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The Colour of Tea
 


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The Colour of Tea


  Macau: the bulbous nose of China, a peninsula and two islands strung together like a three-bead necklace. It was time to find a life for myself. To make something out of nothing. The end of hope and the beginning of it too.

  After moving with her husband to the tiny, bustling island of Macau, Grace Miller finds herself a stranger in a foreign land—a lone redhead towering above the crowd on the busy Chinese streets. As she is forced to confront the devastating news of her infertility, Grace’s marriage is fraying and her dreams of family have been shattered. She resolves to do something bold, something her impetuous mother would do, and she turns to what she loves: baking and the pleasure of afternoon tea.

  Grace opens a café where she serves tea, coffee, and macarons—the delectable, delicate French cookies colored like precious stones—to the women of Macau. There, among fellow expatriates and locals alike, Grace carves out a new definition of home and family. But when her marriage reaches a crisis, secrets Grace thought she had buried long ago rise to the surface. Grace realizes it’s now or never to lay old ghosts to rest and to begin to trust herself. With each mug of coffee brewed, each cup of tea steeped and macaron baked, Grace comes to learn that strength can be gleaned from the unlikeliest of places.

  A delicious, melt-in-your-mouth novel featuring the sweet pleasures of French pastries and the exotic scents and sights of China, The Colour of Tea is a scrumptious story of love, friendship and renewal.

  HANNAH TUNNICLIFFE was born in New Zealand but is a self-confessed nomad. After finishing a degree in social sciences, she lived in Australia, England, and Macau. A career in human resources temporarily put her dream of becoming a writer on the back burner. The Colour of Tea is her first novel.

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  COVER DESIGN BY EMILY O’NEILL • COVER IMAGES: TOP © TREVILLION IMAGES; BOTTOM © GETTY IMAGES • © AUTHOR BIO BY LAURA LEE-GERWING

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  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2011 by Hannah Tunnicliffe

  Originally published in 2011 in Macmillan by Pan Macmillan Australia Limited as The Colour of Tea

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Scribner Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

  First Scribner trade paperback edition June 2012

  SCRIBNER and design are registered trademarks of The Gale Group, Inc. used under license by Simon & Schuster, Inc., the publisher of this work.

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  Designed by Carla Jayne Jones

  Library of Congress Control Number: 20122009165

  978-1-4516-8699-9

  ISBN 978-1-4516-8705-7 (ebook)

  Contents

  Prologue

  L’Arrivée—Arrival

  Sweet and Smoky Caramel with

  Salted Buttery Cream Filling

  Remède de Délivrance—Rescue Remedy

  Violet with Cream and Bitter Black

  Currant Filling

  La Ville-Lumière—City of Light

  Parisian Crêpe–Inspired Banana with

  Hazelnut Chocolate Ganache

  La Poudre à Canon—Gunpowder

  Gunpowder Green Tea with Sweet

  Mandarin Buttercream

  Une Petite Flamme—A Tiny Flame

  Espresso with Dark Chocolate Ganache,

  Topped with a Square of Gold Leaf

  Un Bon Début—A Good Start

  Coconut with Passion Fruit–Spiked

  Buttercream Filling

  Raiponce—Rapunzel

  Bergamot and Cardamom with White Chocolate Ganache

  L’Espoir—Hope

  Provençal Lavender with a Sweet Fig Buttercream

  Un Peu de Bonté—A Little Kindness

  Watermelon with Cream Filling

  Rêve d’un Ange—Dream of an Angel

  White Chocolate with Hints of Lemon

  Rind and Cinnamon

  Coeur Curatif—Healing Heart

  Vanilla with Raspberry Markings and

  Raspberry Gel Insertion

  Le Dragon Rouge—Red Dragon

  Dragon Fruit Filled with

  Lemongrass-Spiked Buttercream

  Cirque—Circus

  Lime with Chocolate Ganache, Dusted with

  Blood-Orange Sugar

  La Fièvre—Fever

  Rose with Dark Chocolate and Hot Ginger Ganache

  Brise d’Été—Summer Breeze

  Yuzu with Dark Cherry Filling

  Saison Orageuse—Storm Season

  Lemon and Ginger with Brown Buttercream Filling

  Verre de Mer—Sea Glass

  Pistachio with Buttercream Filling

  Une Vie Tranquille—A Quiet Life

  Pineapple with Butterscotch Ganache

  Pardon—Forgiveness

  Plum and Hibiscus with Chocolate Ganache

  Thé pour Deux—Tea for Two

  Pink Earl Grey Infused with Dark Chocolate Ganache

  Un Petit Phénix—A Little Phoenix

  Cinnamon with Dark Chili Chocolate Ganache

  La Foi—Faith

  Wild Strawberry Filled with Pink

  Grapefruit Buttercream

  Prenez Ce Baiser—Take This Kiss

  Honeycomb with Milk Chocolate Ganache

  Les Soeurs—Sisters

  Peppermint with Dark Chocolate Ganache

  Le Retour—Going Home

  Tart Mango with Buttercream Filling

  La Môme Piaf—The Little Sparrow

  Pear and Chestnut with Poire

  Williams–Spiked Buttercream

  La Promesse—The Promise

  Orange Pekoe Dusted with Gold and

  a Mascarpone Filling with Rose Gel Insert

  Epilogue

  Macarons

  Acknowledgments

  For Matt

  I found you and now I know

  Prologue

  We arrived in Macau at the end of the Year of the Golden Pig. Apparently a golden pig year comes around only once every sixty, and it brings good fortune. So when we came to make Macau our home, at the backside end of this golden pig year, there were fat, pink pigs dancing in bank ads, sparkly cartoon pigs wearing Chinese pajamas hanging in the local bakery, and tiny souvenir golden pigs for sale at the post office. All those pigs around me were comforting, with their full snouts and chubby grins. Welcome to Macau! they snorted. You’ll like it here. We do! I was willing to accept any good luck a golden hog could throw at me.

  Macau: the bulbous nose of China, a peninsula and two islands strung together like a three-bead necklace, though by now the sand and silt have crept up and almost covered the silk of the ocean in between. Gobbled up, like most everything in
Macau, by Progress. Progress and gambling. This tiny country, only twenty-eight square kilometers, once a sleepy Portuguese outpost, is the only place in China where you can drop a coin into a slot or lay a chip on kidney-shaped lawns of soft, green felt. The Vegas of the East. Bright lights, little city, fast cash.

  We stepped off the ferry from Hong Kong on the eighth of January 2008. The date had a nice ring to it. A fresh start, a clean slate, a new beginning. We arrived with suitcases full of the light, breezy clothes usually reserved for the brief but seductive British summer. We were full of naïve optimism about our new life adventure. My Australian husband and his red-haired, blush-of-cheek English rose. We were babes in the woods.

  The January winter was bitter in more ways than one. It was one of the coldest on record, and we were freezing in our bright, thin clothes. Every morning the sky was the color of milk. The apartment had no central heating, and it took us some time to realize we needed a dehumidifier. The walls started to bloom with a dark mold, which spread like a growing bruise, and I couldn’t feel my fingers in the evenings. It was the kind of damp cold that settles deep in the marrow of your bones and refuses to budge.

  This is where I will start. Our life in this cold month, before the Year of the Rat began. When we couldn’t run any longer from realities; when life hunted us down and found us. It followed us all the way from Melbourne to London, London to Macau. All that running, and still we were discovered, no longer able to hide out in the meaningless details of our life—who is making breakfast and could you remember to pick up the dry cleaning.

  It was time to find a life for myself. To make something out of nothing. The end of hope and the beginning of it too.

  L’Arrivée—Arrival

  Sweet and Smoky Caramel with Salted Buttery Cream Filling

  This is the kind of trip my mama would make. Getting on a bus in a foreign place, the language a sea of meaningless nonsense, the script even more baffling; alone, save for the rows of faces turned and staring. She would love this. Dark eyes gazing over the red hair and pale skin. The warm, crowded bodies jostling unself-consciously against one another as the wheels hit scars in the tar seal. Instead I am nervous and feel slightly seasick, holding tight to my handbag and making useless apologies in English for getting in the way. I feel, as Pete might say, like a spare prick at a wedding.

  Macau is framed in the grimy window. We drive over the bridge from Taipa Island to the peninsula, as though driving directly into the white and soupy sky. The bus makes several stops, braking late so that people fall into one another like skittles. No one complains. We pass the Lisboa casino, painted the orange of a bad cocktail with circular sixties-style windows. Then the gleaming new Grand Lisboa, which seems to erupt straight out of the ground in the shape of a pineapple, angular petals fanning high in the sky. The bulb of its base illuminates like a large convex television screen, flashing advertisements, fish, rolling coins, special deals. Passengers get off, wearing identical white shirts and black trousers. As they push past me, I squeeze my handbag into my side, feel the square edges of my guidebook press against my ribs.

  Weaving into the central part of town, the roads become narrower and harder to navigate. Most of the buildings are old apartment blocks, washed gray with age, dark stains dripping from window frames and fading clothes hung carefully from miniature washing lines. Mopeds dart waspishly in and out of the traffic while men sit on the pavements, slurping noodles from plastic bowls. They barely lift their heads at the noise: exhaust pipe belches, car horns, the metallic protests of brakes. The temperature is slowly turning today. Finally defrosting. I unwind the scarf from around my neck and jam it into my bag. I am hoping to end up in San Malo, but not being able to speak Cantonese, I cannot ask anyone for directions. At least I can be sure that no one will try to strike up a conversation with me. That’s a small sweetness.

  I keep my head turned toward the window, looking for the landmarks I have read about. We turn in to a neighborhood where black-and-white Portuguese cobblestones are arranged in thoughtful swirls and waves. There are historic buildings instead of apartment blocks and sparkling casinos. Trims are a creamy white, façades candy pink or lemon yellow—Easter egg colors. Less vivid than the photo in the book, but I recognize it.

  “San Malo!” the driver calls out, and I leap to my feet, bumping against people who stare at the color of my hair rather than look me in the eye.

  There is a thrumming of tourists, each group lugging bags of souvenirs and following a man or woman in a wide-brimmed cap waving a yellow flag. I can see over the crowds, dark heads hovering around my chin. I promised Pete that I would get out of the apartment today, explore this new city we live in. My excuse for staying in has been that I should wait for the delivery of our sofa, which somehow didn’t arrive with the rest of our furniture. But we both know that is not what I am really waiting for. Earlier in the week he caught me in the bathroom, reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting, sunk deep in a tub of hot water. He did a double take and then pretended not to notice, turning his hazel eyes away from me, idly suggesting I go see some sights, get out in the “fresh air.” Now I realize I have become so used to hiding away in the apartment, anonymous, that I am finding all the people and attention overwhelming. I slip down a side street away from the chatter and gawking and bustle and try to find the temple mentioned in the guidebook.

  Soon I am in front of tall wooden doors painted with two warrior-like gods, eyes bulging and long beards flying and curling. The noise of the crowds has grown quiet; the black-and-white cobblestones here are faded and chipped. It is as though my feet already knew the way, stumbling across it like this, so easily. I pause at a manicured potted tree by the entrance. Its needles shiver. Smoky fronds of incense whisper out of the doors, and I walk up the small steps even while my head and heart are unsure. It is dark inside and filled with statues and gold, fruit and pictures. Candles drip honey-colored wax onto the concrete floor. Above my head the incense is burning, dropping from the ceiling in thick saffron coils like strange golden snakes. A cat leaps out past me, a patchwork of black, ginger, and white. I gasp, and it turns to look back at me, round-eyed. Someone inside snorts.

  “That’s just Molly. She lives here.” The language is English, but the voice is Chinese.

  I have to squint to make out the figure in the dim light—a young woman in a tight tracksuit. She is crouching on her haunches, much like the cat, and chewing gum. Her eyes are framed with thick eyeliner. Her expression is somewhere between curious and bored, I can’t figure out which.

  “You here to see Aunty?”

  “Is she the fortune-teller?”

  “Uh-huh,” she drawls, without nodding. “This way.”

  Getting to her feet, she walks to the side of the temple, where there is a tiny courtyard. Dust motes dance in the cool air. She holds a diamanté-studded mobile phone, a small gold charm swinging like a pendulum from the end of it. She looks back at me and motions toward an older woman. The fortune-teller is nothing like I imagined. Perhaps I was expecting a bearded Lao Tzu in flowing silken pajamas. My fortune-teller is wearing jeans and is squatting on a stool. Her nut-brown face is pinched into an irritated frown.

  “Don’t worry,” the woman in the tracksuit says to me. “She’s just in a bad mood. I’ll translate for you. Her English is terrible, so just ask me what it is you want to know.” Her gaze wanders down to my left hand, clutching the handle of my purse. Those dark-rimmed eyes move back to mine. “Married?”

  “Yes.”

  “Okay, well, money, health, whatever. Just tell me what you wanna know and I’ll ask her. You get it?”

  I know exactly what I want to ask, but the question is stuck in my throat. We stare at each other for a few moments, and I wonder if I should make my exit.

  “Sure,” I mumble.

  I am passed a plastic stool to perch on while the fortune-teller looks into my face. Her hair is dyed black, with a thick margin of silver growing back near her skull. S
he peers at me as though inspecting for defects, her face a few inches from mine. Nervously I look down at her feet. Her sandals have gold straps, fake Gucci logos stitched lazily to the sides. She puts her hand on my jaw, the pads of her fingers leathery against my skin.

  “What is this type of fortune-telling?”

  “Sang Mien,” my translator replies. “Face reading.”

  The fortune-teller takes hold of my shoulder to bring me closer. I feel my cheeks flush, as if she can see my thoughts, my deepest desires and worst regrets.

  “Oh,” I say.

  “Okay, she’s saying she is ready,” says the young woman with a yawn. She scrapes her stool across the tiles to be closer. Her aunt barks out a sentence, and she translates.

  “Your face is very square,” she begins.

  I nod; my face can be described euphemistically as “broad,” that much I know.

  “Means you are practical. Shape of your eyes shows not so optimistic, but having … intuition, a little bit of creativity. Strong jaw, so you have determination and can be stubborn. But you are generous …”

  There is a short silence. The fortune-teller cuts her eyes at her niece, who seems to be searching the air for something.

  “I don’t know what the word is. Sort of like not doing anything that is too out of the ordinary, not making too much trouble for anyone. Make sense?”

  I nod. Conforming, I think to myself. She is right about that part too. Not like Mama.

  The inspection continues. She tells me my ears show that I am a fast learner but can be shy. Then she peers at my nose. I feel a blush warm my cheeks. My maiden name is Raven, so Beak Face was a running joke.

  “Nose shows you are independent, can be own boss.”

  I wish the teasing girls at school had known that.

  “And Aunty says something like nose shape means you are working to help people.”

  “Uh-huh.” I’m not sure my current occupation, if you can even call it that, is a help to others. A “trailing spouse” is how it is described. Trailing behind the breadwinner. Puts me in mind of the guy tagging along behind the elephant at the zoo. And you know what he does all day … Pete has always been the ambitious one, so we’ve moved where he has needed to be, where the casinos have needed him to be. Before this move I have worked as a waitress in cafés, pubs, restaurants, and hotel bars. Just enough of a job to avoid being unemployed and bored, but nothing fancy. I guess you could say it is helping people. They call it the “service industry,” but it’s not true service. Not like doctors and firemen and volunteers in Africa. I’m good at it, I guess, not only because I love food but because I grew up learning how to attend to someone else’s needs. It’s in my blood. Or my nose, it would seem.

 
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