In brief: Kate, a tea designer, is the unexpected beneficiary of half of The Tea Chest. Can she open a new tea store in London successfully with a brand new tea?
The good: Lovely story of friendship, love and business with a passion.
The not-so-good: You will drink and buy a lot of tea while reading this.
Pages: 359 (ARC)
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Setting: Brisbane, Australia and London/England
My rating: 9 out of 10
The Tea Chest is a delightful story revolving around friendship, relationships and most of all tea, so I think it’s appropriate that I’m on my third cup while I write this review. (It’s a black tea from Queensland, appropriate as the book starts in Brisbane). It’s cosy and heart-warming, plus filled with some gorgeous combinations of teas that I’ve never thought of. Tea lovers will definitely rejoice in this book and perhaps even be motivated to make some of their own blends. (It’s not that hard – just mix two of your favourites in the pot and see what you come up with. I can recommend green tea plus strawberry fruit tea).
Not a tea drinker? All is not lost because there’s a wonderful story in this book. (Plus, you won’t be pining over the fact that The Tea Chest doesn’t really exist).
The book opens with a letter from Simone to Kate and Judy. Simone is dead, the founder of the designer tea shop, The Tea Chest. Her backer is her sister Judy and Kate is the tea designer. Simone explains that she’s left her share to Kate, as she has the passion for tea and to expand the business. Judy’s a begrudging partner for many reasons that become clear through the course of the book. Kate plans to expand on Simone’s vision to expand the business to London (“You’re selling tea to the English?” Judy sneers). With a lot of discussion with her husband Mark, Kate decides to go to London to open the store. It should be easy – Simone leased a site and organised renovations. However, she will need some help… The first form of help comes from Leila (that’s ‘Lay-la’), a disgraced editor from an engineering firm. She’s in love with her colleague who only has designs for providing for his child in Thailand. The second and third people to help Kate are found at an English pub. There’s Elizabeth, who achieved notoriety before leaving Brisbane by wearing her nightie on the Storey Bridge and her sister Victoria, who seems to flit from project to project. This motley team is going to open a gourmet tea store that appeals to the nostalgia in women with money, while a fancy tea salon operates just down the way. Money is tight until a gorgeous young entrepreneur called Quentin Ripp comes their way, but in between under the table renovations and riots, will The Tea Chest succeed?
What I really enjoyed about The Tea Chest is that it got the four main characters together quite quickly so the narrative flowed (compare that to books where the characters are separate for a large chunk and you have no idea how they relate to each other). Kate and Leila were the main characters – I think poor Victoria was rather maligned as she didn’t get a major plotline (perhaps a sequel is in the works? The ending could certainly lead to another book). Elizabeth’s story focused mainly on relationships, infidelity and why you should never pass up a conversation with the person beside you on an aeroplane. Kate was the glue that stuck all the characters together in the narrative and ultimately in the friendships that grew between them. This was balanced nicely with her worries about inexperience in business management (that Leila cleverly detected as one of the business risks). Leila was quite feisty in comparison, a real go-getter, but someone who sometimes acted impulsively with ramifications. I felt sorry for her, as she was trying her best for the business but her judgement ultimately failed her. However, she was honest and accepting of her faults in the end. I could quite happily read another book with all the characters as they all had redeeming features, as well as being easy to relate to.
I thought that one of the subplots regarding Elizabeth and Victoria’s parents wasn’t entirely necessary as it didn’t bring much to the story except several mentions of unicorns and some awkward moments. However, it was an interesting juxtaposition to Elizabeth’s own relationship and how things were solved. I also liked the way the London Riots were brought into the narrative – I remember watching on BBC and ABC the events unfolding but the view from a business perspective was heartbreaking and the lockdown had a creepy feel to it. I haven’t seen the riots incorporated into fiction before.
Fans of Cathy Kelly and Maeve Binchy will adore The Tea Chest, as it has the warm, comfy feel throughout the whole book with interesting characters. I look forward to reading Josephine Moon’s next book.