The Tea Chest
Allen & Unwin
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher/The Reading Room.com
For Kate Fullerton, working at The Tea Chest in Brisbane was her dream job. It came along at an inconvenient time but with some co-operation from her husband they were able to really make it work. A few years down the track Kate suddenly finds herself a part owner in the business she loves so much and she feels the responsibility to leave Brisbane and fly to London and overtake the opening of a store there. It’s going to be a very difficult job – the shop they’re leasing is hemorrhaging money from the business, it needs extensive renovations, they have a very tight schedule and Kate needs to organise staff…and figure out how to sell tea to the English.
Leila Morton has lost her job and there’s not much around for people who physically assault their co-workers. She gets a job helping to put together the opening of the London store of The Tea Chest and finds herself travelling with Kate to England to supervise everything and help get the finance they need together. Leila is invigorated, she’s certain that they can pull this off despite everything going against them. When she makes a crucial mistake, will she be cast out to start all over from scratch yet again?
Elizabeth Clancy has had her world torn apart by a personal revelation that led to her appearing on the news in her underwear and wrap. Fleeing back to London and her family to lick her wounds, she and her sister cross paths with Kate and Leila on a night out and suddenly find themselves with jobs in helping bring the dream of the London shop of The Tea Chest to reality. And the possibilities of new beginnings, if only she’ll reach out and grasp them.
For each of them, The Tea Chest is a way to bring back their faith and self-belief. But there’s a very real chance that the store will fail if they can’t all pull together and work to eliminate the problems. It requires trust – in themselves and each other.
I’m a tea drinker but I’m quite a conservative one. Just teabags and a good strong black tea because I’m lazy. But I love the idea of loose leaf flavoured tea. I think it’d be so fun to have so many varieties of tea, or tea blended just for you personally based on your tastes and feelings at the time, which is what Kate does at The Tea Chest. She blends tea, both for sale in the shop and also at the personal request of clients. It’s something she’s very passionate about and she grows things at home to use in her tea, so she can experiment there and then whenever the urge takes her.
But then she goes from being employee to part owner and immediately her role begins to change. The other partner wants to wind up the business and sell but Kate cannot do that. She knows she can make a go of it, turn it into a success. And so she finds herself flying to London with a very tight timeframe to get the London store up and running and prove to the other owner that she can do this. That she has what it takes because she and her husband have changed their entire lives for her to have the opportunity to pursue her dream and she doesn’t want to let them down or herself down either.
She meets Leila, a publicist and Elizabeth, and together with Elizabeth’s sister Victoria (I didn’t realise how precisely English those two names were together in the one family until I was typing this review) the four of them take on almost every aspect of putting the store together. They have to deal with a difficult shop proprietor in the same street who would like to see off their competition before they even start, negotiate contractors and council inspectors and visit local suppliers in order to tell their customers that they are only using the best local produce in their tea. They also need a marketing plan and possibly some financial backing to make the dream come together into a beautiful reality.
I really enjoyed this book and felt that the strengths were really in the way the four women came together and developed a working relationship and friendship as they put everything they had into getting the London shop up and running. They faced a lot of difficulties but they worked through them – several of the women had no experience really and yet they developed enthusiasm and worked to improve their knowledge. The concept is so fabulous and I loved all the beautiful descriptions of the tea and the different types you could have. Honestly, I had never considered some of these ingredients as being useful in the blending and making of tea, especially when Kate sets Leila, Elizabeth and Victoria the task to blend their own tea. Some of the results sounded truly wonderful and I began to think more about finding a proper tea shop and seeing what was on offer there and what sorts of different teas I might be able to try. The core story about the shop and getting it up and running was all this book really needed – I feel as though some of the added complications, such as the riots, distracted from this and the same with the drama with Elizabeth’s parents and some of the love interest stories which felt a little bit like a diversion from the main story line but weren’t developed enough to really contribute much. Especially Elizabeth’s – I’d have like more there, maybe the inclusion of the plane ride going over from Australia to England. I felt as though it needed a bit extra.
Despite that small (tiny really) criticism I really enjoyed the story and the passionate devotion to its subject. It’s a lovely read, something you can get through very easily in one sitting.
Book #75 of 2014
The Tea Chest is book #30 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014