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A Tea-tastic Q&A with Denyse Waissbluth & Chelsea O'Byrne

Explore tea cultures around the world with vibrant images and sweetly simple text. Be sure to check out the companion guide for parents and teachers, available here!

Denyse Waissbluth, Author of Teatime Around the World

What inspired you to write a book about tea traditions around the world? 

My love of tea started when I was a very young girl. My first memories of teatime are from my grandparents’ farm in rural Manitoba where a pot of strong, black tea was always steeping, ready to welcome guests. What struck me the most was that teatime acted as a gateway to hospitality and hours of fascinating conversation. This memory stayed with me as I discovered travel as a young adult. I found that tea acted as a gateway to meeting new people, learning about new cultures and traditions and that amazing stories also came along with the experiences. 

It was because of these influences that when studying for my Master’s Degree in International Communications—with a study period based in China—I took the opportunity to learn about the history of tea from its birthplace, and how it has been shaped by countries and cultures around the world.

I wanted to write a children’s book about tea time around the world because the children I know are the most open, friendly and curious people around. I thought this would be an interesting (and tasty) topic for parents and their children alike. 

Youve travelled to over 20 countries, where you were introduced to many different ways of drinking tea. Can you tell us about a unique tea-drinking experience that made its way into Teatime Around the World?  

The first is one of my most special tea memories. I was working in Singapore during the summer of 2010. It was during the month when Muslims honour Ramadan. One evening, I ventured out to a local night market where families were gathered breaking their fast. I noticed a vendor pouring tea back and forth between two cups, faster and faster. It was entertaining and impressive! A family noticed my interest and invited me for a cup of the tea (Teh Tarik) along with some tasty food. We spent a long time talking about our cultures, traditions and lives. I can still remember the smell of the kerosene oil burning in the market, and my first taste of that deliciously sweet tea.

Another story that made its way into the book is the Chinese tea ceremony — Gongfu Cha. While in China for studies, I extended my trip by a few days to visit the city of Hangzhou. This is home to the Hangzhou National Tea museum and is very well known for its Longjing (Dragon Well) green tea. I hired a local tea expert to guide me through the city. One of the places she took me to was an authentic teahouse. I remember many details: all of the tea instruments; the specific order to how things were done; that small oranges were given between tea servings to clean the palate; and, I remember her very lucky tea pet (a miniature figurine used for good luck). I bought my own later that day at a tea market, which I still have. 

Those are two personal memories that made their way into the book.

What makes a perfect cup of tea to you?

There are a few things that make a perfect cup of tea for me. The first is to make sure you are with good company—whether alone, an old friend… or a new friend. Secondly, tea must be steeped to perfection. If the water isn’t hot enough, tea can taste too weak; if the water is too hot, some teas can taste burnt. Finally, the last ingredient to perfect tea is to take your time. Tea is a drink that shouldn’t be rushed. It takes time to make and time to drink! 

While I have enjoyed tea in many places, my favourite will always be at my grandma’s kitchen table in Manitoba, enjoying black tea, and served with her delicious home-made cinnamon buns. If there are two places I’d love to visit and try their local teas it would be Morocco or Iran. (Those places are on my long-term bucket list)!

Chelsea O’Byrne, Illustrator of Teatime Around the World

What inspired you in illustrating a book about tea traditions around the world?

I am an avid tea drinker, so making a children's book about tea is something I have always had in the back of my mind. When the opportunity came up I was immediately excited about it. The most inspiring part of illustrating this book was probably doing research into all the different tea cultures. There's such a variety, not only in just the way that people enjoy tea, but also in all the details like teapots, furniture, and clothing. It was fun having such a variety of things to draw. 

Tell us about the process of illustrating this book.

My process began with rough sketching and a lot of research and collaboration with tea experts. Eventually the images came together, and were made using a combination of pencils, gouache, and digital techniques on my iPad.

What makes a perfect cup of tea to you?

My perfect cup of tea is my daily matcha. Every morning I make a cup of hot matcha tea, without any sugar or milk. It's so delicious on its own, and makes me feel very energized and focused—perfect for a long day of drawing!

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