Posted inLiterature

Books & a Brew

Illustration by Ben Beechener

There are few things better than curling up with a good book and a cup of tea. 

As an avid enthusiast of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and just about any hot drink you can put in a mug, I often find that my memories of particular books become tangled up with the flavour of different drinks. 

As the days grow shorter and colder, you might, like me, already be dreaming of a couple afternoons well spent with a fast-paced novel, many blankets, and a warm mug (even as essay deadlines sneakily threaten these plans!).  

Whether you are looking for short poetry or a page-turner, a post-apocalyptic dystopia or magical realism, here are some recommendations of five favourite pairings of books and brews – so sit back, grab your cuppa, and start flipping through the pages! 

For the coffee lovers

Cappuccino or Pumpkin Spice Latte: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel  

A novel about life in a world ravaged by a respiratory virus – sound familiar?  

Such a warm and toasty beverage may feel like a controversial choice for the often-violent, post-pandemic landscape of Mandel’s novel. But deep down, this is a story about the power of the arts to heal, connect people, and even to outlive societal collapse itself, so that this sugary beverage is exactly what you will want to accompany this moving read. 

Although this may sound like the kind of book you may want to avoid like the plague after the past year and a half in the grips of Covid-19, I do recommend giving it a chance. It may not be the escapism you had in mind, but Emily St John Mandel’s world is nevertheless very different from our own. 

This book is deeply rousing, beautiful, and touching. Enmeshing multiple story lines, multifaceted characters, and exquisitely crafted sentences, it is a novel that has come back to me many times since the trance-like days when I read it for the first time.  

And what better for a memorable book than a well-loved beverage?  

Dark roast filter coffee: The Secret History by Donna Tart 

A perfect, classics-infused autumn read (or for any time of the year really!), this mystery-turned-on-its head is sure to draw you in. The story of the circumstances surrounding a murder amid an exclusive and alluring group of students in a small New England college, the book follows their gradual descent from the bounds of morality. Delving into their webs of falsehoods, luxury, intellectual exploits, and near-miss escapades, this book feels like a strange dream. Its 500-plus pages fly by with Tart’s rich prose and intricate plot. 

Accompany this book with a freshly brewed cup of filter coffee – the perfect companion to the obscure atmosphere of Donna Tart’s Vermont. The caffeine in your coffee has the added benefit of keeping you up during the long nights in which this book will keep you on your toes!  

To have with hot chocolate

Hot chocolate and Marshmallows: A Wolf Lying in Wait by Abbas Kiarostami 

One of my all-time favourite poetry anthologies, Nuvens de Algodão (‘Cotton wool clouds’), a translation of Iranian director and poet Abbas Kiarostami’s poetry into Portuguese, immediately conjures up a cosy evening with a warm blanket and fluffy, marshmallow-topped hot chocolate. Including many of the same poems and several more, A Wolf Lying in Wait, his English-language anthology, is equally wonderful, lyrical, and perfect for this hot drink. 

Kiarostami’s poetry is subtle, sensitive, delicate, and visual (a testament to his cinematic talents), painting elaborate pictures in just a couple short verses. From day-to-day experiences to deep reflections, and from unusual situations to beautiful sceneries, somehow there’ll always be a poem that strikes just the right chord at the right moment. I’m constantly surprised by how much emotion even his shortest poems can elicit.  

The atmospheric quality of these poems and their depth of feeling, warmth, and sensitivity are perfect for a frothy, sweet cup of hot chocolate on a cloudy day or a cold night. I promise, these poems might just make you feel like you are looking up in awe at “cotton wool clouds”.  

For the tea connoisseurs

Black tea: Crush by Richard Siken  

A strongly brewed cup of black tea, with its all bitterness and familiarity, is the only recommendation I could make for the violently earnest yet wildly unusual poetry of Richard Siken.  

With an abundance of unexpected turns of phrase, beautiful, distinctive imagery, and a mix of memory and raw emotion, these poems will heal and hurt and expose parts of you that you didn’t know existed.  

These are poems like “Scheherazade” – that, as Louise Gluck says in the foreword, creates an elaborate dreamscape just to call for one more story, one more beautiful lie – and “Straw House, Straw Dog” – a poem that barrels through the different stages and feelings of grief in a poignant and urgent tone.  

Profoundly shaped by the death of his boyfriend in 1991, Crush is a collection of poems about love and loss and pain, and Siken does not soften these experiences for the reader – but this is exactly what makes his poetry so pressing, rewarding, and compelling.  

Brew a strong cup of your favourite black tea (personally, I’ll probably go for a Lady Grey!), and allow yourself to sink into this poetry with both mind and heart.  

Herbal tea: Confession of the Lioness  by Mia Couto 

Finalist for the 2015 International Man Booker Prize, this whirlwind book is a brilliant critique of gender relations and women’s position in society. This overarching theme is woven into the plot in a way that is thoughtful and sensitive to its significance without losing the allure of fiction.  

In the fictional town of Kulumani in Northern Mozambique, women are being murdered; rumours have it that there are lionesses roaming the town, and they have turned violent. But when a hunter is sent from the capital, in what he has decided will be his last hunt, tensions build among the people of Kulumani, he starts to realise that there may be more to these rumours than meets the eye and that the lions might not be the greatest threat after all… 

A wonderful mix of reality and metaphor, and a powerful examination of gender relations and the tensions between tradition and modernity, this book will leave you with a lingering sense that boundaries between human and nonhuman may be more permeable than they seem. 

The novel is beautifully crafted and Mia Couto’s writing is a joy to read, mixing myths and expressions of his own devising into a setting that is simultaneously realistic and magically unreal. 

A perfect book to drink with herbal tea, whether to calm your spirits or imagine yourself sipping on an iced lemon and ginger brew in warmer climes!  

If you, like the Oxfordian C.S. Lewis, are an adherent of the saying that “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me”, I hope you have found just the right book (or two) to keep you company, and that these suggestions bring some delight to the wonderful ritual of a good book and a good hot drink!