Embark on a Flavorful Adventure with These Charming Tea & Book Pairings

Posted on August 16, 2023 at 6:00 am

By Dana Mannino

Tea is versatile—hot in the winter and cool and refreshing in the summer. The variety of available blends and flavors adds to its versatility. In any season, tea is the perfect accompaniment to a book.

This summer, we collaborated with three local tea shops to bring you the series Iced Tea & Porch Reads. You can sign up for our last of these programs, happening at Moran Prairie Library next week on Wednesday, August 23, 6:30pm (registration is required). During the program, participants sample teas of contrasting flavors, and a librarian suggests book titles that might pair well with each one.

The series has been immensely popular, and my guess is that some folks who wanted to come were unable and missed out. So, for those who couldn’t make it, here are some suggested books to pair with a few classic tea flavors.

Black Tea

Tea and science fiction. An unusual pairing? Well, let us not forget Captain Picard’s proclivity for “Earl Grey, hot.”

In Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series, tea is a mark of civilization. The dominant culture brings the practice of tea drinking to each planet it colonizes. The richer you are, the nicer your tea set. The third book in the series takes place on a high-end tea plantation. In my imagination, the tea they are drinking is black. Bracing with a high caffeine content, black tea must be what’s keeping this expansionist civilization running.

The series focuses on Breq, a human body inhabited by the artificial consciousness of a battleship. Once comprised of a large army of such human-AI “ancillaries,” Breq is the sole survivor of an explosion that destroyed the ship. When we meet her in book one, Ancillary Justice, Breq is adjusting to life in just one body and grieving the loss of her crew. Only a calculated plan for vengeance (or is it justice?) keeps Breq alive.

The Imperial Radch series is a cerebral piece of science fiction that grapples with big questions around colonialism and gender, with occasional bursts of swift satisfying action sprinkled throughout. The fifth installment in the series, Translation State, was released in June. Savor the series like a great cup of tea, and you may have six months of satisfying reading ahead of you.

Green Tea

Although not technically an herbal tea, green tea tastes… well… green—like drinking your garden.

Mary Oliver’s poetry is often about the act of paying close attention to a living thing: a grasshopper, a bird, each and every leaf on a tree. Her Zen practice of attention pairs well with the fresh herbal flavor of green tea. Check out the collection A Thousand Mornings as a place to start.

Mint Tea

Mint is cool and refreshing like an evening breeze. It can be sweetened by honey, but it also has a bite to it.

Local author Julie Riddle’s memoir, The Solace of Stones, recounts Julie’s coming of age at the foot of the Cabinet Mountains in Montana. The setting is lush green. In her descriptions, you can smell the mountain breeze and feel the cool, clear streams.

But like mint, Julie’s idyllic mountain childhood harbored a bitter bite. Prior to moving to the mountains, Julie was sexually abused at a daycare center. Julie’s memories of the incidents were repressed until adulthood. But Julie grows up with a great darkness inside of her that she struggles to understand.

In her reflections, Julie strikes a beautiful balance between loving tenderness and honest criticism. She describes the tools she, her family, and her community used to confront tragedy, both the tools they were missing and the new tools they found as they grew. The memoir chronicles the coming of age of not just Julie, but her entire family. Fresh, sweet, bitter, and poignant, The Solace of Stones is the perfect memoir to read in the evening in a hammock by the lake.

Rooibos Tea

Rooibos is an earthy, sweet red tea. It forms the base of many fruity blends. I’ve also seen it used to make a deep red, caffeine-free chai. Rooibos is a bush native to South Africa, and the tea is made from its leaves.

While you are sipping rooibos, why not spend some time with South African fiction? Yewande Omotoso’s novel The Woman Next Door has a similar appeal as A Man Called Ove or its US film adaptation A Man Called Otto. Like Ove/Otto, the two protagonists of The Woman Next Door have chosen bitterness as the best strategy to deal with the sadness life has handed them. They are unwilling participants in a friendship that slowly softens their hardened hearts. Book clubs will find much to discuss in the novel’s treatment of race, age, regret, and redemption.

Apricot Tea

I love tea flavored with a hint of apricot. Even iced, apricot teas taste warm the way the ground feels warm on a hot day. For me, Lynne Rae Perkins’s Criss Cross evokes that same feeling.

Criss Cross is a children’s chapter book which won the John Newbery Medal in 2006. I’m not sure what kids think of it, but I know it’s a hit with many adults.

Criss Cross takes place in a small town in the 1960s. The nostalgia appeal is strong. The book follows a group of teenagers doing summer things: tanning in the back yard, sitting in an idling truck listening to the radio with a group of friends, lying on the roof watching the stars. Not a lot happens in the book, but reading it brings you back to that teenage summertime mood. Time feels suspended. A deep undercurrent of longing is never fully satisfied. A perfectly book to enjoy on an afternoon when it’s too hot to move.

Mango Tea

Iced mango-flavored black tea is my favorite summertime flavor. My favorite mangos are the bright yellow Manilla ones first grown in the Philippines.

I’ve never traveled the Philippines, but teen novel Patron Saints of Nothing, by Randy Ribay, made me feel like I had caught a glimpse of it. Filipino-American teenager Jay learns that his cousin has died, a casualty of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Jay arranges to travel to the Philippines to uncover the painful truths that his family won’t share with him.

Among the many nuanced themes running through the book is the sensationalism of problems in developing countries. Media reporters rush in, capture as much bleak footage as possible, and then leave. Jay’s experiences offer us a more complex and in-depth view. We visit the upper-class mansion of Jay’s uncle, a prominent military official. We sit on the patio of Jay’s middle-class aunts’ home where neighbors gather to sing karaoke while sitting in plastic lawn chairs. We inch hesitantly up the rickety stairs of a tenement. We drive with Jay, beyond cell phone coverage, to his grandparents’ farm where an abundance of love and good food make up for the lack of indoor plumbing. After reading this book, I felt that I had been given a small window into a complex reality and had been challenged to remember how little I know.

Strawberry Tea

Strawberry-flavored teas are sweet and warm, simple and bright. They are like the innocent child of teas. They are wonderful to drink iced while rocking on a porch on a warm day.

For a tea that lovable, I recommend my all-time favorite porch read: The Museum of Rain, by Dave Eggers. This short story is published in a five-inch square hardcover book. Scan our shelves and you might miss it, but pick it up and you won’t regret it. You can finish it in one cup of tea, and I guarantee it will lift your spirits.

In the story, a spry 73-year-old veteran leads a group of distantly related children on a hike along the Central California coast on a hot summer’s day. Eggers’s descriptions transport you instantly: You can feel the sun, smell the dry grasses, and hear the children exclaiming as they hike. I recommend this book to everyone but especially to people who have worked with children (and enjoyed it), to people who like geocaching, and to anyone in the mood for a story about the healing power of nature and connection.

Closing Thoughts

Not much summer is left. You may feel some end-of-summer panic creeping in and may have even thought, “Wait, I still haven’t had time to relax!” Fear not, there’s still time to brew some tea and slip into another world with a book. Happy end-of-summer reading!

Librarian Dana Mannino

Dana Mannino is a librarian at Spokane County Library District. She plans library programs for adults and serves as an SCLD liaison to the Latinx community. At home, she hosts biannual Lord-of-the-Rings–themed parties and watches BritBox. How does she take her tea? Very, very seriously.

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