NovelTeas: A Blogger’s Guide to Books and Tea

People often imagine that writers are eccentric recluses who hole themselves up in little Bohemian attic apartments, lit by candles and moonlight, the sparse floorspace taken up by a castle built of stacks and stacks of books, journals and unfinished manuscripts, the towers made from coffee cups in varying degrees of emptiness. Alright, I may be exaggerating some of this for effect, but in my defence, I have seen many an interview with authors, and well-known authors at that, in which they openly confess that their living and writing spaces tend to be somewhat cluttered; moreover, studies conducted in recent years seem to suggest that people who are comfortable with a little mess in their lives may be more intelligent and creative than those with tidier lifestyles. I will admit here and now, I’ve often found myself scoffing at these studies, but typically in the paranoid, narcissistic manner of someone whose Bohemian Dream is perpetually hindered by the fact that I’m an obsessive clean-freak. True, I live up to the earlier image of having so many books piled up on my desk that it’s long since ceased to function as a desk, and all my at-home writing is done from my bed, but be under no illusion that that those piles of books and the remaining two square inches of visible desk-space don’t get a good and proper dusting every week.

Why am I rambling on about my cleaning habits in a literary blog, I hear you ask? A fair question, dear readers, and one which brings me straight to the core theme of this article. In contrast to my clutter-dwelling (and no doubt infinitely more talented) peers, I’m something of a “co-ordinated creative”, among other self-appointed nicknames. I find it immensely difficult to focus on a story if I haven’t gotten through my day’s to-do list beforehand, or if there are things out of place in my workspace – all perfectly pitiful excuses for not having finished any of my novels yet, I’m sure, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it, officer!

There’s a lot to be said for co-ordination, however. For me, having just a few small aspects of my life that I can organise on any kind of regular basis, whether it’s having my meals planned for the week ahead, or an outfit that doesn’t make me look like I got dressed in the dark, gives me a comforting sense of control in a very chaotic world. People can even make a career out of co-ordination: think about stylists and personal shoppers, whose mission is to find the ideal scarf to go with that charming jacket and those delightful shoes; or of interior designers charged with creating and achieving that perfect, delicate balance of cluttery chic, with just the right fabric and number of chunky knit throws and mismatched cushions to go in your minimalist, Scandinavian-style lounge; or of sommeliers, those classy masters in the art of aiding their clientele in the quest for just the right horrendously expensive wine to go with their horrendously expensive meal. And so, in the fashion of those glossy guides designed to pair fine wines with fine food, or to advise on what curtains would best complement that charming print you picked up at that new Nordic interiors store, I have composed for your exploration, enjoyment and potential enlightenment, a list of recommendations on what blend of tea can be best enjoyed with what literary genre. You may find some repetitions here and there, but if you can combine either a Shiraz or a Merlot with filet mignon (apologies to any wine experts I may have just mortally offended), then surely you can choose between a black or white tea to enjoy with your Oscar Wilde collection, although I daresay Mr Wilde might have a thing or two to say about what should be drunk over his oeuvres.

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Earl Grey

Stories abound of how this blend of tea came to take the name of Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey and British Prime Minister during the 1830s. One such story claims that the blend was created by a Chinese man to suit the water at the Earl’s ancestral home, using bergamot oil to offset the lime that permeated the local water. Traditionally made using black tea, although now branching out into green as well, Earl Grey may be best enjoyed over a volume of philosophy, classical and modern alike, and enjoyed all the more as a full pot shared out among friends and colleagues over a hearty debate on the writings of Socrates or Sartre, Kant or Cato. Equally enjoyable with a gripping work of historical fiction.

Suggested Reading: Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Republic by Plato, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

Darjeeling

Considered as the “champagne of tea”, Darjeeling is a delicately flavoured tea grown in West Bengal, India, and comes in black, green, white and oolong. The brewed black tea is light and golden in colour, and offers up a pleasant, floral aroma reminiscent of childhood spring days in the garden. Best served in a small, pretty china cup while perusing a romantic novel or piece of light melodrama.

Suggested Reading: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer, One Day by David Nicholls, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

Lapsang Souchong

Originating in the Wuyi region of the Fujian province in China, Lapsang Souchong is a strong, smoky black tea, the distinctive flavour coming from the leaves being dried over pinewood fires. Something of a unique and perhaps acquired taste and scent, this blend would pair well with various works of science fiction and fantasy, in particular tales of dragon fire and dystopia, letting the smoky aroma transport you to a Victorian London re-imagined through steampunk, or to the burning remains of civilisation in a not-so-distant future.

Suggested Reading: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man by Mark Hodder, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

London Fog

While not a specific blend of tea, London Fog is a remarkable drink that deserves a mention on its own. Made by brewing a strong Earl Grey tea, then combining with lavender, steamed milk and vanilla, this sweet, warm, latte-style drink is an ideal accompaniment to stormy winter nights curled up under a woollen blanket and a weighty detective novel in hand. Nineteenth or early twentieth century murder mysteries make the ideal accompaniment with London Fog.

Suggested Reading: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries by Ngaio Marsh, The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe, The Night Manager by John le Carré.

Green Tea

What sets green tea apart from its black and oolong counterparts is that it has not gone through the same oxidation process, and due to the delicacy of its flavour it is generally recommended not to let it brew for any more than a couple of minutes, as over-brewing can render it bitter. As good for the body as it is for the soul, green tea is an excellent accompaniment to pondering over vast volumes of mythology, as its soft, herbal taste will enliven the mind and awaken the body. Highly recommended variations include Japanese matcha and green tea with jasmine.

Suggested Reading: The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer, The Kalevala by Elias Lonnrot, The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, The Kojiki by O No Yasumaro, The Mabinogion by William Owen Pughe/Lady Charlotte Guest, Mahabharata by Vyasa.

Chai

This blend is the very definition of cold winter comfort: black tea flavoured with aromatic spices, including cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Delicious both on its own or mixed with hot milk and vanilla sugar, Nepalese-style Masala Chai is the kind of tea that can make even the most heavy-hearted cynic think that somehow everything is going to be fine. Best served in a favourite mug while nestled in the reading nook or cosy armchair of choice and dressed in the baggiest jumper or pyjamas you can find, the sense of contentment and wanderlust is enhanced by a great work of travel writing, novels set abroad from your home or, for the multilingual reader, some foreign fiction to set the plans for the next big holiday in motion.

Suggested Reading: Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel (insert year here), A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, L’Etranger by Albert Camus.

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Rooibos

Also known as Redbush, this caffeine-free tea is commonly grown in Southern Africa and is of a green colour in its unoxidized state, and reddish when oxidised. Much like black tea, it can be taken either on its own or with the addition of milk, sugar, honey or lemon depending on personal taste. Known for a spectrum of health benefits, including combatting insomnia, this tea would be an effective counter to an evening spent reading horror stories before bed.

Suggested Reading: The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe, The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, Let the Right One In by John Lindqvist, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

Lavender and Oatflower

A particular favourite blend made by Pukka, this golden-coloured herbal tea provides a simple, soothing remedy for the stresses of the day and has been created specifically to aid a peaceful night’s rest. As such, recommended reading includes a collection of poetry or some light-hearted romance with an uncomplicated plot, so that if you should happen to drift off over the book there is less need to flip the pages back and start over again.

Suggested Reading: Love Poems by Carol Ann Duffy, If You Could See Me Now by Cecilia Ahern, Selected Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Fiona Sampson, The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking.

English Breakfast

Where would the Brits be without a good old cup of English Breakfast… or six? A favourite blend for all day, every day, this black tea can be served strong, weak, medium, black, with milk, with sugar, with honey or with lemon, English Breakfast is a suitable companion for any work of fiction, and is especially recommended while enjoying an afternoon of classic English literature or “théâtre de fauteuil” (French: armchair theatre, referring to plays written to be read rather than staged).

Suggested Reading: Ruy Blas by Victor Hugo, Maurice by E.M. Forster, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux, La Casa de Bernarda Alba by Federico García Lorca.

Assam

Named after the region of north-eastern India where it is grown, also regarded as the world’s largest tea-producing region, Assam is a strong, malty black tea which can be enjoyed in much the same way as English Breakfast in terms of accompanying flavours. With its brisk, stimulating flavour, Assam would make a fine companion for study of non-fiction works, such as in-depth biographies, science books and social commentaries.

Suggested Reading: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan, Greedy Man in a Hungry World by Jay Rayner, Starman by Paul Trynka, Love, Poetry & War by Christopher Hitchens, The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, Nasty Women by Various Contributors/404 Ink.

English Rose

Nothing evokes the feeling of warm summer afternoons like a cup of black tea infused with the petals and buds of the beautiful rose. Available from such well-known tea-makers as Twining’s and Whittard of Chelsea, English Rose Tea offers a rich, heady perfume and a subtly sweet flavour without the aid of sugar or artificial sweeteners, and complements collections of fairy tales and fantasy stories for children and adults alike.

Suggested Reading: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen.

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And there we have it, an extensive list of teas, some of which you will hopefully be tempted to try if there are any you are unfamiliar with, and if you can think of other and better pairings of tea and books I welcome suggestions in the Comments section below. Happy reading, Happy experimenting, and until our next meeting I’m going to experiment with postponing the de-cluttering of my desk to see if it increases my creative output.

Emma McMullan's Picture

Emma McMullan

Writer, blogger, book hoarder, mug collector and language enthusiast.