There is an excellent Zen proverb: Chazen Ichi Mi. It translates to: “Tea and Zen are one flavour.” To be honest, as a tea drinker I am not surprised. I’m only disappointed to see “books” excluded from the list. My Japanese is a little rusty but maybe we could change it to Chazenhon Ichi Mi. “Tea, Zen, and Books are one flavour.” Yes! It’s going to be my mantra for this year’s International Tea Day. That’s right, folks. There is an official International Tea Day, and it deserves our most zen-like dedication.
What Is International Tea Day?
We all have our Zen. For me, it is sitting down with a good book and an even better cup of tea; a rare treat but always savoured. And then I learned of International Tea Day. I kid you not: An international day in recognition of the tea workers and the tea industry, and all the benefits we drinkers receive. It started in India in 2005, initiated by workers in the tea industry to bring attention to inequality amongst workers and plantations worldwide. Every year, they bring to light various issues relating to the tea industry. This year, the workers have released a statement focusing on the inclusion of ALL tea workers; including temporary and non-resident workers in tea estates and those engaged by small farmers. More than half of the workers are women. Very rarely are any of them included in the recognition of that fine brew sipped by so many of us.
Gives a whole new perspective on your cuppa, doesn’t it? Definitely one worthy of some extra “brewing” time.
International Tea Day is celebrated on 15 December each year. Between the benefits of tea-drinking and the recognition of tea workers, I really don’t need any more reasons for a cup of tea. It doesn’t get much easier than a whole day to dedicate to tea appreciation and a good book.
For The Youngest “Leaf Buds”
Our family favourite is Zen Ties by Jon Muth. It is a follow-on book from Zen Shorts by the same author, with the introduction of a new character: Stillwater’s nephew Koo; as in “Hi Koo!” (Haiku). He speaks in beautiful prose throughout. In the beginning, Stillwater and Koo share a cup of tea but instead of discarding the cup, Stillwater advises Koo to keep the cup for the duration of his visit. A simple and small gesture but one that is important to the nature of Zen and the respect of tea. The stories themselves are reflective, with a soothing hypnotic nature within the prose. The illustrations are equally dreamy in their watercolour appearance. Every child who reads the books has their own impression but not a single child has walked away untouched. If anything, the book usually provokes a sudden desire for tea and tree climbing. You have been warned.
For Those Just Expanding Their Tea Appreciation
I’m always wary of suggesting books in the junior fiction/young adult genre. I find it hard for a book to really apply across the entire demographic; a bit like the phrase “chick-lit.” I so hate that term. However, I have found a YA that may not appeal to everybody but is broad enough to at least warrant a look from most: The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault. A sweet book with a main character most readers will admire. The book itself is a “whodunit” with the weird connection to a reluctant Marnie and her recently acquired leaf-reading skills. And there is nothing better than a mouthy teenager with a weird new skill base. The mystery itself is a page-turner but the bonus is the constant anticipation of what Marnie will say next.
For The Smooth Blend
If you’re looking for a light-hearted book with a touch of intrigue, Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs should fill your cup. I don’t know what it is about tea and mystery novels but it is a popular combination. For Childs and her “Indigo Tea Shop” series, the mystery is only one flavour. I found myself floating along with images of a quaint town in Charleston, filled with vibrant quirky residents who filled my teapot with a strong taste of community. Our main protagonist, Theo, is living the dream…or at least my dream of the perfect tea shop and kitchen with workshops run by a connoisseur and baskets filled with never-ending goodies. I can’t remember if Childs included it in her descriptions but my head-cannon has a high-winged chair in the corner with a stack of my favourite books while I listen in on the drama of Theo’s life.
For The Long and Strong Brew
Some cups of tea require a bit longer to brew; as do some books. Serious reading requires serious flavour, both of which are present in Late for Tea at the Deer Palace by Tamara Chalabi. Now here is a book filled with dramatic history, for both family and their native country Iraq. Chalabi has provided a well-written perspective of her family’s presence in Iraq, dating back hundreds of years and filled with grand stories of honour and responsibility. What starts as a glorious recollection of riverside houses and rose-scented gardens, slowly descends into an honest analysis of Iraq’s transformation and eventual exile of her family. I loved this book, and not just for the political history. I loved it for the way Chalabi shares her family’s traditions and behaviours like any other family, and at the same time is able to show these as part of the intricate blend of Iraqi people. This is the book I will recommend for anyone wanting to understand more about Iraq and its history. This is the book that deserves a long strong brew of tea.
…And One For The Pot
To be honest, sometimes you may not be in the mood for reading, and I get that. I really do. But if you are looking for a zen-like activity to work with your cup of tea, check out Elegant Tea Coloring Book by Laurie Triefeldt. Consider it a bonus.
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