives of his descendants. I knew that it explored the distinction between reality and memory; the dialogue between light and darkness; presence and absence; and even life and death. But the experience was surreal and blurry, and I repeatedly had to turn back to remind myself whose life and memories I was reading about. On my second time through it became clear that Michaels was doing this intentionally to emphasize how patterns repeat themselves from one generation to the next, and how individuals absorb the stories of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents so completely into their bodies and memories that it is impossible to say whether a memory is ever truly one’s own. The individuals in each story are held by each other, within their own time and place, but they are also held by the generations that came before, and the ones that were to come after. This gave me a timeless, non-linear experience of life and love, loss and death, and the tender ways that seemingly ordinary daily moments, strung together over generations, make individual lives and the larger experience of life meaningful. In addition to holding each other, the characters are all held by varying intensities of light and darkness. Moon and starlight illuminate and define landscapes and characters, but light is also illusory, leaving us uncertain whether someone or something is actually there or if they are a figment of the imagination, a memory, or a ghost visiting from the past or future.

Reading Held felt like I was dreaming. I reached the end feeling like I had just read a story the details of which felt as intimate as my own family history—a comforting but disorienting sensation.

I would pair this book with one of my favourite Lady Baker’s teas: Moonlong—a creamy, sweet oolong that is soothing in both flavour and aroma, and which I like to enjoy with a square of dark chocolate! This tea is perfect for this book because there’s something dreamlike about milky oolong which I think would accentuate the sensation that the story gave me of stepping outside a linear perception of life and into a place that straddles the individual experience and a larger, cosmic reality.    

  1. The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters, and Blooming Blueberry 

The Berry Pickers begins in the summer of 1962 when a Mi’kmaq family from Nova Scotia arrives in Maine to pick blueberries. A few weeks into the harvest their youngest daughter, 4-year-old Ruthie, disappears. The last person to see her is her older brother Joe. The family’s exhaustive search for her yields no clues as to what has happened to her, and the family are eventually forced to return to Nova Scotia without her.

We are then introduced to Norma—a young girl growing up in an affluent but dysfunctional family in Maine. Throughout her childhood Norma has nightmares and visions that feel very real to her, but when she asks her parents about them her concerns are dismissed. As she gets older Norma begins to suspect that there was more to the shadows of her childhood than she has been told, so when she finally leaves home, she begins to dig deeper into her family history, determined to uncover the truth that her intuition tells her has been kept secret her whole life.

The story unfolds through the alternating voices of Joe and Norma as they grow up, their lives irreversibly altered by guilt and regret, the weight of memories, and the thoughtlessness of entitlement. I appreciated the down-to-earth, very human ways that the novel sheds light on how interconnected every human being is, and the ways that a single selfish decision can send out ripples that impact the lives of countless individuals. This is a story about grief, hope and forgiveness; about trauma and how it moves through families; and about the strength and endurance of love.       

I would pair this novel with a cup of Blooming Blueberry—a combination of organic black teas from China and Sri Lanka, organic Rooibos from South Africa, Prince Edward Island blueberries, calendula petals and hibiscus. The aroma is reminiscent of blueberry fields at harvest time.

  1. Tom Lake by Ann Patchett, and Organic Island Strawberry

This story takes place on a farm in northern Michigan over the course of a single cherry-picking season. The three grown-up daughters of Lara and Joe have returned to the family farm to help with the harvest because Covid-19 has prevented the seasonal farm hands from traveling. While they work, Lara’s daughters convince their mother to tell them the story of a romance she had had many years earlier with Duke, a famous actor she had shared a stage with for a season at Tom Lake theatre company. The narrative braids together the story of her youthful romance with the summer she, her husband and their three daughters are navigating through while the global pandemic brings so much of the larger world to its knees.

This is a story about the freewheeling abandon with which we love in youth in contrast to the enduring love that is built slowly over a lifetime; the incomplete version of reality that children grow up with and how it shapes their perception of their parents and themselves; how families are built and change over time; and the connection between family dynamics and land—particularly in families that build a relationship with place over multiple generations. 

I would enjoy this book with a steaming cup of Organic Island Strawberry—an organic sencha from China combined with dried Prince Edward Island strawberries and papaya. Strawberry picking is a much-loved early summer activity on PEI, and one that is often an annual family tradition. The farm Lady Baker’s Tea gets its strawberries from is a family operation on the Argyle shore called Shore Breeze Farm run by Jen VanEwyk. Just like the family in Tom Lake, Jen’s whole family comes together every summer to make sure that the harvest gets done!

  1. Field Notes on Listening by Kit Dobson, and Genmaicha

I came across this book on the bookshelf of a dear friend on a snowy day while back on Prince Edward Island this past Christmas. The image on the cover is a picture of the vast Canadian night’s sky speckled with starlight above the silhouetted tops of pines. Unable to resist, I made myself a cup of tea and settled into a cozy armchair to learn how to listen better, while the snow fell soft outside.

Field Notes on Listening is a work of non-fiction by Kit Dobson, a professor of English at the University of Calgary who originally hails from northern Alberta. This is a truly magical look at how we can deepen and enrich our experience of place and connection by learning how to hone our power of listening. Dobson sees listening as a power. He says that “careful listening allows one to see farther than vision ever might.” For Dobson, listening means slowing down. It takes time because it is slower to process sound, and as such is a challenge to the world of speed. Listening is a gift granted by the places we inhabit—if we take the time to truly hear what the places are telling us. He explores the many ways we can listen: across time and generations; across geographies; across seasons; as settlers or as people Indigenous to place; as farmers; as oil prospectors; as writers. He also looks at why we listen: to remember; to dream; to understand changes in the environment; to let go; to make future plans.

Since reading Dobson’s book, I’ve been trying to be more conscious of how I experience sound throughout my day. I’ve been integrating it into my morning pages—what sounds greet me in the morning? Am I listening selectively? What am I choosing to not listen to that could further enrich my experience of the places I inhabit?

I would pair this book with Genmaicha, also known as Popcorn tea—a green sencha from Japan that is blended with fire-roasted rice. There is something contemplative about Genmaicha. I sip it when I am in a meditative mood—when I want to slow down and listen. It is a soothing, comforting tea for me.

Happy reading/tea sipping, friends!


1 comment


Thank you again, Ariana. Having lost most of my hearing I have felt somewhat abandoned by the life around me. I have been reading much lately from Celtic spirituality devotionals which are a reminder of the creation and its vibrant and passionate involvement in our lives, if we let it! Some major adjustments to my hearing device and my fairly recent new-found love of creation have definitely connected with your books and tea selections for this season!

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