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COLUMN: Tea tempts a self-professed coffee fanatic

Writers weigh-in on whether they prefer tea or coffee
Rose petal tea. (Ursula Maxwell-Lewis)

By Ursula Maxwell-Lewis

Cloverdale Reporter

I’m a coffee fanatic from a tea-drinking Scottish family. Recently, however, tea invitations, a key element in literature and life, have been popping up.

Were the tea leaves sending me subliminal messages?

I decided to investigate by visiting Silk Road, a Kitsilano specialty tea shop.

Maria, a staff host, gave me a quick overview of two comprehensive walls of teas — one herbal, one organic. We tasted jasmine, refreshing iced Himalayan mint tea with a squeeze of lemon, a tea with chocolate overtones, and oolongs from China’s Guangdong and Fujian provinces.

Blood orange, blackcurrant and elderflower teas were appealing, but the lure of the tea names was almost irresistible — 8 Immortals, Iron Goddess Ti Kuan Yin, Darjeeling Black, Philosopher’s Brew, Chocolate Panda, and so on.

I settled for a package of Special Reserve Cloudwalker Peony (Bai Mu Dan), a white tea reputed to have been sipped by monks “while seeking enlightenment and wisdom.” Clearly that was for me.

For details on seminars, check the company website ( If you’re interested in attending one, try to coincide your booking when chief tea ambassador and Silk Road founder Daniela Cubelic is in town. The original shop is in Victoria.

Curiosity now piqued, I followed the March Hare’s tea party advice to Alice and decided to “take some more tea.” My informal research led me to query wordsmiths in Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC) buffet lineups at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel. After all, producing your magnum opus requires concentration and (usually) caffeine. Wine is reserved for the book launch!

So, how did SiWC scribes respond?

Seven out of ten voted for tea. They agreed that targeting deadlines fuelled with coffee can derail a writer.

I pause here to remember my grandmother calling to my father, “Jimmy, this tea’s not weak. It’s helpless!” And, there’s my mother’s voice echoing down the years: “Always warm the pot, dear, and put the milk in the cup first.”

Speaking of milk, chai is — for me — not only a comforting drink, it also brings back happy memories of faraway places. So, bring on the foaming almond milk, or 2% if that’s what’s on hand!

The writers’ conference trade show features a mobile book selection courtesy of Indigo. That’s where I spotted The Good Living Guide to Medicinal Tea by British Columbia author Jennifer Browne.

Browsing through the tantalizing tea recipes and related information, I was reminded that “Common herbs, spices, fruits, and barks have been scientifically proven to help relieve pain, menopause symptoms, high blood pressure, insomnia, stress, and digestive angst.” Browne is well versed in the values, uses, blending, properties, health advantages and histories of various herbs, so look for her book in your local library or bookshop.

In keeping with the subject, I’m currently sipping a cup of “Margaret Laurence,” a blend from Lakefield, Ontario. It’s a soothingly aromatic mix of sencha, tulsi, coconut, galangal, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and pepper. They had me at cardamom, but as winter closes in I’ll settle for hot tea and a cool book any day.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a Surrey-based writer/photographer, and the founder of the Cloverdale Reporter. Contact her at

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