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Tea & Books: Fall 2021 Pairings

This is the most recent blog post in a series of tea and book pairing pieces that Ariana has done for Lady Baker’s Tea. Here are some links for other tea and book pairing recommendations from Ariana's - Tea and Books: Spring Pairings and Tea and Books: Cozy Fall Pairings.

By Ariana Salvo

To see the first two signs of fall on Prince Edward Island you have to look up. Personally, I find it hard not to. The trees are awash in golden light that glows in the shriveled palms of leaves. Far above the treetops giant airborne arrows of geese pointed south honk their way towards places with mild winters. I have questions about why creatures that fly away from winter every year are named after a country defined by it. On Prince Edward Island we are preparing for Canadian Thanksgiving: a time of gathering and culinary bounty. The farmers are working hard to harvest the last of their crops. People flock to apple orchards and pumpkin patches, filling wagons and buckets with fruit for pies and crumbles, jellies and jack-o’-lanterns. This weekend families will come together around tables across the country to give thanks. As the weather cools those of us who are tea and book lovers have also started compiling lists of books we want to read to ourselves or with others this winter, curled up next to a fire with hot cups of tea in our hands. Here are five fall tea and book pairing recommendations:

1. The Lizard Cage, by Karen Connelly & Genmaicha 

The Lizard Cage is a work of fiction about a Burmese singer and songwriter named Teza who’s been given a twenty-year prison sentence for using music to inspire the fight for freedom and justice in a country living under the iron fist of dictatorship. The story alternates between Teza’s daily life in solitary confinement and the ways that his commitment to his Buddhist beliefs influence his jailers, fellow prisoners, and a young orphan boy, and snapshots of life outside the prison and the families that have been torn apart by corruption and greed. Connelly highlights how paying attention to the tiniest details—observing spiders and lizards who are free to enter and leave the prison at will, the sound of rain, the power of memories and even the simple act of focusing on the inhalation and exhalation of air—can increase a person’s capacity to find nobility in the face of even the most horrific circumstances. The story awakens in the reader the bodily sensation of solitary confinement, fear, injustice, powerlessness, courage, humanity, and love. Connelly expertly brings to life the individual and collective experience of a people who exist in the shadow of fear and suspicion. But even in the mire of so much darkness she illuminates the ways that the Burmese people, against all odds, find their way back to tenderness, kindness, compassion and hope. This is a story about the resilience of the human spirit and the tremendous power of faith. It is also a reminder that words will always threaten injustice because they inspire people to imagine a different reality, and the imagined is the root of change.

I would pair this novel with Genmaicha. Genmaicha is a sencha green tea from Japan blended with fire-roasted rice. In the roasting process some of the grains pop, which is why this tea is often called popcorn tea despite not containing any corn. There are many stories about how this tea came to be. My favourite is that a poor servant named Genmai hid some leftover rice in his sleeve to supplement his meagre diet. Forgetting that he had done so, he accidentally dropped some rice into his master’s cup when he was serving him his tea. In a fit of rage, his master cut off Genmai’s head, but when he sat down to have his tea he discovered that the rice gave the tea a pleasantly sweet, toasty flavour. Dismayed that he had taken his servant’s life, he named the rice-infused tea after him. Cha is the word for tea, so this tea is literally Genmai’s tea!

2. One Room in a Castle, by Karen Connelly & Pink Lady 

It is rare for me to recommend two books by the same author in a single blog post, but I only recently discovered Karen Connelly’s writing, and have been so impressed that I have read four books by her in the last few weeks. One Room in a Castle: Letters from Spain, France & Greece is a book of letters and stories informed by her experiences and stories shared with her during her time living in these three countries as a young woman. The astuteness of Connelly’s observations about landscape, culture and language impressed and made me laugh out loud. They also reflect a perceptiveness about the inner workings of these countries and their people that would take most people years of intimacy with place to understand. At a time in history when international travel is more challenging, the stories in this book allow us to travel without leaving home. They challenge us to delve deeper; to question our assumptions and expectations; to step out of our comfort zone, and to emerge with a far richer understanding of people and place.

I would read this book with a cup of Pink Lady tea, an earl grey infused with oil of bergamot and scented with Prince Edward Island rose petals. Bergamot is grown in the Mediterranean. Combined with the aromatic wild rose petals of Prince Edward Island, this tea is a true fusion of east and west. A true cross-cultural delight!

3. Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead & Moonlong

Great Circle braids together the stories of two women living a century apart: Marian Graves—a young woman living in prohibition-era Montana who falls in love with flying as a child, and spends her life working toward her dream of circumnavigating the globe by flying over both North and South Poles; and Hadley Baxter, an actress from Los Angeles who gets cast to play Marian in a film about her mysterious disappearance over Antarctica. Despite living in very different times and circumstances, Marian and Hadley are both determined to chart their own courses in the world, and are willing to make tremendous sacrifices to achieve their goals. This is an epic, sweeping novel that invites us into the daily lives of the protagonists, while at the same time placing what is happening to them personally on a map of the world. I found the way that Shipstead situates Marian’s story within the larger context of advances being made in aviation around the globe to be particularly fascinating as it gave us a real sense of the pulsing excitement of pushing the limits of what is possible, as well as the tremendous risks that early pilots took to further advances in air travel.

This book is best enjoyed while sipping a steaming cup of Moonlong. This tea has a pale-yellow liquor that is reminiscent of moonlight. It is light, naturally creamy and slightly sweet. As a partially oxidized tea it can be infused many times, each infusion revealing a new layer of flavours—the perfect treat on a chilly fall morning!

4. The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh & Organic Camomile 

The Language of Flowers is a novel about a young woman who has grown up in the foster care system and never really belonged anywhere. Unable to really connect to anyone, the one language that makes sense to her is the language flowers, so when she finds herself homeless and living in a public park she finds solace in planting a small garden. Her ability to help others using the language of flowers is discovered by a local florist who hires her and gives her a way to connect with and build the community she has never had. This story is about finding and trusting your own voice, but it is also about the responsibility that each of us has to support those who are less privileged so that they too can find their place in, and contribute to society. Diffenbaugh wrote this novel to highlight the experiences that so many foster kids experience when they reach 18 and age out of the system, but do not have the support mechanisms in place to get them to whatever their next step in life will be. You can learn more about her work here  and learn how to support this initiative here

This book should be savoured while sipping a steaming cup of Organic Camomile tea. Camomile is a deceptively fragile-looking flower. It often gets trampled underfoot, which makes it grow lower and tighter to the ground, an adaptation that makes it stronger and sturdier. In Victorian times it symbolized summoning up the courage to survive life’s challenges, and it continues to be used today for its restorative, healing and soothing properties.

5. Infinite Gradation, by Anne Michaels & Pumpkin Spice 

Infinite Gradation is a tiny book overflowing with very big questions about the purpose of the creative process, love and loss. Michaels approaches these topics through the lens of work created by the sculptor Eva Hesse, the painter Jack Chambers, and print maker and sculptor Claire Wilks. It only took me an hour to read this cover to cover, but I quickly went in search of a pencil to underline ideas and make notes in the margin that I will continue to go back to. The reflections in this volume are a meditation on how we assign meaning and value to art, asking questions such as why we assume that the art we create should outlive us and whether it is any less valuable if it did not. Michaels’ narrative poem grapples with presence and absence: of friends, lovers and even the self, and confronts how we define existence versus inexistence; the purpose of loneliness, and what we are grieving when people and things shift form. This is one book that I will keep on my bookshelf to return to over and over as my own thoughts and ideas around these questions change and evolve.

This book is best read while sipping honey-sweetened Pumpkin Spice tea out of a hand-thrown mug. A blend of black teas from Sri Lanka, Kenya and India are the base for this tea. Cinnamon adds warmth, pumpkin and apple add notes of fall sweetness, and rosehips throw in a boost of much-needed vitamin C. I like to add a splash of milk to mine, which makes it feel like dessert in a cup.

These are my fall book/tea recommendations. Do you have some to add to my list? Please share them in the comments section below! Wishing everyone living north of the border a happy Canadian Thanksgiving, and everyone living elsewhere a beautiful fall! May you take the time to slow down and savour the shift in the seasons. And may you do so with a good cup of tea and a pile of stories that fuel your dreams, whatever they may be!

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