Through the wonderful world of Twitter, I had the privilege of tweeting with a fellow tea enthusiast, Katrina Ávila Munichiello. After several tweetersations, Katrina asked me to review her first book, A Tea Reader. Needless to say, I was absolutely tea-lighted.
After days of waiting for Mr. Postie to deliver my parcel, I finally received it. I opened my parcel, looked at the front cover, and thought, “A tea book? With a teabag on the front cover??” It’s a thought that is shared by other reviews I have read about the book, but after writing an article about being snobby about herbal infusions, I really shouldn’t be so quick to judge. (The “tea” that I made to accompany my reading is a Chinese herbal infusion known as luo han guo, which mum tells me is good for soothing my cough and sore throat.) The front cover is actually quite clever, with the title of the book imitating a teabag label.
The dust jacket kindly informs the reader that it is not a book about tea, but a collection of tea-inspired memories grouped into tea reveries, connections, rituals, careers, and tea travels. Each grouping is explained clearly, which enables the reader to dip into the book, and read a story, memory, moment, tale, or ritual as they wish, rather than reading the book from start to finish.
When I start a book, I like to place my left thumb on the last page, the rest of my fingers of my left hand on the first page and flick through very quickly. I have always done this as a child, cheekily looking to see if there are any photographs that I can look at first, before reading the first few pages of a book. What I found were some wonderful illustrations of tea and teaware by Katie Sloss and Stephanie Sewhuk Thomas. The illustrations made me smile with content.
For a tea enthusiast, looking through the contents, one quickly recognizes some of the authors, who are (or were) key figures in the tea industry. There are others who might be key figures in their respective industries. They range from poets to editors, police officers to educators, filmmakers to curators, writers to ordained ministers, and single dads to married mothers. One could be so bold as to say that the contributors to the book are a wonderful blend of tea enthusiasts from around the globe from earlier times to the modern day. For those who are unfamiliar with the contributors, there is an “About” section at the back of the book. This section makes for a really interesting read and I had many of those “I didn’t know that!” moments when reading it.
Katrina starts with her story of how she fell in love with tea. It’s a beautiful story capturing childhood tea memories. I, for one, smiled as Katrina recalled the time she stayed at home from school because she was sick and how her mother popped the kettle on to settle her stomach with a lovely cup of “milky sweetness.” Nodding and smiling were frequent reactions of mine as I read each story with enthusiasm.
As a tea enthusiast, I naturally gravitated towards the memories and stories as told by the likes of Robert Fortune, James Norwood Pratt, Jane Pettigrew, and of course, the household name, Thomas J. Lipton. I also enjoyed stories by literary heavyweights, such as Louise May Alcott, Joseph Rudyard Kipling, and George Robert Gissing. It was interesting to read memories and tales from tea enthusiasts who are not in the tea space; Kien-Long’s “Ode on Tea” and Le Yih’s “Ballad of the Tea Picker” were both a joy to read.
Tea is timeless as a comforter and a social lubricant, whether you’re feeling down or whether you’d like to catch up with friends. If you enjoy moments of solitude and would like to have a bit of me time, sit back and relax with A Tea Reader, accompanied by a steaming cup of your favorite tea.