Of Books & Tea, Part 2

Some of history’s greatest writers did their best work with the help of tea. Discover them in our three-part series.

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Writing is easy, columnist Red Smith once said wryly. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Even the greatest writers will readily admit that they’ve honed their abilities with a great deal of practice and hard work, which does not, mind you, mean that they turn out page upon page of pristine prose. In the words of Ernest Hemingway: “The first draft of anything is shit.” Penning a masterpiece takes work, dedication, time, and, for many authors throughout history, plenty of tea.

Part 1 of our three-part Books & Tea series covered Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Saul Bellow – if you missed it, read it here. Read on for the stories of three more authors who made tea part of their daily writing rituals.

C. S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia author who once said, “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me,” described his perfect work day in detail. Strict timing, a disciplined schedule, and the punctual arrival of good tea were a given:

“I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better. […] At one precisely lunch should be on the table; and by two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend. Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. […] The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four. Tea should be taken in solitude […] for eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.”

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Simone de Beauvoir

Like C.S. Lewis, the writer and philosopher whose legacy includes influential feminist treatise The Second Sex was known for her disciplined work ethic, though de Beauvoir confessed to not being much of a morning person. Every day, though, she kick-started her creative cycle with tea:

“I’m always in a hurry to get going, though in general I dislike starting the day. I first have tea and then, at about ten o’clock, I get under way and work until one. Then I see my friends and after that, at five o’clock, I go back to work and continue until nine.”

Beauvoir grave

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George Orwell

The literary giant behind timeless classics Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm took tea so seriously, he published an essay in the Evening Standard newspaper in 1946 on the proper preparation of tea, an 11-point treatise imploring readers to drink only out of cylindrical cups, not use strainers, and never sweeten tea. “How can you call yourself a true tea lover if you destroy the flavor of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt,” he declared.

Orwell wrote his hugely influential and chillingly prescient novel Nineteen Eighty-Four on the wee island of Jura in the Scottish Hebrides, huddled in a poorly heated cottage that was beaten by the howling sea winds, suffering from ever-worsening tuberculosis. In his drive to “get that bloody book finished” with a deadline from his publisher looming, he refused to leave the island to seek medical attention. Eventually too weak to walk, he finished his most famous work in bed, subsisting on mugs of strong tea and hand-rolled cigarettes.

The book was published the following June and became an instant success. Seven months later, on January 21, 1950, Orwell died at age 46.

Orwell tea

Source / Image: Vernon Richards