Lord Devotea's Tea Spouts

"In which life's eternal questions are ignored in favour of a cup of tea."

1001 Nights 6

A Cup of Cultural Cringe

There’s a thing in Australia called the Cultural Cringe, and if you’ve not heard about it, it’s kind of a national chip on our shoulder; an inbuilt inferiority complex when compared to selected foreign cultures.

It manifests in many ways, from TV programming to architecture to education. It even has it’s own Wikipedia page, so you know it’s a thing.

It’s a function of being a colony and also of rapid migration, and I think over my lifetime we’ve gone a fair way toward getting over it. It’s the flip side of the jingoistic joy we feel in the sporting arena when we win internationally, for example when we are basically the winners of every Olympic Games ever, adjusted for population.*

As an Australian, I think we have a choice: to lose the cringe and just enjoy our diversity and the fact we do draw from every corner of the globe, and take part in “the most successful multicultural society on Earth”***

Of course, one can enjoy, or one can rant, and I know my audience well enough that all this boundless goodwill will leave you, Dear Reader, wondering where it’s going to all blow up. Soon, I assure you.

To me, tea drinkers and the tea industry are quite prone to some cultural cringe of our own. There are many examples, such as elevating sitting on your backside looking at a single blossom on a twig in a jar whilst someone in a kimono pours you two tablespoons’ worth of horrid tea and you contemplate the true meaning of the seventeen winds of austere reflection of self-discipline and inner joy (AKA Japanese Tea Ceremony) over sitting on a chair having a fruit scone or three and a mug of Lord Petersham and gossiping (The Devotea Tea Ceremony****).

To me, the worst of our collective culture cringe is the feeling that we have to define ourselves in terms of other beverages. Most notably coffee, wine or beer.

WHY? A learned scholar has already explained that more tea is drunk than any of these beverages.

And so, we come to what has really ground my gears this week: An article in Tea Journey by Jennifer English.

Now Jennifer is a quality writer, and is certainly more accomplished and knows more about tea than me. But in this case, I find the whole article counter-productive. Assumption is built upon assumption. And the biggest assumption is that the readership of a tea journal somehow thinks that wine is superior to tea. Or even cares about it.

The link I followed started with this sentence:

Think of your personal relationship to wine. When you first discovered wine and how you learned to appreciate it.

Well, I don’t drink it. I don’t like it. I can appreciate it on some level, but at the end of the day, my opinion is that every glass of wine is a chance to have a cup of tea that has gone begging. Jennifer’s lead-in sentence, however, allows no wriggle room. OF COURSE YOU LOVE WINE, it implies. So please, please, like us a bit as well. 

One contention of the article is that in the mid-seventies, one event suddenly catapulted Californian wine into prominence when two of them out-scored two French wines in a blind tasting. The net effect was that everyone suddenly re-evaluated their thoughts on wine: “Zut Alors! I have been blind but now I see! It’s the TASTE that matters.”

And Jennifer opines that now that event is happening for tea, the proof of which is the growth of specialty tea shops and the rise in availability of truly excellent teas for the average punter via the Internet.

I really dislike that comparison. For starters, I don’t buy into the “seismic shift” theory of the 1976 event, no matter how much it suits the Californian vintners to draw that line in the sand. Here’s just one example: my hometown has a little wine called Penfolds Grange (Hermitage). Made since 1951, by 1971 it was consistently beating all comers, including French Wines, at international wine competitions*****.  It’s one of the most collectible wines in the world. Yet we are expected to believe that in 1976, a whole bunch of people thought: “These French wines that have been beaten by an Australian Wine for 5 years have just been beaten by an American one, we better change our thinking”.

I believe Jennifer has a wine background and so has incorporated the “conventional wisdom” into her article, but nonetheless, allowing for the fact that most of us see things through the prism of our own experience, it grates on me. However, I do think there is a comparison to be made.

Look at where wine shops went in the two decades from 1970, look at the uptake of new drinkers, look at how they have successfully wormed their way onto menus and into people’s thoughts by having great products, education of the average drinker and sheer hard work. That is the real comparison, and so I side with Jennifer when she compares the trajectory of wine a short while ago to the trajectory of tea today. I feel it’s not the seismic shift that bears comparison, but the assimilation of better business models and new technology and the dedication of the industry.

I also agree that we now have access to a bewildering array of teas, and within that range there are gems for you to discover.

I hope tea does not go quite down the fashionable road that some wine has, where fashion or celebrity endorsement is a substitute for using your own taste buds, And of course, wine has really not had to put up with being sold as a cure for cancer, shingles, broken legs, obesity, anorexia, dental caries, bad breath, morris dancing, chronic fatigue syndrome, Phil Collins Syndrome****** or dropsy*******.

I am certainly a beneficiary of the online tea renaissance. Just consulting ONE wine tasting guide, it reviews wines from 163 different wineries within twenty minutes drive from our house, whereas the number of tea gardens in the same area is zero. We are lucky that wonderful people from around the world send us tea all the time.

Let’s hope our renaissance also sees, like in wine, a switch from high-volume, low-quality being the only way to make money to  more segments, more niches and the profit margins to match. In my childhood, local wineries made “flagons” of white wine to sell to alcoholics to drink in the park for $2, now they serve snacks on a terrace paired with wine at $25 per bottle and ship crates around the world.

And good on them. We can learn from wine, but we don’t have to be Wine 2.0. Tea is NOT the new wine, any more than wine is the old tea.

But I believe we need to enjoy our renaissance our own way. We don’t need “tea sommeliers”, we need tea experts or guides. I’m going to stick with SFTGPOP1, not “Grand Cru Darjeeling”. And while we’re at it, stop calling Darjeeling “The Champagne of Teas”.  Let’s not get the begging bowl out at wine’s table, lets have our own table. Let’s stop “Please try us, we’re really nice” and move to “Come to tea, if you have what it takes”

I’m yet to see articles on beer, coffee or wine that say “We’re almost as good as tea, please try us” and we need to have the backbone, the authority, the confidence to stop the cringe from our side of the fence.

Let’s stand up for tea. Tea should stride boldly into the room, not trail behind wine, clinging to its coat tails.

Tea, in all its glorious variety, is tea. That is it, in a nutshell. The other beverages and their aficionados can please themselves.



*By head of population, Australia nearly always wins the  most medals at the Olympics, assuming pointless tinpot countries with virtually no population such as Gibraltar, Luxembourg or New Zealand** don’t accidentally win a gold medal. If so,  we change the way we squint at the data.

** Everyone knows that New Zealanders who win anything or get famous for anything automatically get upgraded to being Australians. Even Russell Crowe.

*** Our Prime Minister said that yesterday, so it must be true.

**** well, there’s the next blog post right there

***** Wine Shows OR the Olympics, we win them all on the population argument.

****** Where you crop album covers to disguise your baldness. It’s rare.

******Actually, tea does cure dropsy according to the most recent research from Thomas Povey.

craigmore 700

A Melodrama About Tea in Five Acts

ACT 1: IN WHICH ONE RESPONDS TO SOGGY DESPERATION

In one long dark teatime of the soul*, I stared into the abyss, pondered the hell hole that was my surroundings, and wondered at the inhumanity of it all.

Yes, I was in Melbourne Airport.

In late February, 2008 I blogged about a trip interstate. At the time, I was not enamoured of Melbourne. I have since grown to love it. On a nice day. Or in the nice bits of your average four-season Melbourne day.

So, I mentioned my soul-destroying sojourn to Melbourne Airport in the blog, and there is the throwaway line: “got a good cup of tea”.

Not great. Not tremendous. Not even really good. Just “good”. So why, in all my travails on my 5 decade journey through life, the universe and everything*, does this cup of tea justify it’s place as the central tenet in the first act of those referred to in the title of this meandering post?

Brace yourselves… it was a teab*g.

SORRY… I should have warned you. Breathe deeply, the dizziness will pass soon.

I remember it well. I got rained upon, my suitcase split, my laptop ran out of juice. I looked a bit dodgy so I got the security pat-down, twenty questions and the explosives test. Quite frankly, I was lucky to avoid a cavity search and a beating with hoses.

I limped into the airport café and saw tins. Assuming loose leaf, I ordered the chai**, and waited 15 minutes as they were heavingly busy. I grabbed the huge double-cardboard-cupped result, complete with lid, and magically a seat near the window – right next to a power point – opened up. I dived in, plugged in the laptop. and opened the cup.

Floating inside was a teab*g. And I was not willing to give up my seat to go back and argue. I decided to grin and bear it.

And I enjoyed it. It had good cinnamon notes, it was made with filtered water, it was steeped a while and was rather strong.

In fact, I decided there and then that, if ever backed into a corner with no other choice, I would once again take a chance on this tea.

ACT 2: IN WHICH ONE NEEDS TO STAY UPRIGHT

Again in Melbourne, and I was sick.

When I have a migraine, I often curl up and feel sorry for myself. I usually arm myself with a huge mug of tea, a pint of water on the side and something salty: plain corn chips are my first choice.

Which is fine, if you are not there to represent your state and talk to a squillion people at a career fair.

So, after staying reasonably upright all morning, I wobbled off to the Exhibitor Lounge and Canteen – or “roped off plastic chairs” to be more accurate.  I asked for water: they had none, so I got 600mls of Coke Zero. I asked about corn chips – a large bucket of hot chips was as close as I came. And once again, I saw this brand of teab*g, and ordered the chai.

I wasn’t after taste, and don’t think I even noticed it. After washing two aspirin down with the above, I felt somewhere between ‘ready to fall over’ and ‘ready to run a marathon’, and while the former was much more likely, it was an improvement.

Here’s the thing about teab*gs: they don’t kill you. They are mostly harmless* in terms of their physical effect on you. However, they are an affront to every shred of decency: in  a café they tell you nothing less than that the owner does not care for you, and/or has no interest in taste, and/or only employs people who are so stupid they can’t be trusted with a teapot, and/or just wants your money to feed their opium habit. They probably have shares in a business that uses child slaves to make pesticides and bribes customs official to import antifreeze as “Fine Russian Wine” – but let’s not be too judgmental.

At the conclusion of this Act, I think I have freely admitted that sometimes, in extreme cases, one might drink teab*g tea. It’s a bit like people who get lost in the desert and survive by eating dead rats and passing insects, and drinking their own urine.

ACT 3: IN WHICH ONE CELEBRATES GOOD THINGS

Only a few months ago, I needed to meet with a business associate, and we agreed to meet at a lovely tea shop I knew of in a nearby suburb.

We got there to find it closed – not the “be back in five minutes” kind of closed, but the newspaper across the front window kind of closed.

Across the road was a coffee shop. It was our only choice.

I don’t drink coffee any more, but this was the kind of coffee shop I applaud. Totally committed to seriously good coffee, well made, with premium milk, scrupulously clean, really good and innovative food.

So I spy the familiar tins, and resign myself to a mediocre experience.

“So, you have teab*gs, then?”, I started. No, said the hipster behind the espresso machine. “It’s loose”.

“Brilliant”, I reply. “I don’t suppose you have their chai?”

“Just came in yesterday” he replied, and from under his counter produced a foil pillow with about a kilo of tea in it, with one corner snipped off. I could smell it, rich, overpowering and I was overjoyed.

I had it. Served in a plunger/french press, it was excellent. They even supplied a little sachet of honey on the side, should one choose to indulge. The meeting went well, and all in all, it made me happy.

I decided that now I knew that this tea outfit has loose leaf available, I will ask the question more often when I see their tins, instead of just ordering a mineral water instead.

ACT 4: IN WHICH ONE COMPROMISES, WHICH IS NEVER WORTH IT

I was meeting someone and we met at a little Italian style café. He had a coffee and I saw the tins, so I tried my luck:

“In that tea loose?”

“It’s loose leaf tea in bags”

“Sorry, mate, that’s just nonsense. And why do you have filter teapots of you have teab*gs?”

“Look, I can empty the bag into a pot if you want”

“Well, do that then. I’ll have the chai”

Obviously I had just backed myself into a corner, but I was not displeased with the result. While it was not even close to how good the previous act’s tea was, it was noticeably better than a bag plonked on a cup.

Not so much a good cuppa as an interesting experiment.

ACT 5: BETRAYAL, FRAUD AND HEARTBREAK

Last weekend, Lady Devotea and I found ourselves along one of Adelaide’s more upscale retail precincts, and as we wandered along the BMW-lined paved footpaths, we noticed a coffee-and-cake place we knew now had a new name and a new look, so presumably new owners.

Her Ladyship declared herself to be quite amenable to coffee and cake, as we had failed to lunch and it was mid afternoon, so we ventured in.

I spied the familiar tins and asked the question of the young lady behind the counter: “Is that loose leaf tea” to which she replied in a manner that I feel was quite definite and not subject to any ambiguity: “Yes”.

I was so excited, I decided not to order the chai, but try one of their others: I went for the Ceylon.

We took a table and less than ten seconds later, the same young lady turned up with two milkshakes, asking which of us had ordered strawberry and which of us chocolate. It was case of mistaken identity: I guess all middle-aged couples look the same to you when you are under 25 and spend all day looking for reflective surfaces to admire yourself in.

Oh, how I wish I’d just said “strawberry” and started to drink it. But I didn’t.

My teapot arrived, and I opened it.

And, here’s what I found:

A filthy, filthy trick of the worst kind.

A filthy, filthy trick of the worst kind.

I’m going to end the story here.

I’ll leave it to your imagine to finish it off.

It does show, that there is a new sensibility. Not only are café staff and probably owners willing to serve teab*gs, but they are now convinced that lying about it is perfectly acceptable.

Sure, lying about teab*gs is unlikely to start a World War or cause a nuclear accident, but if we can’t trust the person who makes our tea, then our society might just crumble and disappear, not with a whimper, but a bag.

 



*I managed to get three Douglas Adams book titles into this post, just for fun. But once I realised there was no way “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” was getting over the line, I sort of gave up. I was visited by The Salmon Of Doubt*

** Yes, yes,  I mean Masala Chai. Tea pedants, you can stand down.

Here In My Cup

In the last month or so, Lady Devotea and I have once again introduced a device to our household that has been absent for a couple of decades: a record player.

That’s right, we are listening to vinyl again. We’ve busted out our collection, which consists of stuff we owned prior to meeting, plus stuff we bought together up until the day we got our CD player along with Dire Straits’ “Brothers In Arms”, The Housemartins’ “The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death” and Talking Heads’ “True Story”, to give you some time frames. This was about the time of the birth of our eldest, about thirty years ago.

And incidentally, we’re loving it.

Much of my taste from my teen years, however,  is not pleasing to Lady Devotea’s ears, so I often take time when she is occupied elsewhere to listen to old favourites. In this case I was stripping a particularly aggravating  wallpaper frieze, and listening to Gary Numan’s live offering “Living Ornaments ’79”.

I know some younger readers will wonder who the hell Gary Numan is, and that’s because you are sadly ignorant. He ‘invented electronica’ (some people give German outfit Kraftwerk some credit as well) by combining thinly disguised Bowie-esque pop and the ideas of author Philip K. Dick with new (at the time) technology and was basically the grandfather of what we see today as dance, trance, industrial, neo-hallelujah-chorus-bus-stop-bipolar-pop and any number of other scarcely credible music genres. He remains one of the most sampled musicians ever (Puff Daddy, Armand Van Helden, Havana Brown, Basement Jaxx et al),  and has been extensively covered (Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson et al).

So, I was listening to the track he remains best known for – Cars – and ruminating.

I remember as a young teen, very earnestly explaining to my contemporaries that Cars is a metaphor, and not a song about actual cars.  Let’s take the first verse:

Here in my car
I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors
It’s the only way to live
In cars

I have always felt that this is demonstrably about living in society and putting walls up.  Whereas my contemptible contemporaries were listening to Hall and Oates moaning about rich girls and other blather while ignoring me, I was eager to impress this idea upon their uncaring and pointless existences.

Mr Numan was – in fact is – one of the most unlikely music stars ever. Despite playing to packed halls and stadia after releasing his first few LPs, he remained an oddly childlike character. Not intellectually, but emotionally. Famously, his Mum used to tour with him so she wouldn’t worry.

My contention that Cars is wholly metaphorical was shattered by my belated reading of the first autobiography of the late, lamented James Freud (“I Am The Voice Left From Drinking”), who is another of my favourites around the turn of the 80s. Mr Freud visited the UK and turns up on Mr Numan’s “Telekon” LP (clapping his hands, to be exact) and was invited by Mr Numan to stay with him. Imaging a palatial residence for one of the UK’s hottest acts, Mr Freud was amazed to find Mr Numan lived in a caravan at the rear of his parents’ suburban London home.

The duo decide to go and get fish and chips, and Mr Numan produces an impressive American sports car. However, when they arrive, Mr Numan refuses to leave the car as he does not like the look of several passing locals, and locks himself in it whilst Mr Freud is dispatched to collect the comestibles. Hilarity ensues, but the story makes me wonder exactly how much of a stretch the metaphor is, or is it in fact just the literal truth?

It did get me thinking, though, of how the comfort of the familiar can be used to build these metaphorical walls, and that is therefore where the topic turns to tea.

As a tea drinker today, you are part of a subset of society. Even if you are a sadly misguided consumer of teab*gs, you are still in a category that, by definition, does not involve everyone.

So then, let’s assume you wisely only drink loose leaf tea. This places you in a further subset of tea drinkers, and indeed, when you are in that group, it’s often hard to know who you feel more different from: those who don’t drink tea (but might one day come to their senses) or those who drink bagged tea (and might one day come to their senses).

So in effect, are we putting walls up? The more refined our tea preferences, the more of a barrier we are hiding behind?

For example, I don’t drink Japanese tea as a rule. Is that a barrier, a way to create a little kingdom of ideas for me to defend? Or is it just that genmaicha tastes like crap, matcha could only appeal to a colour-blind goat with no taste buds and the rest of them are just blah*?

As tea drinkers, do we need to make sure that our tea walls are not preventing social engagement with the uninitiated? Or should we revel in hiding behind them, enjoying our individuality, our own company and the company of the like minded, and just pour another cup?

It’s a choice we have to make.

Although he continues to record and tour to this day, Gary Numan’s career as an international sensation foundered when he obtained his pilot’s licence and took time off to fly solo around the world. If you take the view that Cars is literal, how much more insular is locking yourself in a tiny plane and taking off across the globe?

So, to stretch the metaphor that I am using this (arguably) metaphorical song for, are we dedicated, serious tea drinkers in danger of cutting ourselves off? In essence, flying solo?

Not if we remember that tea is best enjoyed with company, in whatever form one chooses to imbibe.


*yes, it is exactly that

 

Tea Cup as a tea Light Holder in the upcycled candelabra

Storage and Slurpage: A Guide to Domestic Tea Spaces

Whether one is designing and building a new mansion, retiring to a caravan**renovating, downsizing, evicting your adult children or moving into a yurt, a pivotal question is: “how much of my space needs to be reserved for tea?”

Now, I’m not talking about preparing tea. As long as your kitchen has sufficient power points to plug in your electric kettle, or you have an old fashioned one to go on the stovetop, there’s no problems there.

No, I’m talking about areas to store, and areas to consume, tea. So, I’ll use the home of Lady Devotea and I to illustrate the fact that, by dedicating as little as 10-15% of your entire home to tea, you can do rather well.

Let’s start with storage.

Our Tea Rack

Our Tea Rack

We mostly drink our own blends – if we didn’t love them, we wouldn’t make them. So, we have a simple space in the kitchen next to kettle. When we moved in, this was a plate rack, so we simply took out some pieces of dowell, and hey presto! tea rack.

The labels are about 4 years old, every time we redo the labels for cafés who stock our tea we forget to do our own!

Single Origin Tea Shelf

Single Origin Tea Shelf

But sometimes, we drink single origin teas, so at any given time we have about a dozen of these jars in another corner of the kitchen. Lady Devotea came up with an industrial look for this bit, and we think the jars do it justice. a bit like a tea shop at home.

Of course we DO have a tea shop at home, or at least, we have three racks of shelving containing enough of our tea that we can fulfil mail orders as they come in without heading to external storage, but I’m going to suggest that for most people this is unnecessary.

Some of our tea friends will look at these pictures and say “Oh yeah? Where’s the rest of it?” , and yes, it’s true there quite a bit of tea crammed into several cupboards too, but that’s the more untidy bits, so I’m going to skip those.

So, let’s talk about drinking tea.

Of course, you can drink it at the breakfast table or in front of the television, and we do. Or when working in the garden or when tapping away at a keyboard (I have a Lord Petersham half drunk in front of me right now (the tea, not the person)).

Parlour

Parlour

We all know, though, that there are special times to drink tea, and you need special places.

We put aside a nook in our house as a parlour.

This is where guests can enjoy tea, comestibles and scandalous gossip.

If you don’t have room for a parlour, then here’s some tips.

  • Smack yourself around the ears. OF COURSE you have room for a parlour. That’s DEFEATIST talk, that is.
  • Do you have a pool room, or family room? Why, it can become your parlour with a little effort!
  • Adult children still at home? Help one of them to become self-reliant by evicting them. Of course, invite them back once a week for tea in your new parlour, the one that used to be their bedroom.
  • Convert a shed or garage. Cars belong on the street, not clogging up your tea drinking spaces.
  • Move to a bigger house.
  • Build a tea house in your back yard.
  • Convert your cellar/basement.
  • Stop making excuses and do it. Now. I said NOW!

You see, it’s easy. We’ll have no more of that talk.

Outdoor Parlour

Outdoor Parlour

One thing to consider – if you live in a place with nice weather – is an outdoor parlour. Here’ s a photo of ours.

But what makes it an outdoor parlour, and not just a couch on a deck? It’s the little touches.

Tea Cup as a tea Light Holder in the upcycled candelabra

Tea Cup as a tea Light Holder in the upcycled candelabra

Look at the candelabra.

Lady Devotea found this at a market recently. It uses recycled teacups and saucers as tea candle holders.

They look magical when the sun’s going down and you light it up:

Another great little touch that Lady D has added is this teapot windchime using spoons.

Teapot Windchime.

Teapot Windchime.

There’s nothing really expensive or hard to find in any of these pictures. It’s just about getting the balance right.

Space spent on tea drinking is space well used: it can quickly become the heart of your home.

Too many people dedicate space to the wrong things, such as their ungrateful children, expensive vehicles or such mundanities as clothes washing or clothes storage. Refocus your thinking and get the tea areas right.

The rest of life will take care of itself.


 

 

** My American friends, for no apparent reason you call a caravan a’trailer’. Everyone else knows that a trailer is a device for carting wood, soil, treadmills you’ll never use and old couches around.

 

Memory Of A Free Festival

I’ve pinched the title of today’s blog from a favourite David Bowie track. But only the title – the festival we attended yesterday wasn’t free. Not in money terms, although it was free from many of the things in Mr Bowie’s song, such as flocks of hippies and rampant LSD use, but then it’s not the 1960s any more.

So, yesterday, we attended the “Beachside Food and Wine Festival” for the first time since the inaugural one a few years back.

This is an idea from our local council, the City of Onkaparinga. Unlike many of their ideas, such as spending a fortune on the world’s worst logo, it’s not a bad one.

The inaugural event happened alongside the beach – quite fittingly – and we were there. It was a very hot and glorious November day on one of the finest beaches in South Australia: Christies Beach.

We were actually working. For some reason it was, and perhaps still is, an invitation-only event for stall holders. A couple who were great friends of ours, who owned our biggest tea shop outlet and who also were our partners in promoting our tea beer range were invited, and so we went along as part of their setup.

They handled the food and wine, I was in charge of the hot beverages and Lady Devotea had the beer covered.

Lady Devotea was perhaps the busiest person in the world that day. She went through hundreds of bottles of Tea Beer to great acclaim.

There were tens of thousands of people there. As we were serving alcohol, we were in a roped off section with all the wineries and breweries, which is to do with Australian Liquor licencing laws.

The Council rigorously enforced those laws, which is symptomatic of their approach: rigorous enforcement of rules and regulations teamed with a hopeless inability to deploy common sense.

The festival on that occasion was slated to go until 11pm. The council had huge temporary lighting, which they turned off at 9pm for a fireworks display… and never managed to turn back on. With just the street lights, most stalls were plunged into darkness and could no longer trade, the crowd thinned and we all packed up about 10pm, in the dark.

But nevertheless, it was a great day out.

So, how did the Council respond to actually running a rather successful event? Well, they moved it to April, to reduce the chance of it being a nice day.

Then, they split it over two sites, separated by a one- or two-kilometre walk over the biggest hill in the district. Perfect at a festival where people are, by definition, full of food and wine.

You have to ask, what more could they do to sabotage it?

Let me take a sidebar here to say I’m not surprised. This is the same council to whom we went a few years ago for support with a community service project to help the unemployed and the disabled.  After sensible talks with the Deputy Mayor about using a barely used Council-owned location at the local transport hub,  we were referred to various council minions, who offered a building in a country town with no public transport available: perfect for the unemployed and disabled if you are totally committed to failure, as the City of Onkaparinga often is. In fact, that building was available as it was built to house another of their good ideas done badly.

Anyway, since then, they’ve abandoned the “two sites” idea, cancelled one year entirely due to bad weather and yesterday presented it, not along the beach, but on one block and a small park at the beach end of Beach Road.

We parked where we parked for the first one, and then hiked a kilometre before finding ourselves approaching the public face of the event, which was the back of four portable lavatories and a temporary security fence with a gap in it.

There were some people involved in a conversation with someone with “volunteer” on  a name badge, whom we breezed past, and an orange-vested security guard, who we nodded to as we went past.

He stopped us and asked if we had a stamp, then indicated the volunteer and told us we had to speak to him. And the volunteer informed us that the cost of entry was a gold coin donation.

If you’re not Australian, let me take a moment to explain that gold coins have not been used in Australia since the 1850s, so we were completely out of them, Also, we had inexplicably  failed to fill our pockets with Spanish doubloons prior to popping down to the festival. Luckily, the 92% copper/6% aluminium/2% nickel $1 and $2 coins that currently circulate are often referred to as “gold coins”.

Asking for donations to a charity or community group, such as the Country Fire Service, is not unusual at community events. So I asked the volunteer who the donation was for, and he told me: “The Council”.

Yes. the Council. So basically they are asking for a ‘donation’, it’s collected by a volunteer and you can’t get in without it.

They could, perhaps, just be honest, and say “we are holding a community event,  paid for by the community who are source of all our funding, and we’d like to further charge you a dollar, because orange vests don’t come cheap. That way, we can save our funds for doing our actual work, such as collecting your rubbish bins, which admittedly we failed to do last week without explanation or corrective action”.

This infuriated by Lady Devotea and I. We walked wound the tiny, badly laid out event in a huff.

It was predominantly wine event, which I have mixed feelings about – the pride of living on the doorstep of one of the world’s great wine regions is tinged with that fact that I cannot understand why anyone would bother drinking unpleasant, old grape juice when a cup of tea might be had.

So, there was only one chance for solace: a cup of tea. There was none obvious from first glance, but then we saw Agatha’s had a stall. Agatha’s is a favourite spot in Port Noarlunga and they have a small selection of loose leaf tea. We popped in there, but alas, they had not bought the good tea to a culinary festival, they only had teabags. I ended up having a Coke Zero.

The entertainment consisted of a young lady singing in that choking Sarah Blasko- style at the time. Masterchef runner up Callum Hann (incorrectly billed by the City of Onkaparinga as “Masterchef Winner” on their event page) was not due on for a while, so we simply left, after getting a star printed on our wrists should be wish to return.

We had a lovely wander up the street, and thanks to the star inked on our wrists, we were able to cut back though the festival after making fists and waving them at security.

20160402_150445 (3)As we approached the entry/exit where we had first entered, we noticed that the entry – and the four magnificent portable toilets – were now under the watchful eye of FOUR security guards, who were cunningly pretending to do nothing but stand around discussing the football, but were actually keenly scrutinising the throng lined up for entry for troublemakers and coin-donation-dodgers.

Of course, maybe we were being cynical. Perhaps they’d heard that a boatload of ISIS terrorists were planning a surprise invasion at Christies Beach that day, but that the presence of four portly gentlemen in orange hi-vis was enough to send them scuttling back towards softer targets.

We’ll never know, but highly visible security is the price we pay to enjoy our way of life and the joy of attending free festivals.

Well, that and a dollar.

Outside: Our Comfort Zone

Well, folks, the week has been a bit chaotic. I’ve (a) not been well, and (b) swamped with each and every kind of work I do and (c) Lady Devotea has been flat out as well.

The Friday night climax of that busy week was that we won tickets to the opening night of the new production of “Cats”, which is really hard to describe if, like me, you’ve never actually taken acid and so have nothing to compare it to. It was good for all of the second half and some of the first, which makes it considerably better than the other Andrew Lloyd Webber piece I’ve seen, “Phantom of the Opera” in London, which was consistently rubbish from ticket collection to train ride home.

Anyway, so after a week of tea, memos, meetings, a sad passing within Lady Devotea’s circle, more tea, more memos, more meetings, no sleep, aloe vera tissues and vapour rub we were feeling a little flat and planned to “do nothing” on Saturday.

Not quite sure what “do nothing” means to most people, but in this case, it just meant that we had nothing planned.

I came up with an idea, which was basically walking around the city parks,  but Lady Devotea came up with a better one, so we headed to Cleland Wildlife Park.

We took with us two flasks of tea, some biscuits and an uneasy conviction that it would rain.

Cleland is a wonder, and apart from it being educational and great exercise, it also means you get to feed kangaroos.

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In this area, the kangaroos were so well fed that you pretty well had to put the food in their mouths. They either can’t be bothered moving or are too full.IMAG0179

Or, if kangaroos are too big and scary, you can hand feed things that look like little kangaroos, such as bettongs, potoroos or bandicoots. Here’s Lady Devotea hand feeding one (or more correctly, here’s Lady Devotea’s hand, feeding one.)IMAG0181

In fact, if the whole marsupial thing makes you fearful – after all, a kangaroo does look  a little like a six-foot long rat, then there’s always other critters, such as this Whistling Duck, seen here being out-muscled by a Not-so-much-of-the-whistling-but-more-of-the scoffing Duck.

Anyway, the first point is that communing with nature in the shape of overfed fauna and lush flora is pretty special. We got up close and personal with a Koala named Stephen and even saw a wombat actually moving, which is rare during the day.

But I think the best bit was this bench, which we encountered after half an hour:

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We sat here, and got out the flasks. Drinking 1910, munching a biscuit.

After all, if you believe the extremely dodgy Chinese legend: tea was invented out of doors. And as much as I love it in an elegant dining room, on fine china, brewed to perfection, there is a charm to tea out-of-doors.

Sitting here, with the lake in front of us, the water burbling over rocks nearby, bandicoots sneaking up behind us to beg for a treat, the smell of rain in the air and no one else visible, the tea didn’t need to transport us anywhere, because were were in the best place we could have been for that quarter-hour.

The world outside the park slowly receded, outshone by this simple pleasure.

Two hours later, we had another tea near the gift shop, bought a few bits, did a bit more communing via a few wild kangaroos that have learned that if they hang around the car park they can gently accost people with roo food still in their pockets, and got back in our car just as the rain finally, and softly began to fall, washing away the last remnants of the week.

 

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Captain and Capability

Today, I break my self imposed rule against not reviewing teas that are available in markets where they compete with our own, using Douglas Adam’s escape clause in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, where writers for the Guide may not, under any circumstances, offer a review that is against editorial policy “unless they really, really want to”.

The reason for this is that I wish to right a historic wrong, concerning Ms. Jane Austen.

Many people know her as a writer of biting social commentary; not many people know that she was also a budding tea reviewer. No doubt inspired by tea-fueled contemporaries such as Lord Petersham, she started reviewing tea in earnest. However, her sad death and a mixup after her passing led to her reviews being incorporated into a posthumously edited novel “Persuasion”, instead of being recognised as the cleverly imaginative reviews they are.

In particular, Jane was working on a review of Bingley’s Tea’s Captain Wentworth blend. Of course, it’s all the more impressive that the blend was not created until almost 200 years after her death, but it’s long been said she was ahead of her time, so we should suspend all surprise, disbelief or deeply held conviction that I am making all this nonsense up.

Having recently become acquainted with Jane, I have taken it upon myself to fill in the missing information.

So here it is:IMAG0163

A REVIEW Of BINGLEY’S TEAS “CAPTAIN WENTWORTH”

By Jane Austen and Lord Devotea

Jane very much wished him to meet Captain Wentworth, and there being no sufficient reason against it, we adjudged it a very fine idea.

Upon opening the packet and meeting the Captain, we were assailed with the odour of fresh rain upon the salted timbers of a very kempt ship, and we stilled ourselves to consider the endeavour we were embarking upon.

“There is a momentary expression in Captain Wentworth’s face, a certain glance of his bright eye, and curl of his handsome mouth”, declared Jane, as we brewed the reddish liquor in a fine china teapot. I concurred, although I also suspected a touch of the rogue between the leaves, both large and small, that twisted and turned within their china universe.

And so we drank, and drank again; deeply imbibing the Captain. Jane, was, I think, as far as she might dare to judge from memory and experience, more in love with him; yet there it was not love. It was a little fever of admiration; with eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a time, and it ended all too soon as the last notes of Qimen faded from the memory of our tongues, where the dance of tannin and warmth had so recently culminated.

It was a merry, joyous party, and no one seemed in higher spirits than Captain Wentworth. Jane felt that he had every thing to elevate him which general attention and deference, and especially the attention of all the young women, could do.

The Captain will be welcomed again soon, I am sure. Jane was smitten, although I saw how my own character was considered by Captain Wentworth, and there had been just that degree of feeling and curiosity about me in his manner which must give me extreme agitation.

We are delighted with our new acquaintance, and the visit in general. All that was most agreeable; charming manners in Captain Wentworth, no shyness or reserve; a bold and fearless tea to start one’s day; ready to scale new heights, with renewed energy and capability; invigorated by the Captain, who is a perfect gentleman, unaffected, warm, and obliging.

tea ceremony

Met My Matcha

A weekend in Sydney is often fun, particularly if you mix business with pleasure. And in the tea business, business IS pleasure.

We flew to Sydney last week to catch up with our friend Julia.

At World Tea Expo 2013, we met Julia, and it’s fair to say that Lady Devotea and Julia hit it off right away. I left them chatting – about ten minutes after we had met – and I managed to tour the whole exhibition before either of them drew breath.

So, when we heard that Julia was going to be giving a series of talks about tea to various Jane Austen Society chapters in Australia, we knew we had to get there.

And we love Sydney, so that seemed the obvious choice.

Not without incident – the plane was jacked up while we were in it and a tyre changed, and then a passenger seemed to be missing – we got to Sydney on the Friday evening and went out for a meal with Lady D’s Sydney-based cousin Tony and his (vastly) better half Nicole.

We usually stay in Darling Harbour or the City, but this time it was Kings Cross, which is a little… different.

Anyway, Saturday involved an excellent breakfast with good tea, shopping, the excellent talk by Julia which was inexplicably accompanied by Twinning’s teab*g tea (because the organisers just don’t think), a historical walking tour, getting caught in a storm and a bit more tea, and then Saturday was done.

Lady Devotea had seen a newspaper article about tea ceremonies in the Chinese Friendship Garden in Darling Harbour, and we had invited Julia to join us for a basinful of that on Sunday Morning, ahead of a planned Sunday afternoon tea, as described in a previous post.

Having stashed our luggage and borrowed an umbrella, we headed to the venue, and after meeting up with Julia, we managed to find our way in. Some gifts were exchanged, which resulted in Lady D and I having our own beautiful cups for the ceremony.

The Garden is quite spectacular. Koi the size of sharks flash though serene waters. Oriental buildings abound. Lush foliage sprouts from the landscape. And thankfully, none of those Japanese-style bits where some one sticks a rock or two in some gravel or sand and pointlessly rakes wavy lines around it.

Anyway, we found the tea ceremony, which was sort of a mix of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and any other tea ceremony that is based around drinking tiny amounts of tea and keeping quiet, which are exactly not what I want from a tea ‘ceremony’. I want volume of tea and volume of chatter.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy it, and the tea, which we got to taste, was great. I particularly remember a lovely buttery Taiwanese Oolong.

One can only watch silk-clad ladies dispensing tea for so long, and so we moved on to… the tea shop. In the centre of the garden. this is great, but of course it’s all about great company. Several pots of tea followed as the three of us discussed life, the universe and everything.

Another stroll around the gardens, and we were ready for our next event which was… more tea.

We taxied to T Totaller, in Newtown. Arriving a little early, some second-hand stores and bottle shops were perused, but then it was time for the main event.

We were joined once again by Tony and Nicole, and also by our great friends ‘Fancy A Cuppa Now’ blogger/author  Simon Duffin and his lovely wife Anita. They now live south of Sydney and we try to catch up whenever we are in the same general area.

By selecting T Totaller, we had chosen an experience outside of the comfort zones of all concerned. Very much the hipster tea bar, with an industrial chemist decor, this is not the usual tea-and-scones-and-how-about-some-cake  venue we prefer.

Very hip industrial chemistry look, executed flawlessly

Very hip industrial chemistry look, executed flawlessly

From the moment we arrived, Paul made us welcome. It’s not every day seven people, most of them highly knowledgeable about tea, all talking at the same time and with much laughter, occupy a tea shop for over two and a half hours.

We also ate ALL the cake. Literally all of it.

T Totaller does not have many black teas, and to be honest, their black teas are the only thing they do not do well, at least to my palate. It’s more than made up for by the way they do everything else. They have many cool and funky offerings, but my favourite was ice-cold, carbonated, jasmine white tea in a flute glass. It was nothing short of spectacular.

Another iced drink that Lady D and several others enjoyed was a vibrant red-orange drink called Negroni, it looked to have the flavours and colours of a Campari and soda, circa 1975.

My needs for volume of tea and volume of chatter were well and truly met, if not exceeded.

And then, it happened.

Emboldened by the fact that Paul knew what he was doing, I ordered a matcha.

What?

Yes, I did. Despite never, ever having enjoyed a cup of any Japanese tea prior to this (ok, once in 2011) , I thought “This might be the time” .

I tried making my own matcha once, and it was horrible. Twice I have tried samples at events in little plastic cups, and they were horrible.

I explained to Paul that he could not lose here. If he made a cup of matcha I enjoyed, he’d be a hero. If I didn’t like it, it was just because I don’t like matcha.

It arrived, and it was green and foamy. I won’t hearken back to my gall bladder troubles..oh wait, I just did.

Anyway, it was a revelation to me.

I sipped it.

It was salty and brackish. It had vegetal tones. For those foolish enough to eat seaweed and claim to like it, it had those sort of overtones. And inexplicably, it had a vague poultry-like thing, like when a chicken soup has so many vegetables in it that the chicken is just a distant hint.

I’ve struggled to define the taste, and then it hit me. Al-baaaa-trossss!

On ‘Monty Python Live at Drury-Lane’, John Cleese comes on and walks among the crowd as a snack vendor, but instead of selling ice-creams, he’s selling seabirds. And my favourite is “Stormy Petrel On a Stick”. If you’ve ever wondered what that must taste like, matcha is it. It’s like biting a seabird, probably around the area the stick goes in.

There were two matcha aficionados at the table: Julia and Anita, and they both pronounced it excellent. So I could happily say to Paul, “it’s not you, it’s me”.

I consoled myself with an excellent white tea with rose petals.

Too soon, the afternoon finished, and with sad farewells we were headed to the airport.

More will come from that wonderful weekend, but Lady D and I are never disappointed by Sydney, will always enjoy a good cup of tea, never tire of exploring places away from home and have never regretted having a small circle of truly great friends.

So, it was very, very memorable.

And now I giggle every time someone mentions matcha.

Stormy Petrel On A Stick, indeed.

 

 

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1846 And All That

I read a lot, when I can. And I often read fiction. And I often read non-fiction. And often, that’s history.

When it comes to history, generally, I like Stone Age through to about 1799.

Why 1799? Well I was born in 1965, so anything that starts with a 19 or even an 18 just sounds too… boring. Not different enough to be interesting, but just to be kind of stuffy and just so… last centuryish. I was born the year Winston Churchill died.

Now, I realise that people who lived through a World War or two, or the Flu pandemic or the Irish Potato Famine or the Great Depression might have found their life and times quite a bit too damned interesting for their liking, but it’s never done much for me.

Except for Art Deco teapots, of course.

Anyhow, I picked up a swag of books without any clear strategy at the library, about 8 of them, and went back for a second after loving one author. So not by design, but just by happenstance, I read these books in this order, with a documentary in the midst:

  • The Strangler Vine, a novel by MJ Carter, set in India in the mid 1830s
  • Dirty Bertie: An English King Made in France by Stephen Clarke. The ONLY reason I picked this non-fiction work about the life of Edward VII is because the front cover proudly boasted “by the author of 1000 Years Of Annoying The French”.
  • The Infidel Stain, another novel by MJ Carter, set in 1842, and the characters from The Strangler Vine have reconnected in London
  • A documentary about Queen Victoria’s Sons came on TV, and as the aforementioned Bertie was one of them we watched it. By a staggering coincidence, the main person interviewed was the historian Miranda Carter, who happens to be exactly the same person as the novelist MJ Carter mentioned above.
  • Butter Cheap and Penny Loaves: England in 1846 in which historian Stephen Bates argues that the events of 1846 shaped the destiny of  England and six other countries including the USA and Australia.

So what had happened, in effect, was that I had jumped headlong into Victorian England, circa 1846. I was immersed in Chartists and Whigs and Tories. There were railways happening, great engineering feats. There was desperate poverty and ostentatious wealth – but then, some things never change. There was Charles Dickens. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, arguably. The second is easier to prove.

The Queen, Victoria, is on record of being terribly anxious to avoid being mad, like all of her forebears in the House of Hannover. That’s a shame, and she was either the maddest of all of them, or just plain appalling. Her Prince Consort, Albert who believed in impeccable manners right up until he rudely died a decade or so later, was a social reformer in public and in private the sort of parent who should have had his children removed.

The delightful Royals family didn’t just run their unfortunate family like a squad of Prussian Fusiliers, they pretty well determined that society should run along their very proper lines. Which is a shame, because that just led to a veneer of respectability and caused a lot of harm.

I’ll pause and wait for you to make the obvious comment: “Where’s the tea in all this?”

Well, one of the main protagonists, Lord John Russell who took over as Prime Minister from Robert Peel in mid-1846 and whose first decision was that the fact that the entirety of Ireland was starving to death was really no big deal, was of the same family as Anna Russell, the lady who helped popularise Afternoon tea and is often mistakenly credited with inventing it. She married the grandson of Lord John Russell’s grandfather. But although this was an appalling decision that changed the world, it’s only very slightly tea related.

But here’s my tea point: Consider the timing: Indian tea was first commercially planted in the mid 1830s. The landing of the first shipment from Assam in 1839 and it’s purchase by Captain Pidding (as described in that classic book The Infusiast, available on amazon) was right smack in this time.

All the tea histories tell us how important this commodity was, at this time.

And yet, does it get a mention? A couple of cups are consumed in the novels, and afternoon tea gets a passing mention in Butter Cheap and Penny Loaves on page 305.

Maybe we’ve got it wrong. Maybe England never was the tea-obsessed culture we think it was. Sure, it was pretty big during the times of high taxation and smuggling, but then forbidden fruit always tastes sweeter.

Or maybe modern historians, raised since the once-proud British cup of quality loose leaf tea was subverted by the shameful slop of a cup of PG Tips teab*g tea, have just missed the point.

I’d recommend all of the books I’ve mentioned. But, just to restore some balance, make sure you imbibe each book with a nice cup of tea on the side.

Nonplussed

I am bewildered.

In the next little while, we will be travelling 1384 kilometres to Sydney, and while we are there, amongst other things, we will have some tea.

We will be having that tea with a dear friend who is traveling 14474 kilometres to get there.

So, having travelled a combined distance of >17,000 kilometres, we obviously want to make sure we select a venue where we get an excellent cuppa.

So, I did the obvious thing, and checked with a blogger I know in the area.

His suggestions – he had two – consisted of one place I hadn’t heard of, and one I have been connected to on Twitter for years. So, I messaged the latter:

“Long time no chat, but we might well be coming your way shortly. flying to SYD to catch up with another tea blogger. From the US”

And I got a nice positive reply. So I followed up with:

“Can I book a table for 3, <date> at 2 pm?”

I must admit, I was stunned by the reply:

“Hi Robert. We’re not geared up for taking bookings at this stage but you shouldn’t have too long a wait (if at all) when you visit.”

Hmm. Now, some people might have thought “OK, fair enough”.

I didn’t. In fact, I was furious. I mean, I’ve told you guys that three tea people are traveling over 17000kms combined, would like to pop in for an afternoon tea during our short few days together, and you think we should just turn up and see if you can squeeze us in?

I keep going back and forth. Am I being too unreasonable? Do I need to get over myself? Is expecting a busy tea shop to go to all the trouble of writing ‘reserved’ and sticking it on a table  asking too much?

I guess for the answer to that, we need to look at the reaction from the other Tea Shop that was recommended. I messaged them on facebook, introduced myself and made the same request. Here’s the reply:

“Hi Robert, yes we have availability on <date> at 2.30pm and can book you in. We don’t serve any light lunches at the shop. We only serve cakes and tea and hope that is still ok? We look forward to meeting you and your guests. Hope you are having a lovely week. Thanks amber”

I think that’s a stark contrast. I then added:

“Cake is the only light lunch worth having. I think we will now be up to 5 as we have invited another tea blogger and his lovely wife.”

And the reply:

“Ok sounds great. I will put you down for five. See you all then”

On reflection, I found the first response can only be explained if we were dealing with a “hospitality” operator who believes they are there to serve their own needs, not their customers’. It’s nonsense of Alice In Wonderland proportions.

So, I think no further comment, except to say that we are visiting “T Totaler”, and we’re sure we’re going to the right place.

 

 

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