Although the calendar says it’s autumn, the temperatures here in Austin don’t really reflect that yet. I suppose high 80’s instead of mid-90’s is an improvement, but we’re still waiting for the beautiful crisp fall days that many other parts of the country are enjoying already. However, I am anticipating the cool weather and even the coming of the holidays. I’m looking forward to the first time I light my fireplace and curl up for the afternoon with a cup of tea and a good book – perhaps with a plate of cookies to sweeten things up.
I always like to think about pairing my tea with food – sweets and savories both have great matches – but right now I’m thinking about pairing my teas with books or genres that I love. I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction lately – a series about the Wars of the Roses is one of my favorites – and it seems to lend itself well to a cup (or pot) or two of tea. Even though tea was not brought to England until almost one hundred years after these wars concluded, during the reign of Elizabeth I, I find myself craving a cup of tea every time I read them. With all the power struggles and double-dealing that characterized this period in history, I find that a bracing cup of Ceylon black tea is my beverage of choice. Unfortunately, I don’t think that even an ocean of tea would have been able to calm the turmoil that was raging back then.
But when I’m reading (or re-reading) something like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Emma, I reach for a light, lovely first-flush Darjeeling. The delicate, fruity taste and aroma complement the light touch of Austen’s writing, and put me in the right frame of mind to appreciate the dance of manners that her books entail. Tea, of course, figures in most of Austen’s novels as a social setting, where one’s etiquette was scrutinized to determine one’s suitability to further social interaction. At the time, the beverage of choice was probably black tea with milk and possibly sugar, and might not have been steeped to bring out the best flavors. I always have the impression that there were far too many tea leaves, and that the tea was steeped too long – hence the need for milk and sugar! I wonder if a first-flush Darjeeling might have eased some of the social malice that Elizabeth Bennett encountered? Probably not!
One of my other favorite genres is 1930’s-40’s detective fiction, from authors such as Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) or Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep). If you’ve seen the movies with Humphrey Bogart and enjoyed them, you should definitely check out the books! I don’t think I ever understood the plot of the movie of The Big Sleep until I read the book. But this is a genre of hard-boiled detectives who are often down on their luck, and the various seedy types they encounter. Whiskey is really a beverage more suited to these works, but drinking too much of it might prevent reading and absorbing the books! Instead, try an earthy pu-erh tea. The flavors of the tea will keep your feet on the ground, with their hints of mushroom, leather, and the occasional hint of chocolate, as you follow the twists and turns of the plots to their surprising conclusions.
Whatever your taste is in literature, I’m sure there are many good matches in the tea world. And sometimes it’s nice to cozy up with a beloved tea even if it doesn’t match the book you’re reading. I may give some more thought to tea-and-novel pairings as the weather cools and a pot of tea on a Saturday afternoon beckons.
This article was originally posted to T Ching on October 4th, 2012.