I’m not going to lie to you. I drank coffee while writing this article, not tea. I write in the mornings and need that extensive caffeine jolt in order to make my brain work this early. But, please, dear reader, do not think that because I drink coffee in the morning that I am any less credible to write this article that combines two of my favorite things: tea and literature.
I come from a long line of tea drinkers. My parents started off each day with a large carafe of tea placed in the middle of our circular wooden kitchen table. The morning was never fully complete without the clink of my mom stirring two spoonfuls of sugar into a vacation mug full of Bigelow’s Constant Comment. In the evenings my dad, a lover of all things in eastern culture, would switch to green tea, and I promise you if you want to know every single benefit of green tea, he’s the guy to ask.
For myself, I like to think of coffee, tea, and books as a beautiful love triangle. I spend my mornings reading with my dear friend coffee, but spend my afternoons and evenings romancing a gentle cup of tea and a paperback. Tea equates to relaxation for me, and there is usually nothing relaxing about my mornings. It’s my time to get things done, and for that to happen I need coffee–you don’t want to see me without coffee: it’s pathetic. So, I save my teatime for the afternoon, like so many Brits across the pond. There’s nothing more pampering to me than a steaming cup of tea in one hand, the milk pluming in its depths, and a good book in the other.
This week on Lit & Love, we want to bring you a week of “Literary Pairings,” posts that will hopefully make you thirsty for drink as well as hungry for some ink. Sarah will be posting about some food pairings later in the week, but I thought I’d start off the week by pairing some tea with some modern and classic literature.
High vs. Low Tea in Britain
Before we begin I wanted to clear up the difference between high and low tea. After doing a bit of research on the history of tea, I stumbled across a lovely article from NPR that discussed the differences between high and low tea. Apparently, I had been wrong for years in believing that traditional British high tea was served in the afternoon (typical American).
Low tea is actually what one calls afternoon tea—usually served around 3 or 4—because people used to lounge in low chairs while drinking tea and nibbling small sandwiches. The tradition came about to stave off the high class’s hunger while waiting for their dinner which traditionally started no earlier than 7:30. I think I’d need a snack too if I had to wait that long for supper!
High tea was actually invented by the working class. It was usually eaten when they got off work at 5 or 6 and was a much heartier meal served at the dinner table. Because it was at a high table it got the name of “high tea.”
Whether you are a morning, afternoon, or evening tea connoisseur, here are some perfect books to indulge in while you sip. For most of the pairings, I chose to use Twinings tea because of their universal availability, their selection, and their history as one of the first tea shops in Britain.
Flavor: black tea flavored with oil of bergamot
For this distinctly British tea, I chose two British author’s who exemplify the British ideal. J.R.R. Tolkein famously mentions his hobbits’ seven daily hobbit meals in the prologue of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings which includes afternoon tea. And although you know I’m not a huge fan of Jane Austen, any of her novels are perfect examples of navigating British propriety and tea tables. Austen mentions tea so frequently in her novels that tea shops have even started making teas inspired by her novels.
Irish Breakfast Tea
Flavor: a blend of black teas, mostly Assam teas
How could I not pick these two classic Irish authors? Just as both these authors embody the Irish spirit, so too does this robust breakfast tea. Even though James Joyce is characterized by his unconventional style, Dubliners is by far his most palatable and accessible work. If you’re in for some tea-related drama, there is a hilarious and very tense scene in Act II of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest that every tea-lover should read.
Flavor: tea leaves that have not undergone the withering and oxidation process
These are two of my favorite Chinese-American authors. Really anything by Amy Tan would pair well with the calming nature of green tea. The Bone Setter’s Daughter is my favorite from her and, like The Joy Luck Club, focuses on the complex relationships between mothers and daughters. I can’t say enough about how much I am enjoying reading Liu’s collection of short stories. We are reading it for book club this month, and his stories take you on a fantastic journey to mythical lands with tumultuous characters.
Pure Rooibos Red Tea
Flavor: made from the rooibos plant, also known as “bush” or “redbush” tea
One of the best classes I ever took was a South African literature class. Since Rooibos tea is popular in Southern Africa, it made sense to throw in some of the wonderful, heart-breaking literature from that area of the globe. One of my favorite books from the class was Fugard’s Tsotsi, a story about a young criminal (Tsotsi translates to “gangster”) living in apartheid South Africa and his journey towards humanity and compassion in a harsh, unforgiving environment. The other is Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy, an autobiography about his struggle to survive in apartheid South Africa and his journey to escape it through a tennis scholarship.
Flavor: black tea with Indian spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger.
Chai is derived from the Chinese word for tea, but Masala chai with its special blend of spices originated in India as an herbal remedy. To pair with chai’s Indian heritage, I chose two stories which dive deeply into the history and spiritualism of India. Rushdi’s masterpiece Midnight’s Children, a mixture of historical fiction and magical realism, discusses India’s transition from British colonialism to independence. While Martel’s Life of Pi discusses the external struggles and internal demons of a young Indian boy lost at sea attempting to find his way to land and spiritual understanding.
Camomile, Honey and Vanilla
Flavors: a soothing blend of camomile, honey, and vanilla
This is one of my favorite teas from Twinings, so it made sense to pair it with my two favorite series. There’s nothing like a calming cup of camomile tea at the end of the day to really help me unwind and just get my mind off the stress of the world around me. What Camomile does for my body, Rowling and Lewis do for my soul. Both Rowling’s Harry Potter Series and C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia are enchanting bedtime stories for children and adults alike. The magical worlds constructed by these classic fantasy authors are delightful reads to put nerds like me at ease 🙂
Flavor: a blend of rose blossoms and raspberries
Rose tea is my absolute favorite type of tea. When I was in high school, my cousin Tina brought me back a lovely satchel of Rose tea from her trip to England, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Unfortunately, Twinings does not carry a rose tea (completely baffling to me), so I chose this special blend from The Republic of Tea which is part of their line of Downton Abbey teas. For the pairings, I once again chose some highly British literature. Probably the most famous tea party in all of literature can be found in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. That scene combined with the talking roses Alice encounters makes it a perfect pairing. The Rose Society by Marie Lu is the second installment of her Young Elites series. The dark, thrilling read contrasts the delicate tea nicely.
What is your favorite type of tea? Can you think of any other tea & literature pairings? Comment below!
Lit & Love,