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Friday, July 19, 2013

Taking Tea with...SASHA COTTMAN

It is my great pleasure to have as my tea guest this week, "new to you" author, SASHA COTTMAN. Sasha is not "new to me" because we have been members of the same writing group for a couple of years now and like my fellow group members, we have journeyed with Sasha and her wonderful characters Millie and Alex ("the Great") from their first conception through to publication.

One of the aspects of her lovely Regency Romance, LETTER FROM A RAKE, that really struck me was Millie's love of tea, particularly a good chai. Now I have to confess I am not a fan of chai (although I do drink it black)...spicy tea with milk seems somehow wrong to me, so I have asked Sasha to explain to me what the lure of a good chai tea is all about!
Sasha Cottman

Thanks for having me over for tea this afternoon Alison. Unfortunately I forgot the champagne and my family decided they liked the look of the cake I had baked, but at least I remembered the chai. 

A "good" chai
I must say the milk and spices in the chai are a change from my usual Earl Grey. (Alison:  Errk...Early Grey again?)

It’s funny because when I say I am having a cup of chai; my Indian friends often shake their heads. Many people in the west are under the misconception that chai is a type of tea brewed with spices such as cardamom and ginger, when in fact chai is simply the Hindi word for tea.
(Alison - it is also the swahili word for "tea" - deriving as it does from the Indian workers brought to Kenya to build the railway)

Masala chai is the true term for the beverage made with spices. Depending on where the chai is sourced, it may come with the spices already mixed in with the leaf, or added later. Milk or sweeteners may be included as parts of the preparation, but my Indian friends assure me that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to chai.

I understand tea was not the drink of choice for everyone in Regency England.

We all have the image of people in England sitting around a dining table taking tea, but only the wealthy could afford good tea. During the Regency period, tea still came predominantly from China, and it was not until the Victorian era that the Indian tea crops took over as the major source of tea in England and the continent. Since tea had to travel a long way from China and was heavily taxed, it was very expensive. The ordinary citizen of London drank a horrible concoction of used, redried tea leaves, often mixed with all manner of foul additives.

How does chai feature in LETTER FROM A RAKE?

When Millie’s family in Letter from a Rake arrive in London, they are dismayed to discover they cannot source good Indian chai leaf. Alex Radley, Marquess of Brooke has a trick or two up his sleeve and manages to lure Millie Ashton into accepting a late night rendezvous on the promise of real tea from her homeland.

Alex turned back to the stove and after locating the tea canister; he took it down from the shelf and brought it over to her. He lifted the lid and waved the tin under Millie’s nose. ‘Marsala chai, Miss Ashton,’ he announced with a certain degree of smugness.

Her eyes lit up with delight and she eagerly took hold of the canister. She held one finger up to signal that she had yet to judge his offering. Then she put her face over the opening of the tin and took a deep breath. She sat back in the chair, still clutching the tea canister and closed her eyes. 

‘Oh Alex, you have no idea what that aroma does to me and how much it reminds me of home,’ she murmured. ‘I had forgotten how wonderful it feels when the sharp edge of the tea finds its way to the back of your throat. I have missed it so much.’

Born in England, but raised in Australia, Sasha has a love for both countries. Having her heart in two places has created a love for travel, which at last count was to over 55 countries. A travel guide is always on her pile of new books to read. 
Five years ago, Sasha accidently enrolled in a romance writing course. Other than Pride and Prejudice she had never read a romance book before. She soon discovered that the world of historical romance allowed her to combine her love of history with the passion of romance writing. 
Sasha has an MBA as well as post graduate qualifications in electronic media. Having worked as an accountant in a media group for many years, she now finds herself in the unique position of having seen both the business and creative sides of publishing.
Sasha lives in Melbourne with her husband, teenage daughter and a cat who thinks sitting on the keyboard is being helpful. Her family have managed to find all but one of her secret chocolate hiding places.
When not writing, she is busy working full time as a Chartered Accountant. On the weekends Sasha loves walking on the beach while devising new ways to torture her characters.
Letter to a Rake is Sasha’s debut novel.

Also available at Google Play, Readcloud, Angus & Robertson and

In the excerpt Sasha gave us, the smell of chai reminds Millie of "home". Smell is a powerful sense: the smell of cinnamon buns reminds me of a cold winter's morning in Harper's Ferry, the smell of Frangipani immediately brings back memories of my childhood home in Kenya......are there any smells in your life that bring back strong memories...?