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Five Of The Loveliest Things Said About Tea By Literary Figures

by Robert O'Brien April 25, 2017

Five Of The Loveliest Things Said About Tea By Literary Figures

Arthur blinked at the screens and felt he was missing something important. Suddenly he realized what it was.

"Is there any tea on this spaceship?" he asked.”

From 'The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy 

A good compliment is worth a lot. A good compliment from a brilliant mind can provide esteem and pleasure for a lifetime. We rarely forget them when they're true, sincere, and beautiful. But compliments are not simply reserved for people. You'd be amazed (or not!) by some of the things that have been said about tea in literature, by literary geniuses, by the characters in their books and plays, and even – as with our opening example – in outer space. So to speak. Here are some of our favourites:

' Tea is the only simple pleasure left to us.' - Oscar Wilde.

Perhaps the most quotable writer of all time, film critic Roger Ebert once noted that while some scripts are defined by their repeatable lines, you could flip through a faithful treatment of, say, The Importance of Being Ernest at random, reading wherever your finger falls on the page, and likely soon find a gem of wit, elegance, and – sometimes – naughtiness. Wilde was – forgive us – wild about tea. Though he criticized nearly every other aspect of respectable society with clear eyes and a fiendishly clever mind, he nonetheless admitted that tea was one good and common thing that joined together both his Bohemian artist friends and his posh upper-crust associates. Wilde's life was not so rosy as his stories may make seem. The depth of his thought could astonish, and he spent years imprisoned and in labour camps for his favourite non-tea related pasttime: courting the attractive young men of the era. Yet to the end he was graceful, rough, sweet, sour, and always well-spoken. In fact, his last words are – if you believe the traditional tale – 'Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.' Now there's someone whose opinion is worth mentioning.

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I shouldn't think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter and honey for tea.” - Dodie Smith  

From her lush coming of age novel, I Capture The Castle, English writer and 101 Dalmatianscreator Dodie Smith's quote above captures the universality of tea's pleasure: it simply can't be improved. More ornate dishes, sweets, and varieties of tea are all well and good, but like water, teatime (traditionally, fresh bread, cookies, scones, or cakes, buttered, with honey, sugar, milk and tea) is as simple and perfect as can be. James Beard, beloved chef and food philosopher once opened a book on bread noting that 'Good bread is a meal unto itself', and anyone who's ever been very, very hungry and bitten into fresh, hot bread knows what he means. So it goes for tea, whose comforts are personal, rich, and powerful.

Teas the English Love

Sister Mary chose that moment to come in with the tea. Satanist or not, she'd also found a plate and arranged some iced biscuits on it.” - Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman's imaginative and wild world-building is galvanizing: he's beloved by fantasy readers, literary and history-minded Anglophiles, lovers of high art, and ordinary readers alike. Corraline and American Gods , like the book that this quote is from: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, which, share along with Douglas Adams, Terry Prachett, and J.K. Rowling in the spiritual heritage of Roald Dahl, for whom no children's story had to be simple or cheery, and no adult story needed to be without a sense of wonder and zest. Here Gaiman relates the widely-held British sentiment that all wrongs can be righted with tea and all boundaries crossed.

Ecstasy is a glass full of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth." - Alexander Pushkin .

Pushkin pretty much says it all here, now don't you think?


Thus the tea-master strove to be something more than the artist,—art itself. Kakuzo Okakura .

Okakura's The Book Of Tea is ripe with musings on the drink's ability for spiritual uplift, as well as its potential to edify and improve the habit and character of the drinker as a whole. Far-fetched? We think not. Indeed, Okakura's concept is easily defended: that intellectual time, care, curiosity, patience, humility, and grace are all found in the ritual of tea study and tea preparation. Certainly it's likewise true of the groom in the stables, the rabbi in the synagogue, the dancer rehearsing a burlesque routine, and the scientist preparing academic research. Nonetheless: rituals give us practice for principles that carry over into the rest of our life, and while it is of course not the meaning of life to stick wholesale to these, we can, if already independent thinkers, love the care and thoughtfulness that is possessed by a tea-master, artist as indeed they are. Okakura describes tea as lushly as anyone ever has, and to read his work is to gain insight into the particular delicate significance of the drink in Japan.

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Robert O'Brien
Robert O'Brien



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