“Leaf & Sip” is a new series on The Burnished Leaf. For each installment, I pair a book and tea suitable for enjoyment side by side.
Chocolat hasn’t left my mind since I finished reading it. Other books have come and gone, but it’s still the one I most want to share with you.
It’s one of those rare titles (like The Virgin Suicides) with a film adaptation that I also love. I’m guessing you may have seen the movie, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. It’s been one of my favorites for years, and I’m surprised it took me so long to read the novel that inspired it.
The plot centers on strong-willed chocolatier Vianne Rocher, who opens a shop in a provincial French village. A single mother to six-year-old Anouk and unapologetic champion of chocolate, festivities, and the pleasures they cultivate, she is at odds with the strict churchgoing culture enforced by the town curé, Francis Reynaud. As she defiantly connects with the community, a collection of characters and one Gypsy drifter form a coterie that alters her life. She and Anouk find their footing, and Vianne begins to see her heretofore-rootless existence from a new perspective.
From the beginning, the Rochers imbue their environment with a new ambiance. “We came on the wind of the carnival,” Vianne narrates, and with their arrival the wind, which carries the scents of fried foods and confetti, seems to change. Upon moving into their new abode, she tells us, “We lit a candle for every room, gold and red and white and orange. I prefer to make my own incense, but in a crisis the bought sticks were good enough for our purposes, lavender and cedar and lemongrass.”
These kinds of scents and tastes, mixed into sorcerous concoctions, characterize much of Chocolat. Eithne Farry of The Daily Mail wrote that the novel “glittered with magic, mystery and the weather, and enticed with the indulgent flavours of truffles, bitter orange cracknell and lavender brittle.” No wonder, then, that I paired Chocolat with Versailles Lavender Earl Grey, bought at Possibili-Teas, a surprisingly elegant tea shop/room I happened upon while driving past the Sierra Nevada and toward the Bay Area.
The blend unites the intensity of black tea and bergamot with the elevating herbal fragrance of lavender. The combination of a quintessentially English tea, Earl Grey, with a flowering plant–often associated with France–complements themes of asceticism and indulgence in Harris’ book (it’s also fitting that author is of both French and English ancestry). I think of the black tea as analogous to the black soutane of Reynaud the priest, while the lavender is reminiscent of free-spirited Vianne Roucher.
As usually happens when I finish a good book, I was left craving more. Luckily, Harris has written plenty since Chocolat. Have you read any of her other books? I’m eager to read them, but because Harris has been so prolific since Chocolat, I’m a little afraid her subsequent works might not measure up to it.
On a related note: I recently hit a reading spell fit for a literary romantic, and found myself immersed in short works by D.H. Lawrence. In the past, I’ve found his sumptuous prose and soulful stories a bit over the top, but lately, his tales of mysterious partnerships and affectionate embraces have hit a sweet spot.
What books and teas have you enjoyed recently?