In bed with Churchill and Earl Grey

By Stefanie von Wietersheim

„Come to me, come to bed, cuddle up under the covers, with a steaming tea, this is where you can marvellously hibernate“ - the big stack of books sitting on the night table beside my light grey bed has been whispering this for a week now. Next to the tray offering tips of “Baumkuchen”, a traditional German cake composed of numerous layers and covered in dark chocolate, my iPhone with its winter playlist and a French scented candle. I already hear the seducing tenor voice of Mr. Bookstack when I am shining my business boots in the morning while I already should be on my way to catch the ICE. I hear it during the day in the office upon falling into a sloth-like daze after the lunch break. And I hear the books’ voices – yes, as the day passes by, the whispering voice grows into a murmuring ensemble – when thinking about which dinner - that Jamie Oliver would be proud of - to serve. „Have your family eat dull cheese sandwiches“, the books next to my bed pur, „come over and read us!“ Okay, they finally got me. Like a somnambulist I climb the stairs, put on my dotted silk pyjamas, slide under my down duvet. And grab the first book „Belgravia“, the latest volume of the Downton Abbey author Julian Fellowes.

But what else are you supposed to do when it has turned pitch-black outside by half past four in the afternoon since November, when the rainstorm attacks both face and neck, making a true fashion lover seriously consider wearing thermal underwear far away from ski slopes? It is only up to the bed to serve as retreat. Even better: Reading books and drinking tea in bed. The ingenious winter combination

Especially the English are known to take their early morning tea in bed. Their last Stuart queen, Anne (1665-1714), is said to have introduced the habit of drinking tea in bed at court, thereby making it fashionable. Because the British had started to import tea from China during the 17th century and the drink initially was an expensive privilege and a status symbol of the Upper Class. Today, the English drink around 213 litres per year, the Germans‘ consumption amounts to 68 litres after all,  with a rising tendency according to figures provided by the German Tea Association, although the East Frisians are an exception: they enjoy 300 litres annually, believe it or not.  


To many people, the bed is the preferred cocoon not only during the night but also for Sunday mornings, the nap or the afternoon tea time.  And to millions of book lovers the bed is the favourite place for reading and for encountering their heroes and heroines.


Since books are versatile mistresses, soulsoothers, written-down action movies, healing whingers. They take us to abysses, including our own, put us to the test, sharpen the mind or carry us away into therapeutically beneficial kitsch worlds. Whoever has once been infected by the bookreading virus will not be able to get rid of it any more. Author Christine Countess of Brühl even calls her passion for literature „inhaling books“, Ethiopian prince Asfa-Wossen Asserate calls books „nutrition for hope“, to the solo oboist of the Berlin Philharmonics, Albrecht Meyer, they are „enchanted vehicles for travelling parallel realities“. And just like there is not only the man or the woman of dreams to a person, there are also perfect tea fellows to books to play with according to your mood.


My current favourites?


„Belgravia“ by Julian Fellowes & Earl Grey

Downton Abbey author Julian Fellowes wrote a new book: „Belgravia“ deals with the fate of the socially rising family Trenchant, striving for inclusion into the noble English society during the first half of the 19th century while reaching their social class limits again and again -  finally, love and the power of money prevail. It is understood that the British Earls‘ wives and daughters in the London parlours have their afternoon tea all the time -  what else would match this reading any better than a pot of Earl Grey? Along with a cucumber sandwich leaving hardly any crumbs in the bed?


„The sheltering sky“ by Paul Bowles & green tea

His longing for North Africa and the desert drove the American writer Paul Bowles to Algeria, Marocco and Tunesia for a long time – searching for experiences beyond limits both in nature and in his own soul. His slightly autobiographic tale about his trip to the edges of society and his own self has become the cult book of an entire generation. Just like Bertolucci‘s screen adaptation has become a cinema classic. Of course a cup of green tea matches this reading best, served in small glasses with mint and sugar.


„Anna Karenina“ by Leo Tolstoi & Russian Caravan Tea

„All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.“ This novel-opening sentence has fascinated millions of readers since its publication in 1877, only releasing them after more than 1000 pages have been read. The narrated world with its love dramas and quests for meaning between Moskow, Saint Petersburg and the Russian countryside calls of course for a Russian caravan tea with its smoky taste of malt. The extraordinary name originates from camel caravans taking this tea from India and China via Russia to Europe in ancient times.


„Painting as a pastime“ by Winston Churchill & Lapsang Souchong.

The black Chinese tea flavoured by spruce smoke is said to have been British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s favourite tea. The charismatic British politician, polymath and awardee of the Nobel Prize in Literature loved reading and painting. In this book he writes about his artistic pastimes which he pursued very passionately. An oasis of peacefulness during politically restless times on the island and on the continent.


„How to become Parisian“ by Caroline de Maigret & fine herbal tea

Many elegant Parisian ladies not only swear by the pitch-black espresso after their meal but - beneficial to soul and body – by superb herbal teas containing vervain, lime blossom or mint, the famous „tisanes“. Working well for complexion and health just like red wine aging in oak barrels and being part of the „French Paradox“ nutrition. The stylish and casual way of life of these Parisian ladies is described by the French fashion icon Caroline de Maigret and three co-authors in this cult book. The most important message: Don’t try be perfect by all means!


„On literature“ by Umberto Eco & Darjeeling. The bestselling author and semiotics professor who passed away in the beginning of the year used to be an avowed book maniac who owned 50.000 volumes himself and in whose novels such as „The name of the rose“ books play a decisive role. Once you get thrilled by his tales you are likely to stay awake all night long, accompanied by a fine, not too strong Darjeeling which may still allow you to eventually fall asleep at three o’clock in the morning.


„Ein Tag auf dieser Erde“ (A day on this Earth) by von Reiner Kunze & white tea

The short and densely intensive poems by contemporary author Reiner Kunze are poetic meditation, contemplation of seemingly simple symbols, charming by their melody. Landscape, animals, plants appear on the horizon like shaped clouds in which one would like to get lost. What is best to drink while reading these short, delicate sentences? Perhaps a fine white tea, gentle and richly nuanced. Just like a liquid cloud in the mouth.


And what are you currently reading in bed?

With this in mind: let yourself get seduced by your bed, books and tea! Praise to the wintertime!