Tea and Life, Tea History

Tea Service

“I know the nicest thing I ever had on the Kokoda Trail was a cup of tea given to me by the Salvation Army. And I hated tea that never had milk or sugar in it; this didn’t have any in it and I loved it, I wanted more. I had half a cup, that’s all they had. I never forgot that one.”

-Interview with Syd Heylen, 39th Battalion, June 1989, from the Keith Murdoch Sound Archive, Australian War Memorial

I’ve just come back from a Dawn Service to mark ANZAC Day, and, to be honest, it didn’t go well. Whilst the gardens are lovely, the West Torrens War Memorial is really good and there were hundreds of people, the ceremony was very sadly lacking. Firstly, the Council had clearly bought their sound amplification gear via eBay, second-hand, from a shoe shop spruiker. It would have been enough for about 6 people to hear. It had one little speaker facing forwards, which is of course particularly ineffective in a 360-degree event. At least the local dignitaries could hear the sound of their own voices. Unless, of course, a plane was going overhead, but how likely was that one kilometre from the airport, on the flight path, during an event that occurred at exactly the time the airport curfew ends? Still, the airport was only commissioned in 1955, possibly the council haven’t noticed yet.

Firstly, the Council had clearly bought their sound amplification gear via eBay, second-hand, from a shoe shop spruiker. It would have been enough for about 6 people to hear. It had one little speaker facing forwards, which is of course particularly ineffective in a 360-degree event. At least the local dignitaries could hear the sound of their own voices. Unless, of course, a plane was going overhead, but how likely was that one kilometre from the airport, on the flight path, during an event that occurred at exactly the time the airport curfew ends? Still, the airport was only commissioned in 1955, possibly the council haven’t noticed yet.

So, to start with hundreds of people silently streaming through darkened, cold streets is very eerie and moving. Then to score half an hour of vaguely heard mumbling is really disrespectful for the occasion. The bugler was first rate, the only other thing I heard was a few of the more religious types voicing the Lord’s Prayer at the appropriate juncture.

The minute’s silence, sandwiched by the bugler, made it all worth it.

 Anyway, as I made my way back through the 6 weeks’ worth of roadworks that has just entered its seventh month (don’t get me started) I was thinking about all of the people who had been disrespected by this pretty poor service. The boys as young as 14 and men as old as 60 who had given up civilian lives in 1914/15 to sail around the world and take part in a conflict not of our making, just over a dozen years since the birth of our nation. The thousands who perished in France in both World Wars. Members of my own family who were Rats of Tobruk.The brave women and men who tended the wounded whilst shells fell about them in all conflicts. World War I, World War II, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, East Timor, Rwanda, Somalia, The Solomons, Kuwait, Iraq, East Timor, Afganistan, barely a conflict where Australians, usually with our great ally New Zealand have gone to lend a hand, at times when “lending a hand’ often meant paying with your life.

And then I remembered a story I had heard many years ago, and I realised, that instead of a good old rant on Facebook, I should write this post.

I had some dealings with the Salvation Army many years ago, as I worked for a company that was selling stuff to them. I’m not much of  fan of theirs, to be honest, as they have a dismal track record in child exploitation. On a better note, my late Grandmother loved them, and they did pop round under her window with a brass band to thank her for her years of service when she was likely to die. For years she sent my Dad as a small child every Sunday to Sunday School at the Salvos with a small donation for the poor, ironically, they were incredibly poor themselves. My Dad’s decision to mostly spend the money on ice cream and go exploring the river can be seen as a sort of Robin Hood manoeuvre in this light.

Anyway, the Salvos have been involved in every major conflict that Australia has turned up for, and always, they’ve bought the tea.

If it takes courage to go to the front lines after a few months training and armed with a rifle, how much more must it take to head there with an urn? Seriously, it’s an incredibly brave move.

So, to return to the thread of story I’ve lost a few times, my boss at the time, Paul, pointed to a picture on the wall on a visit to Salvos HQ, and told me that a story was related to him on his last visit.

“See that guy, he’s a bit of a local hero. He was in Papua New Guinea in WWII, and he was sent to meet Australian and British troops at a jetty. He set up on the end of the jetty, with a little canvas tent and an urn full of tea, all by himself. But instead of the Aussies and Brits, five Japanese motor boats turned up. He’d been sent to the wrong jetty.”

You know the sort part of my story? Paul had not thought to ask the obvious question “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED NEXT?”.

His final thoughts: “Well, he came home. This photo shows him in 1970″.

I love sharing tea, I love making tea for others and I’m often proud of the way I can knock up a decent cuppa under trying circumstances. Would I have the courage to do what that Salvos guy did? I’m lucky I’ve never had to find out.

There are so many untold stories. Australians who were born here, or arrived here from every corner of the globe gave their lives in so many conflicts, and today, our whole country stops to remember them.

We are remembering tens of thousands who never came back, and tens of thousands who came back damaged in mind and body, and in amongst all of that, let’s remember the tea dispensers of all nations whose contribution was to just make the unbearable a little more bearable.

Blogging, Satire, Tea and Food, Tea and Life

Shannon’s Kitchen Has Balls

Today I’m going to share with you my favourite food blogger.

Shannon blogs about healthy food…theoretically.

Let’s back up and talk about me. Of course.

When I started this blog, I knew I was going to give myself permission to discuss anything I damn well wanted. Sure, I had to work tea into every post, but that hasn’t stopped me from discussing tea workers conditions, Shakespeare, slavery, sex and the evils of Morris dancing. Obviously not in the same post.

And though I’ve posted nearly 300 posts here and a few on Beasts of Brewdom, I’ve not ever sworn. Not even when I called out the guy who was blackmailing tea companies by writing bad reviews then offering to take them down for money.

Why? Am I unfailingly polite in real life? Not in the least. My language can be saltier than a bottle of Dutch liquorice that’s fallen into the sea.

And there we have it: I use metaphors, similes, inferences, implication and other fancy linguistic devices as an alternative.

And now, reading Shannon’s work, I realise quite belatedly that I may have made a mistake.

Because Shannon’s Kitchen’s blog does not refrain from swearing. In fact, Shannon swears like a sailor who has just had an unexpected peanut brittle enema.

But what I love about Shannon’s blog is she uses all the same linguistic tricks I use – after all, that’s hardly novel – but works every offensive word and concept you can think of into every sentence as often as humanly possible.

Here a great title. It’s one of her mildest titles, and the first of her posts I ever read: THE PHENOMENON OF TOSS-BAGGERY IN HEALTHY EATING: HOW TO SPOT A FOOD-DICKHEAD

You can read that later, because I haven’t got to my legendarily elusive point yet.

You might wonder why two bloggers who can be just as potty-mouthed in real life have taken two different roads: one (myself) the epitomé of literary refinement and one (Shannon) sounding like Gordon Ramsey being played by a drunken Mel Gibson in a Tarantino film?

Here’s a clue:

In a facebook exchange with Shannon, she posted this about this blog: (note I’ve politely semi-asterisked out the swearwords, so you’ll have to work out for yourself what they are.)

you know a WHOLE lot of sh*t about tea! And f*ck me, I use teab*gs most of the time

And there we have it! Proven beyond a doubt using the Singular Anecdotal Model so beloved of homoeopaths, anti-vaxxers and Dr Oz, positive proof that the only thing that stops my blog and all those of my fellow tea bloggers from being curse-laden angerfests is loose leaf tea.

If I can convince Shannon to drink loose leaf, the world may lose a very funny blogger, but hey, it’s a matter of principle.

Oh, and if you were wondering about the title of today’s post, here’s what I mean:


Tea and Life

Sorry, Geoff.

Part One: The Reaction

I’m a little unhappy with a blog post by someone else. Obviously, the smart thing to do is keep my trap shut, but I’m going to invoke the privilege of the elderly (as I turned 50 a couple of days ago) to find fault with the young man involved.

It’s not something I am planning on enjoying, as I consider Geoff Norman as my goofy brother in arms.

Together, we form the heart of the Beasts of Brewdom blog. His blog, Steep Stories is a firm favourite of mine. His blogs combine humour and often irreverent photography with high level descriptive prose that makes most tea bloggers look a bit pedestrian at times. He once reviewed some of our teas via a brilliant series of off-beat posts that made Inception look easy to follow. I still go back to try to work out what happened. And love them. I have twice nominated Geoff for blogging awards. I met him in person in Las Vagas in 2013, and he was exactly as described on the label. If you only have room for one mildly mad tea blogger in your life, stop reading this and start reading Steep Stories – after you read this post.

In one of my roles, I meet a lot of Labradors, and Geoff reminds me of all of them: they seem unconstrained by normal space, with limbs that move in seeming independent directions and with an unquenchable joy in life.   And Geoff approaches tea the way Labradors approach anything edible: I want it all, and I want it now. Where did that go? Is there any more?

So now, I feel like I’m about to kick a human Labrador. Or shoot Bambi. I hope I am forgiven.

Geoff wrote a post called Regarding Tea Sachets that I’m planning on dissecting. Here’s how it starts out:

In more informed tea circles, it is common knowledge that teabags are crap. Those little bags of ass-flavored tea usually contain the dust left over after the good, loose leaf tea was packaged. The taste of an average black tea from a bag is rough and bitter, like licking a chalkboard. (Yes, I’ve tried that.) But what about sachets?

It’s hard to argue with most of that. In fact, it’s hard to argue with any of it. I imagine I was nodding along at this point. It’s true that often CTC-processed tea is grown and processed entirely for teabags, so there are no leftovers from the good stuff, there never was good stuff in whatever sprawling tea operation that grew and packed those supermarket teabag brands, but that’s a minor point. Let’s move on:

Even the word sounds snobbish. The definition isn’t any better: “A perfumed bag used to scent clothes”. However, sachets (sans perfuming or clothing) have been adopted by many tea producers and vendors to package whole leaf tea in a convenient way for undiscerning consumers. Let’s face it. Not all of those that are curious about loose leaf tea want to go through the trouble of using a strainer.

And here’s where I think he’s first gone wrong. he hasn’t really defined what a sachet is, as opposed to a teabag. They are fundamentally the same thing, it’s really just what the manufacturer wants to call it. However, it might generally be considered that a product is more likely to be called a sachet if it has one or more of these characteristics:

  1. It is made of a material claimed to be better than paper
  2. It offers more room for the leaves to expand
  3. It contains leaves of a higher quality and/or bigger size than standard teabags.

Geoff then goes on to say:

The issue for most orthodox tea drinkers isn’t the idea of a filter bag, but rather the material – and the fact that said sachet may prevent whole tea leaves from properly . . . uh . . . breathing. (Their language, not mine.) Many loose leaf tea drinkers believe that confining the leaves to a foreign material while brewing affects the flavor.

I, honestly, never had an opinion one way or the other. Granted, I preferred brewing tea loose leaf – even so far as to just put leaves in a mug, no strainer. However, there were plenty of teas out there that were duly sacheted I liked. One of my favorite outfits, Smith Teamaker offered consumers the option of loose leaf or sachet, and I flip-flopped between the two.

It seems like Geoff is setting up an experiment here, and he is. And one imagines that it is the sort of half-arsed experiment that not only has Geoff done in the past, but that I myself have also indulged in. It’s one of the reasons we get on. A love of stupid semi-scientific experiments. I even once shot a video of myself continually re-steeping one tea. It goes for 9 minutes and 10 seconds. Probably best avoided.

But before we embrace his experiment, I’m going to take some issue with his description. These bits “The issue for most orthodox tea drinkers isn’t the idea of a filter bag, but rather the material” and “… sachet may prevent whole tea leaves from properly . . . uh . . . breathing.” grind my gears a little. Firstly, it assumes that the tea inside the “sachet is ‘whole leaf’, secondly, it suggests that room to move is a problem with sachets., thirdly, it fails to define why the problem is one of material and lastly by stating that these two problems are “the problem” it implies there are no other ‘problems’ or objections one might have.

A prominent site that sells both loose leaf and tea ‘pouch’ versions of the same teas has this to say:

Our pouches contain the same great whole leaf teas as our loose tea, just cut into smaller pieces.

What? Size matters, guys. Change the piece size, you change the surface area. You change the teas. So Geoff’s left out the point here that many of these manufacturers aren’t just stuffing the tea in a sachet or pouch or bag, they are macerating it first. Which means it’s no longer the same.

Some of the pouches do offer room for the tea to infuse, twist grow and swell (I don’t think I’d say ‘breathe’, except as a metaphor) so as an objection, it’s not really one I think applies universally. It’s certainly not my main concern.

Onto the material: This material is usually bio-plastic, a plastic made from organic sources such as a small conifer tree or corn starch. As it has a slippery, shiny feel, it is often described as “silky” or “silken” in a very cynical, and highly successful ploy to have customers believe the product is actually made of silk. This single fact should be enough to have you question the integrity of those selling these things. So yes, the material is a problem. It’s allegedly inert. It allegedly does not affect the taste either through storage or usage.

Does the sachet or even the string -which are sometimes glued or stapled -add anything to the tea:- if a tea leaf can add 30,000 compounds to hot water, surely a bit of string and some ‘100% polyactic corn based compostable material’ (or just polyester, if you switch marketing speak for wikipedia) must add something. Let’s not even think about glue.

I know that last sentence is not exactly good science but it just feels like it should be asked (my apologies to Michael Coffey for using one of the fallacies he hates).

And to wrap this bit up, what about the other problems one might have with these things? Is the tea going to stay as fresh when effectively stored in tiny quantities with a higher surface area? What effect does the extra processing: maceration, stuffing, wrapping and packing have on the tea?

So, onto the experiment. Geoff makes tea. Twice. Once with a sachet, once without. And compares. And finds no difference, despite his excellent palate and penchant for oolongs.

But wait one cornstarch-plastic-picking minute there.

Geoff acknowledges the basic flaw in his experiment: He has undertaken the ‘loose’ brew by simply removing a serving of tea from one of the sachets. And while he does acknowledge it, he does not state why this is a flaw. Well, here are just some reasons why his experiment is deeply flawed:

Tea that has been processed, bagged, packed and unbagged cannot be considered to be the equivalent of loose leaf tea.

  1. It might have been cut up
  2. It has been handled a great deal more, possibly even by robots, which never ends well
  3. It may have taken on some characteristics of the sachet through contact with it for many months

On top of that, consider these factors:

  1. An oolong might well have been brewed at a bit less than boiling.(Geoff doesn’t say).  What if the tea was black, does water at boiling point react differently to the sachet than at a 10% below?
  2. Much of tea that goes in bags/sachets/pouches/envelopes/organic-certified free trade kale based quinoa molecule tea wombs* is not grown or processed to the highest standard, but created to a price point and for maximum colour in the cup.

So, let’s look at Geoff’s conclusion:

But as I see it, there was no glaring detraction from the sachet. No trace of “silk” on the palate.

My subjective, semi-informed verdict: A teabag is bad, but a sachet is okay.

And there we have it. Part one done. And before you can draw breath, it’s-

Part Two- The Reactor

As I implied at the start, this post is about not just one blog post by someone wlse, but about my reaction.

And my reaction to Geoff’s post was this:

I laughed.

I laughed, and I started to add a comment.

And while I was doing so, I read this comment on the post:

Melinda says:

Now that worried me a bit. And then there was this.

This is where I lost it.

Geoff, you are a Front Line Commander in the Army of The Leaf. Did you seek tea greatness, or was it thrust upon you? Who cares. The fact is, you are a thought leader, and opinion leader, and you need to understand the basic tenets of human nature: People are often dumb, or just don’t care about the subject matter.

Your blog is widely read. With that comes great responsibility. Despite you adding some quite reasonable qualification that to ‘tea people’ basically reads as “this is just Geoff larking about’, your blog has the power to inform opinion. Or to reinforce opinion. Bad opinion.  And in 24 words, Catherine manages to feed back to you the message that she had read in your blog: “Hey, loose leaf tea is just snobbery. I thought so”.

I know this post is far more about me than it is about your post, Geoff. I’ve stood behind the counter in cafes and restaurants, suffering the “Oh, haven’t you just got ‘normal’ tea”  and stood at markets where people tell you to get with the times and get your tea into a bag, because no-one has time for loose leaf any more. Or just look at me blankly when I say I’m in the tea business.

We must never give an inch in this war, Commander Geoff. We take bags and sachets and pouches and we burn them, or we throw them across the room, or we disparage them with all the malevolent sarcasm we can muster, we must fight them on the beaches and in the tea rooms, but we must never surrender to the Catherines of this world. We cannot allow ourselves to be painted as just dilettantes who are making tea in a pot or gaiwan because we are hopelessly out of date.

We simply must.

We. Simply. Must.


*’organic-certified free trade kale based quinoa molecule tea wombs!’ I might set up a company under an alias to sell dodgy tea to the unwary, and call my teabags that, just out of sheer malice.

Tea and Life

Kyrgyzstan? Peru? I Weep for my Country

I got a nasty shock the other day, perusing a global tea report.

Well, not the actual report, because access to that is over $19,500 and that seems pretty steep.

But a report on the report. Here it is, if you want to check it out yourself. It’s less funny than my round-up, though.World tea Growth

72 countries were analysed as to how much of an increase in overall tea consumption was predicted. And here’s the top 20.

 Who’s missing from this list? Australia, that’s who!

Yes, 72 countries, including Australia, were analysed, and the growth rate for each calculated.

I’m going to assume these guys got it right. After all, they are charging $19,500+ for the report, and you can’t do that unless you are damn clever, right?

In Australia, we see virtually everything as a sport, and I must say, I’m not happy to have not made the Top 20. Not just because we happen sell tea in Australia- oh, no. It’s a matter of national pride.

So, let’s take a good hard look at the list and see if there is any funny business going on.

First up, China. First reaction: China? What? They are already awash with tea.

However, they have a fast growing economy and a faster growing middle class. My guess is that previously exported tea may now be more affordable for local consumption.

Next, the United States. Having watched our own sales grow there, and seeing how hot and trendy tea is becoming there first hand, I can see that this is fairly obvious. Way to go, USA!

Morocco’s intriguing. Most tea there is drunk mixed with mint, their economy is not great, I wonder what’s going on? Perhaps just a shift into exploration of other teas.

Sri Lanka is gradually becoming more prosperous, so I guess more tea can be afforded. Japan is not, so I guess drinking tea helps pass the time.

Panama. Panama? PANAMA???

What is the world is Panama doing in this list? I searched “Tea Culture in Panama” and got 2 articles about a coffee and food tour in Panama City, a link to Wikipedia’s entry for Hibiscus ‘tea’, and Facebook page for a tea shop in Panama City managed by someone with the not very Panamanian name of David Hayes. Number five was “Childbearing the Panamanian Way.

Nevertheless, I have a theory: one of the aforementioned Mr Hayes’ customers reviewed their iced green tea and loved it. If that person had 2000 cups last year, and indicated that they might have 2003 this year, then there’s your .15% Go for it, Kris Tiger, your country needs you!

Having dismissed Panama thusly, I think I can pretty well place the next entry – Bolivia –  as well as their other continental neighbours Ecuador, Peru and Columbia into the same basket.

Rwanda is next up, and that’s not surprising. It’s a country that is making good strides in quality tea production, and so I hope they do enjoy more of it.

Next I want to discuss New Zealand. They are NOT on the list. GOOD! There’s nothing worse than when those guys do better than us. Thankfully, it’s rare.

I’m going to group a country known for producing primarily poor quality tea for teab*gs – Kenya – with one known primarily for drinking poor quality tea from teab*gs – The UK – and say I just don’t care. Shouldn’t even count, in my opinion.

South Korea is really gaining in terms of world acceptance of their teas, I’m not surprised this might lead to a boost in tea drinking in-country.

Sudan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Mongolia between them average 0.05. I’ll ignore them.

That only leaves Kyrgyzstan. Is that actually a place? If it was a person, it would be a character in a murder mystery, in a scene that involves this dialogue:

“Hello, Kyrgyzstan. Or should I say….” *Rips off mask… etc

And of Australia, not a mention.

This bit is exclusively for other Australians: Perhaps we’re number 21. Perhaps we are only a few purchases away from making the list. Perhaps, my fellow Australians, if you’d spent a bit less time drinking coffee and/or stale grape juice and bought just a bag or two more from The Devotea’s Australian On-line tea store, we could have made that list. How about that, hey? Don’t you feel you’ve let the side down? Don’t you feel unAustralian right now?

An interesting stat from the report is this:

Currently, green tea (unfermented) accounts for 43.2% of the global demand while the remaining market share is divided between black tea (fermented or partly fermented) (29.8%) and tea concentrates, extracts and essences (27.0%).

So, even by grouping black and oolong together as black, green tea is well ahead. I think they’ve grouped whites into green.

My favourite kind if tea is not top of the list. My country is not even on the list.

So, I’d best turn to cricket if I want to rejoice in Australia being number one in the world.

As for tea market growth, there’s nothing left to do but look forward to next year’s report. And drink plenty of tea while I wait.

Because I’ll be doing my patriotic bit, and increasing my consumption … for my country.

Satire, Tea and Food, Tea and Life


I get asked questions all the time, here’s one from little Mandy of Manchester, UK:

Dear Lord Devotea, do you condone biscuit-dunking in tea?

It’s a vexed question, Mandy, and I’ll try to answer it succinctly:


As succinct as that is, I’ll have to add a few qualifiers. About nine pages’ worth, if I’m on my usual form.

Firstly, it has to be your tea and your biscuit, or between consenting adults. Random dunkage can be a social faux pas. You might be the best friend I ever had, but slip the tip of your jaffa cake* into my silver needle and you may get a very stern talking to, or even a hint of violence. If you are at a garden party with the Queen and you choose to graze the top of Her Maj’s Puttabong with your Pfeffernüsse** , you may be shown the door.

SIDEBAR: As a large portion of my readership is American, I may have to just mention once more that: (a) a biscuit is a small, usually sweet baked good, not the odd scone-like things Americans put gravy on at breakfast (b) ‘cookie’ is a word that sounds to my sensibilities like a word for four-year-olds. If you could just all fix that, it would be grand. Thanks.

Sunshine biscuit

JAM DROPS, FANCIES OR DODGERS: Vanilla based or floral teas work well, mid length dunk style about 3/4 of a second

The next point is, there are some times when you ought to not do it. Here’s a list:

  1. When your biscuit is coffee flavoured
  2. When your biscuit is so dry and crumbly that it will not survive the dunk
  3. When you are being offered tea as a professional taster
  4. If the tea is made from a teab*g (as you should be throwing it on the ground and storming out, taking your biscuit with you)
  5. If you think it might cause cultural offence

An example of the last one is this: If you are in a bamboo hut, sitting on a mat, admiring a stick in a jug with a single blossom on it and there’s lots of bowing, you may be partaking in a Japanese tea ceremony. Chances are that some form of thin, grassy unpleasant tea will be placed in front of you. Now, you and I know that slipping an almond biscotti out of your pocket and giving it a dunk is going to improve the experience for you, but your host is trying to impress you with quality of the tranquillity and the zen-ness of the rush matting. The crunching sound of the almonds will carry like a rifle shot across a serene lake, and everyone will be looking at you instead of admiring the teapot. Best to fake a seizure and then head home for a cuppa.

So, our next point, is technical biscuit selection. You just have to get this right.

Chocolate chip biscuits

CHOC CHIP: Dunk into an Assam or Keemun. Mid-length dunk style, about 3/4 of a second

I’ve added a pictorial guide down the side of this blog for your reference.

Timing is also of utmost importance. Basically, the scientific formula for dunking is this:


Where T is the optimal length of time to dunk. It is the time you are aiming for.

C is the crumbling point. It is the moment the biscuit subsides into your tea.

A is A bit of time. That is, a short interval of time before the crumbling point, where your biscuit should be pulled.

Finally, P is the Post- dunk subsidence allowance. That’s where you subtract a little more time, to avoid subsidence after you remove the biscuit.

Tea time biscuits

RICH TEA / SHORTBREAD : In an out style, quyick as you can or you get a cup full of sogginess. Great with a nice white.

And, believe me, post-dunk subsidence is to be avoided at all costs.

Imagine the scene:

You are visiting your fiancée’s spinster aunt, who made a fortune in bouclé and chenille futures ahead of the great knitting yarn shortages of the late 1970s. She is deciding upon whom to bestow her millions: your beloved other half, the Macramé Museum of Montana or a Shelter for Incontinent Cats in Santa Cruz de la sierra, Bolivia.

You are introduced, and the aunt sees you as a nice young man. Out comes the tea, and some Garibaldis****.

Halfway through the aunt’s recollection of meeting Andy Warhol in a public bathroom in New York***** in 1968, you idly dunk. You are so captivated by the Aunt’s tearful recollection of this major life event, you let your biscuit linger a little too long.

Gingerbread Biscuit

HARD GINGER BISCUIT: Absolutely dunkable in a lovely Darjeeling, give it a full second to soften.

You extract it hurriedly, and to your amazement, the biscuit is still whole. Your move it toward your mouth, but suddenly time seems to slow down, and you watch in horror as a slight downward movement of the far corner of the biscuit becomes a wobble, becomes a trickle, becomes an avalanche of crumbs and dried fruit into your lap.

Instinctively, you leap up, and this action projects the assortment of wet clumps and sultanas across the coffee table and pure white linen settee, and before you know it, your partner is offered the whole lot, on condition that she marry that nice chap Crispin from down the road,  and security is escorting you from the building.

Yes, post-dunk subsidence. It’s a major issue, and unlike the silent crime of a cup full of biscuit, it’s as plain as the nose on your face and the shortbread on your trousers.

My short summary here is just an overview, there is obviously a lot more to be said on the topic.

I haven’t even mention tea slamming with Tim Tams******. But that is for another day.





* A Jaffa Cake is a badly-named biscuit

** A Pfeffernüsse is well-named biscuit (if you speak German)

*** Almond Biscotti is also a well-named biscuit, if you mix English and Italian

**** Garibaldi biscuits are named after an Italian revolutionary. Who knew? In Australia they are called by the more evocative but less exotic “Full’o’Fruit’

***** Obviously the aunt has lost her marbles. There are NO public bathrooms in New York City.

****** Tim Tams are called Penguins in the UK. Actually, Arnotts nicked the idea from Penguins. And named them after a Kentucky Derby Winner.

Service, Tea and Life, Tea Retail

The Semi-Magnificent Seven

If I go into a café, bistro, restaurant, hotel or any other eating establishment, and they are the sort of pathetic, standardless, thieving charlatans that have teab*gs, then naturally I recoil in horror and often make my displeasure known. You’d expect nothing less, right?

In fact, often friends and family members will apologise for my behaviour IN ADVANCE. Yes, before I even open my mouth in a genuine attempt to explain to the proprietors exactly how criminally stupid they are. A bit rich, considering what a favour I am doing them, pointing out their faults so they can easily improve.

The problem this leaves me with, though, is that sometimes I walk into places with loose leaf tea.

That doesn’t sound like a problem, does it?

The first issue is my own principles. I may have walked in wanting a cold drink, or a hot chocolate, but as soon as I see loose leaf, I need to order it. I need to send these people the signal that they are doing the right thing. After all, the other people in there sipping their soy decaf quarter-lattes and Coke Zeroes aren’t helping.

I cannot help but order it. I am bound by my own code, much like Dexter, except with moderately less homicide. Here’s how it plays out.

There are usually up to seven options of loose leaf tea. Let’s count them.

There’s English Breakfast. Great.

Now, I love a good Breakfast tea. If you look at our range you’ll see we have around EIGHT breakfasty black blends in each market. And usually, they are ones that I have personally developed. It’s not always the case, but I tend to develop the straight black blends and the green range and Lady Devotea the florals and the whites. There are exceptions to this and we generally work together, but the point is, I’ve always got at least eight breakfasty blends at home, as well as about 30 single origin. So when I see “English Breakfast tea”, in a canister, usually either unmarked or of a brand I don’t like as much as ours, let’s just say I’m unexcited and if possible, I wish to avoid it.

And that’s where the trouble starts.

The next canister is almost certainly Earl Grey. Might be great, might not. But as I have an allergy that precludes bergamot, it’s not an option.

The next canister is almost always labelled “Green Tea“.

Really? “Green” tea. That can be anything from a stringy, bitter, grassy, cheap Japanese sencha to something like a Chun Mei, which I could drink all day. So, in the popular management-speak, I’ll generally “put a pin in it” and return later to considering it.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you? I can barely type it: Chamomile.

Yes, the only thing worse than the completely untrue claims about this being a calming, relaxing sleep-helper – and who the hell needs that when they are out and about? – is the vile taste. This herb – and it is certainly not tea – has the gall to take up one-seventh of the tea slots in our mythical standardised café, and it’s not even tea. Best use for this is to start a fire with it, though apparently, not on the front counter of a café.

So we are four in, one boring, one to consider later, two aren’t happening.

Next up, we’ll likely get a masala chai. It will be marked Chai. It will have no ingredients listed, of course, so I will stay away from it because (a) it may well have citrus peel in it and (b) what are the chances they can make it properly?

Note that in some places they offer “powdered chai”. Try not to throw up on the table if they even suggest it. Or maybe you should, they might take the hint.

Peppermint is in the next canister. Always. This can be good news if it is pure peppermint, but I’ve also come across it mixed with all sorts of stuff, and in several cases, lemon peel. So unless I can be guaranteed it is pure, no dice.

Last, we are going to get some sort of herbal mix. Most likely without tea. In some cases, it might be nice. Lemongrass and Ginger, perhaps. But more likely a less sensible mix called “Nature’s Garden” or “Granny’s Window Box” or “Chillaxification” if you have accidentally strayed into Hipstertown. It consists of of calendula, lavender, jasmine, hibiscus, oleander*, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, elderberry, halleberry, rose petal, rosehips, sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme, orange peel, lemon peel, grapefruit peel, tangerine peel, apple, pear, banana, chamomile, peppermint, spearmint, raspberry leaf, garlic , juniper berries, old socks and formica**.

That’s seven. So, let’s recap:

  • Canisters 2 (Earl Grey, allergy problem) and 4 (Chamomile, tastes like old socks problem) are out. That leaves 5 of them.
  • Canister 7 (the herbal) is usually out for either allergy or taste reasons.
  • English Breakfast is the fallback position, but perhaps I can do better
  • So I need to assess three of the rest. Yes, I need to get my hands, my eyes and mostly my nose on the next group.

“Can I have a look and smell of some of your teas, please?”

I usually find my ever reliable nose can be deceived by chai. There is too much going on to be certain there is no citrus peel. I can taste it in the finished product 100% of the time, but that’s rather too late.

An unsafe choice, so let’s sniff the peppermint. Mostly, this turn out to be OK. So that’s one on the ‘possibles’ list.

Then the green. This is mostly disappointing. Firstly because it’s often cheap or Japanese, two concepts I hate in a green tea. And secondly, because it’s usually not made very well unless you are in a specialist tea shop. (The exception to this is jasmine green tea in Chinese restaurants. Seems no matter how cheap, it tastes good in that environment.)

So the net result of a five minute discussion, often with staff that are less that happy about it – because they are hipsters and I’m over 30 so I know nothing – it comes down to English Breakfast or Peppermint.

Sometimes, I find that a smaller place has performed a miracle, and that one of the above is missing, and instead there’s a canister marked “Darjeeling” or “Assam”.

Not marked with a garden name- probably a blend. Looks like it’s been there a while. I’ll just take a deep breath.

“I’ll have that one, please”.


*oleander is highly toxic. Don’t drink it. It’s a joke.

** Make formica tea by taking your cupboard door off and soaking it in a bathtub of hot water for a week. Still better than chamomile.


Satire, Tea and Life

Percy’s Tea Strainer Treble Place Major

Today’s quite sensible title is probably a relief to those who question my more esoteric ones.

As you all probably know, Percy’s Tea Strainer Treble Place Major is one of the Treble Place Major bell ringing methods. It proudly takes its place alongside Lou’s Carrot Treble Place Major, Cockup Bridge Treble Place Major and the others in its category.

It’s pretty useful if you have eight bells. Heck, add two more bells and you can even go for a Percy’s Tea Strainer Treble Place Royal.

Between the two of them (Percy’s Tea Strainer Treble Place Major and Percy’s Tea Strainer Treble Place Royal) you have the entire subset of bell ringing methods which mention tea. So, as this is ostensibly a tea blog, let’s find out together what we can about the why and how of naming a bell ringing method after an implement of tea ware.

Anyway, a little bit of research shows that the most famous performance of Percy’s Tea Strainer Treble Place Major was at Saint Bartholomew’s in Sproxton, Leicestershire, UK in 2002. It took 4 hours and 46 minutes and was a birthday surprise for someone, possibly an unwelcome one if they didn’t much care for campanology.

A lot of research later, and I’ve found practically nothing, except to note this oddity: the Percy’s Tea Strainer Treble Place Major takes at least 4 hours, the Percy’s Tea Strainer Treble Place Royal considerably longer, but consider these:

  • The Rumbaba and Whiskey Chaser minor is shorter and uses on 7 bells
  • The Rum Surprise Minor is shorter again and uses 6 bells
  • The Eden Ale Minor (ditto)

So the ones named after alcoholic beverages are shorter and require less effort? And the search for methods named after coffee returned no results.

The only logical conclusion* is that this indicates that better, long lasting performance is attained through copious tea drinking, not alcoholic beverages nor coffee.

That sounds right. Does it ring any bells for you?



*in the modern sense of “twisting science to mean whatever you want it to mean”

Tea and Life

Legendary Recycling

We were watching a David Attenborough show about silk the other day, and he mentioned Leizu.

It seems that according to Chinese legend, Leizu was sitting under a tree in about 2700 when a silk cocoon fell into her tea. She watched it unravel, and from there, a silk industry was born.
Pretty amazing, and yet, pretty familiar sounding.

The more familiar Chinese legend to my readers is that of Shen Nong, who discovered tea when wild tea leaves fell in his pot of boiling water.

What? It’s basically the same story. And given that Leizu’s husband, The Yellow Emperor, may have succeeded Shen Nong on the throne, all in the family.

It amazes me that the Chinese seem so ready to pass of their truly brilliant discoveries as happenstance. Doesn’t really happen in the West.

Sure, you might claim that an apple falling on Isaac Newton’s bonce is the same legend, but there was gravity before he earned a lump on his noggin, and afterwards. He didn’t really discover it, he just sort of noticed it, wrote the rule book and mentioned it endlessly.

I don’t think that’s ever happened in South Australia. I wonder if I could create one.

“Richard Bowyer Smith was having his elevenses in a poorly ploughed field on the Yorke Peninsula in 1876, when a stump jump plough fell in his tea.”

“Robert Torrens was sitting about in Parliament House,  Adelaide in 1858, when a diagram of a new means of registering land titles fell into his tea”

Works for me.

Tea and Life

Death of a Universe

“As the message drained away Vimes stared at the opposite wall, in which the door now opened, after a cursory knock, to reveal the steward bearing that which is guaranteed to frighten away all nightmares, to wit, a cup of hot tea.*
* The sound of the gentle rattle of china cup on china saucer drives away all demons, a little-known fact.”

Sir Terry Pratchett departed this mortal realm a day or so ago.

I’ve added the quote above, from “Snuff”, one of his Discworld books, to excuse myself for writing this piece on my tea blog. But I would cheerfully have proceeded to do so anyway.

In 2008 we made the decision to change telecommunications providers. And as a result, spent 8 weeks without the internet at home. Now, I know you might think I should have a book deal as a result, talking about how immeasurably better my life was and how I grew closer to God or whatever, but it’s not the case. We has just sold a business, and we were looking for our next project. And as a result, I grew closer to two library shelves.

Here’s how it works. One hour’s free internet at McDonalds Reynella whilst nursing a peppermint tea at around 7am. If needs be, move on to McDonalds Noarlunga for another hour afterwards. head home for breakfast. Do stuff. Head down to the library mid afternoon for an hour’s free internet there, then if I really must, McDonald Seaford is the go in the evening.

I remember one Saturday when the library was closed sitting up against the wall using their wi-fi. I really had become a wi-fi freeloader.

At the library, the wi-fi had a habit of dropping out for 10 or 15 minutes, so what do you do? You browse, grab a book here or there. And I grabbed two books that were to set off a chain reaction: Robert Rankin’s “Raiders of The Lost Car Park” and Terry Pratchet’s “Wyrd Sisters”. So I didn’t find God. At least I don’t think so.

On nights such as these the gods, as has already been pointed out, play games other than chess with the fates of mortals and the thrones of kings. It is important to remember that they always cheat, right up to the end…” (Wyrd Sisters)

I can attest to having read all of Rankins books, and all of Pratchett’s Discworld series. And I doubt that any two writers have affected me more.

Not since my late teens when I fell under the spell of Philip K. Dick did I find myself so desperate to read more and more of an author (or two). All three in a class of their own, and the styles of all three I have plundered time and time again.

Whilst Dick tells me that the 50s and 60s (when he did most of his best work) were part of a different world, and Rankin talks of an underworld and a lost Victorian world, Pratchett created the most perfectly necessary world ever: Discworld.

Each and every Discworld novel is a masterpiece. It is written to hold a mirror up to our own lives, to use exaggeration and sarcasm. It brilliantly conceals all manner of truths in incredible fun. As an example, “Going Postal”. In it, the main character invents postage stamps and stamp collecting. It’s such a riot that you don’t realise it makes incredibly valid points about economics and the fact that currency (and stamps) are basically a construct of collective agreement with no intrinsic worth.

In 2007, Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, in one of the cruellest tricks ever played on humanity. He spent his last few years campaigning for research into dementia and also championing the right to die.

Mister Teatime had a truly brilliant mind, but it was brilliant like a fractured mirror, all marvellous facets and rainbows but, ultimately, also something that was broken. (Hogfather)

There are many characters that turn up again and again in Discworld books: Commander Vimes of the Nightwatch; the scheming Patrician; the wizard Rincewind; the Hogfather (basically Father Christmas as a pig), too many to name. All of them are recognisable, from the lowly returning characters such as dodgy merchant Dibbler to the very Gods of Creation themselves.

A few days ago, he got to meet his greatest creation. For me, and for many others I suspect, his best recurring character is Death.

Many people die in these books and Death is always there to collect them.

Death is a fascinating character. He never gets why people are unhappy to see him. After all, he’s not responsible for the fact they died, he’s just there to shepherd them to the next stage, according to their beliefs.

He asks questions of the people he meets . He wants to learn and grow. He has a granddaughter called Susan. He does his job. He is a brilliant personification of a non-person, a humanifying of our fear of all-too-human process.
In the books, when death speaks, he speaks all in capital letters. Pratchett Fans know and love those capital letters. When the Tweet announcing his death broke, every fan’s heart stopped. We all understood this:


Incredibly poignant. And yet we should remember that all his books are. When they are being silly, inventive, wild, fanciful, silly again, romantic, mystical, they are always underscored by poignancy. Discworld truly was, and is, a mirror that we should all glance into.

As a hack writer of this unimportant blog, I would never have taken the chances I have without his example. And importance is not important, the process is. The taking of the chance. I can’t think of another human activity where we really do stand on the shoulders of giants.

So thank you, Sir Terry Pratchett.

And of course, we all know who must have the final word.


Tea and Life

What Tea Tasters Can Teach Us About Our Political Viewpoint

Some of us are vitally interested in politics. I’m one. I vaguely remember, from my childhood, reading in a Robert Heinlein book that the alternative to politics is war, so it seems like a good thing to take an interest in.

I just did a US political compass test and it told me I was slightly to the left socially and a little conservative economically. I then did an Australian one that told me I was a centrist socially and slightly right-wing economically.

It’s a good thing to be so central, I think, as it gives me much more scope to offend both sides, which obviously is twice the fun. (When it comes to tea, though, I’m obviously hard core.)

So, to skip to the second part of my subject today, what does an expert tea tasting look like? Here’s an up to date report from the Boston Herald, November 1886:

A big round table of considerable solidity, which whirls easily on a pivoted center. Temptingly set about the edge of this revolving table one observes an array of teacups more or less aesthetic in mold and adornment, according to the “style” of the establishment…A generous teakettle is stuck somewhere in a convenient corner, and it keeps up a pleasant purring over the patient gas jet

Yes, a stack of teacups and endless tea. Sounds lovely.
But it’s not just tasting unlimited cups with a few cucumber sandwiches on the side. Technique is involved, and here’s an important idea in tea tasting: the over-brewed tea.

When expert tasters drink tea, an overbrewed version quite often highlights subtle imperfections. So a tea that tastes fine in normal conditions – or maybe not great but for indistinct reasons- can have its flaws exposed in this method. And even a tea you like that tastes great can have small flaws highlighted this way.

So, how can you do this with politics? Well, people half do this all the time!

By tuning into media sources that agree with our own political viewpoints, we can amplify the good things about our own beliefs, and hear about what those terrible folk at the other end of the spectrum do/say/believe. It’s a pretty well established thing to do.

The other option is to tune into the lunatic fringe of the other side. The guys who have no rhyme or reason, who will just publish/broadcast  anything. Clearly false information, conspiracy theories, outdated stories. It makes us feel good to laugh at those cretins.

But to take a leaf from the tea taster’s book, what if we start to watch/read media sources that broadly agree with each of us, but are more extreme? More exaggerated. More nonsensical, if Social Media is a way to judge “old school” media (and it is). There’s plenty of it.

Overbrewed media can teach us the subtle flaws in our own arguments, can challenge our assumption that it’s us versus them. And it doesn’t have to be overbrewed very much to be really, really interesting.

Sunday mornings I watch two political TV shows, one striving for the middle ground but falling to the left, one proudly conservative. I learn different things from each.

And the more of an agenda an article has, the more it informs. If there’s a news story that has ten aspects, and the “overbrewed version” highlights six and ignores four because they don’t fit the narrative, then I concentrate on what they don’t say. Why does it not fit the narrative? How does it weaken their arguments? Indeed, how does it weaken my arguments?

It’s easy to get caught up in us versus them, to suggest that one side is the side of angels. For a business, sometime we want to show our support for one side or another, or one cause. Not always: remember, Colonel Tom Parker made a lot of money from “I Love Elvis” badges, but also sold plenty of “I hate Elvis” badges.

Listening to the other side gives you an insight into where your arguments are weak. It gives you an idea of what they don’t want to mention. And listening to the outliers on “your own side” does the same. And it also shows where they want to spread confusion and untruths.

To swing the argument back to tea to close on, if I go past a tea shop that offers tastings, I taste everything I can. (This often applies even if I have to buy multiple cups). And when I find myself in places where they mix two or more of their teas together in the one tasting – notably Teavana in the US or T2 (Liptons) in Australia – its obvious that they’ve taken a leaf from insincere political hacks who confuse and conflate concepts and information because their poor quality ideas can’t stand up on their own.