I’m a bit of a tea fanatic. I drink tea pretty much all day long.
Pot after pot. Mug after mug. Summer or Winter.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m drawn to books that feature tea. And one of my favourite series that does this so wonderfully is Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.
I love this series.
So, when I recently read a review of one of his books by somebody who hated it (they gave it one star), my reaction was: Wait! How can you hate Mma Ramotswe? Turns out this person was expecting a mystery novel. Okay, I get it now. Really, these books aren’t really about the mystery, even though Mma Ramotswe is a detective! (In fact, I find it funny that the books are sometimes marketed that way.)
No, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is really about Life. And people. The series delights in highlighting the quirks of people. Every single character has their own little special foibles, including our protagonist: Mma Ramotswe.
Like Mma Ramotswe’s obsession with tea. (In particular, redbush tea.)
“Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe – the only lady private detective in Botswana – brewed redbush tea. And three mugs – one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client.”
~ The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
And every one of McCall Smith’s books has some sort of tea in them.
In fact, these books are chock full of tea!
In an interview, he was asked about this. Here’s his response: “Naturally, when I came to write my Botswana novels… tea played a part in the narrative… Some assume that the tea-drinking has some symbolic meaning; in fact, it is merely a novelist’s device for ensuring a break in between other scenes. I suppose, if pressed, I might come up with an explanation in terms of its calming effect; it is no doubt true that tea-drinking is a calming thing to read about, but that is not necessarily why I write about it. One can always do the right thing for the wrong reason.”
And do you know how many cups of tea Mma Ramotswe drinks in just one day?
Well, we find out in a delectable passage from a later book in the series: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection…
“We spend quite a lot on tea,” mused Mma Makutsi. “If you add it up, Mma. You have… how many cups of tea do you have, Mma Ramotswe? Ten? Twelve?”
“I haven’t counted, Mma Makutsi. And you yourself―”
Then our two favourite tea-drinkers start to make some calculations. Counting each cup from the time they wake in the morning…
She paused. “How many does that make, Mma?
“I think that makes eight,” said Mma Makutsi. “Call it ten.”
“Ten cups,” said Mma Ramotswe thoughtfully. “And we haven’t counted the evening tea. That must be added. So maybe fourteen cups of tea in all.”
In my opinion, it’s these passages about tea and such that make McCall Smith’s work so delightful to read. These tea-breaks are the times when Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi get around to philosophizing about life. As so often happens, the two women come to different points of view. (Mma Makutsi has some very strong opinions.) But Mma Ramotswe always knows how to solve these tricky situations.
“That’s not true,” said Mma Ramotswe. “But let us not argue, Mma, because I believe it’s time for tea and the more time you spend arguing, the less tea you can drink.”
~ Precious and Grace
And finally, two more of my favourite Tea Quotes from the books:
“The telling of a story, like virtually everything in this life, was always made all the easier by a cup of tea.”
~ The Miracle at Speedy Motors
“It was time for tea as it so often was.”
~ The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
Now I think it’s time for a cup of tea…
P.S. To answer the question in the title of this post, I think I probably drink about 7-10 mugs of tea a day. (Yes, despite the existence of my pretty teacups, I tend to drink out of mugs for everyday.) So… not quite as many as Mma Ramotswe. I don’t know if anybody drinks more tea than Mma Ramotswe.