Opinion | Books to add warmth to your chai time
Literary icons like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton and Henry James all professed a love for tea
I imagine standing behind a counter, kettle on the stove, a range of teas lined neatly in front of me. There are strainers, pots, sugar bowls and an assortment of mugs of varying sizes. There are bar stools, armchairs and pouffes punctuating bookshelves. There are people reading, mug of tea in hand, and maybe a dog or two lolling around. Everything that would make my world perfect.
Tea and books are a twosome. I have found often that a lover of one is also a devotee of the other. There are so many great writers whose professed love for tea (google “tea quotes and authors") is widely circulated among tea folk. Some brought their love for tea into their novels. Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, Henry James…. My friend, Peter Keen, reminds me of Samuel Johnson’s love for tea: “it solaces the midnight and welcomes the morning". And of Anton Chekhov, who, he believes, would be the literary patron saint of tea if there was one.
So much fiction makes room for tea.... I am thinking of contemporary authors like Shona Patel and her Teatime For The Firefly, set in a fictional tea garden in Assam, and Dinah Jefferies’ The Tea Planter’s Wife, which draws one into the world of a Ceylonese tea garden in the 1920s. It is vicarious pleasure through and through. And if you, like me, find nothing more relaxing than a good murder mystery, Laura Childs has a whole series called the Tea Shop Mysteries. The first of the series is Death By Darjeeling, a pretty irresistible title for a tea drinker. Theodosia Browning runs the Indigo Tea Shop and just can’t keep her nose out of detective work. Keeping her company are her sommelier, Drayton, and a dog named Earl Grey. I am on book No.19, Plum Tea Crazy. They are easy reads and reading them with my tea is not too different from my teen years, when a glass of juice and a Nancy Drew made for a perfect summer afternoon.
Though tea fiction is fun, it’s the non-fiction that I find most riveting. The world of tea comes with all the ammo a writer needs: colourful characters, idyllic settings, drama, intrigue and a ready availability of the most outlandish tales. My favourite 5, and in no particular order, are Sarah Rose’s For All The Tea In China, the story of how Robert Fortune smuggled tea out of China into India, changing the course of history; Erika Rappaport’s A Thirst For Empire: How Tea Shaped The Modern World; Jeff Koehler’s Darjeeling: The Colourful History And Precarious Fate Of The World’s Greatest Tea; M. Ravindran and Saaz Aggarwal’s An Elephant Kissed My Window And Other Stories From The Tea Plantations of South India, because so little is written about the south and this book packs anecdotes and history marvellously well; and Curry by Lizzie Collingham, because in a book titled curry, she gives us a whole chapter on chai!
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.