By Ariana Salvo
I'm not sure what the weather is like where you live this time of year, but February on Prince Edward Island (home of Lady Baker's Tea) is cold, windy and snowy. While many of us are winter activity enthusiasts, even the most hardy enjoy coming inside after a ski or skate and curling up beside the fire with a good book.
In the tea world, just as in the wine world, there are many different types of pairings: tea and chocolate; tea and cheese; tea and savouries; tea and treats. One pairing that I have yet to come across however, and which I feel is sorely needed, is tea and books. In other words, teas which are accentuated by reading specific books while you drink them, and vice-versa.
Is your interest piqued? Read on. Here are my top five February read and sip recommendations:
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a fun read about a chef and a food critic who serendipitously cross paths on what seems like the worst day ever (for the chef). The book is full of unexpected twists and laugh out loud moments, and explores the ups and downs of the human connection with light-hearted humour. The reason why I recommend reading it while sipping Organic Moringa Coconut tea may seem obvious (i.e. both include coconut as an essential ingredient), but I recommend this tea-book combo for more reasons than one. Like the story, this tea is fun and playful. The combination of shredded coconut, basil, mango and lemon balm almost seems to dance on your tongue, and it tastes great both as a regular tea and as a latte (made with steamed milk). Also -- and this is important -- it is caffeine free, so you can drink multiple cups of it while you read without having to worry that you will be up all night!
Anne Michaels is one of my all-time favourite Canadian authors. If you haven't read her novels, you are missing out. Fugitive Pieces was her first, and, in my humble opinion, best novel to date. The reason why Anne's novels are life-changing is that she researches each and every detail with the precision of a scientist, and then integrates the details into her writing. A poet before she became a novelist, the imagery in this novel will stay with you long after you finish the last page. Fugitive Pieces begins in Europe during world war II, and is the story of the relationship between a young Jewish boy and a Greek man who meet under horrible circumstances but somehow manage to save each other. Half way through the story the characters move to Canada where they begin a new life. What moved me most about this book is the incredible tenderness with which Michaels explores how we carry the people and places that have been most dear to us within ourselves, and how they shape and influence our perception and experience of the present. I would pair this book with Lady's Slipper blend tea, which is a black tea from China's Hunan province that is mixed with bergamot, vanilla and blackcurrant. The predominant flavour of this tea is vanilla, but the bergamot infuses it with a Mediterranean warmth and there is just the subtlest hint of blackcurrant--a berry which I associate with Canada, and which we grow a lot of here on Prince Edward Island. This is a potent novel that will linger in your head for a long time after you finish it, so it needs to be paired with an equally unforgettable tea.
I came across M.J. Rose's novels a few years ago quite by accident, but I am grateful that I did. This novel combines the tactile allure of the perfume industry with the suspense of a thriller. The result is a book that will have you on the edge of your seat from the first page until the last. The plot twists are unexpected, and you will get very invested in the characters who have great depth and are well-developed. I would pair this novel with Moonlong (a.k.a. Milk Oolong). This is a partially oxidized tea, which means it is a cross between a green and a black tea. What I love about Moonlong is its incredible natural sweetness and creaminess. Legend has it that the night before the tea leaves were harvested there was a full moon and a cold wind blew over the tea hills leaving frost on the leaves. The following morning the pickers harvested the leaves and it was processed, and the resulting brew had a mysterious creamy sweetness. You have to taste this tea to really appreciate its magic, but the subtle hints of sweetness pair perfectly with a story about a family whose business is perfume. Plus -- this tea has enough caffeine to keep you awake long enough to read the whole book cover to cover in one sitting, which, since it is incredibly hard to put down, is essential!
The Signature of All Things is a sweeping epic tale whose protagonist is a woman by the name of Alma who happens to be a brilliant botanist living during a period in history when women simply did not pursue a career in studying plants. Not only does Alma study plants -- she follows her curiosity clear around the world to study and learn about them. In the process she encounters all sorts of characters and situations that challenge her and expand her experience of life and connection with herself, other people and the natural world which she loves so deeply. Gilbert did a tremendous amount of research before writing this novel, and her diligence is reflected in the exquisite historical details and descriptions. The protagonist of this novel will inspire you to no end, and will leave you wanting to go out and redefine what you are capable of. I would pair this unforgettable story with Island Strawberry, a green tea combined with dried Prince Edward Island strawberries that tastes like summertime. This tea tastes delicious iced or hot, and as plain tea, with milk or made as a latte with steamed milk. It is just as refreshing in the summer as it is warming in the winter, and I like to think that it is the type of tea that a woman like Alma might have sipped in her more quiet, contemplative moments before taking off on another grand adventure!
Delicious is an orgy for the literary foodie. Set in the Big Apple, the story follows the adventures of Californian Billie Breslin who has recently moved to New York City to take a job at the iconic food magazine 'Delicious.' Initially feeling rootless and out of place, Billie eventually falls in love with the city's vibrant food scene and the colourful characters who bring it to life, and makes a home for herself. Along the way she also makes important discoveries about herself and life. This novel will bring on an uncontrollable urge to take a trip to New York City to indulge your taste buds. It will also have you bemoaning the fact that there is (as of yet -- I'm still hopeful) no sequel. I would pair this tea with Dapple Apple -- a Sri Lankan black tea mixed with dried apples, butterscotch, and calendula and sunflower petals that tastes just like an old-fashioned candied apple, but better. It is the perfect treat in a cup, and I am convinced that Billie would wholeheartedly agree!
There you have my February tea and book pairings! Let me know what you think in the comments section below! Happy reading and sipping, friends!