Lord Devotea's Tea Spouts

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

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Pairing is the New Black

It seems these days, you can’t go anywhere without smart people pairing tea and food.

Well, when I say “anywhere” and “smart people”, I am specifically excluding the somewheres where dumb people think serving a teab*g to your guests is acceptable.

Anyway today’s blog is inspired by some commentary around a spectacular event we are holding in our home town of Adelaide, South Australia. It’s an amazing seven teas paired with seven dishes paired with seven stories (perhaps I mean “tripletted”) that we are part of at a Modern Australian Restaurant at one of South Australia’s most prestigious universities. (At the time of writing, tickets are still available).

Anyway, there’s been a lot of commentary around pairing Gin-cured Kangaroo with Myrtle and Riberries with our Apple and Cranberry Fine White tea. (sidenote: as I sit here, I can smell the apples in the dehydrator for this tea).

Anyway, much of the commentary has been along the lines of “nom nom nom”, although a  few overseas have been startled to find out that eating kangaroo is a thing here. Of course, on the day they have whipped goats’ curd as an alternative, which is great of you don’t want to eat Skippy but don’t mind a few goats being whipped*.

Modern Australia Cuisine is a fusion (as is Modern Australia) with elements of our European Heritage, the bush foods enjoyed by our indigenous people for thousands of years and a fair whack of Asian influence. You can barely move at the moment for dishes such as ‘Finger Lime and Teryiaki Black Pudding on a Stir Fried Tofu and Roast Turnip Mash’. And Alere Restaurant, where the event is, does go down that path, although also with a focus on local foods.

Anyway, I thought I’d blog about tea pairing, but with unModern Australia Cuisine. Specifically, with three of the finest foods that Australia has ever produced that go back somewhere between 20 and 200 years.

Damper.

For the uninitiated, damper is Australian Campfire bread. It’s basically flour, water, salt and a rising agent cooked in coals.

It’s basically bad bread. You can allegedly buy it from supermarkets every Australia Day, but it’s a cop out, that’s just actual bread.

The joy of damper is threefold: You made it yourself on a campfire, it smells like campfire and you can dunk it in whatever else you have bubbling along on the fire, such as “Random Ingredient Stew”, which is a camping staple.

The easy way our would be to pair it with smoky tea, but why? It’s already smoky.

No, the answer here is to make some billy tea by placing a strong breakfast tea in a tin can, boiling it for a while, straining it and drinking it with enough sugar to overcome the obvious tannin overload. Traditionally you put one gum leaf in the billy, which is mildly poisonous and tastes terrible, but hey, you wouldn’t be sitting around stewing not-quite-fresh beef with bendy carrots and cabbage if you were interested in your health.

The Chiko Roll

One of Australia’s main contribution to the culinary arts, the Chiko Roll was recently mired in controversy when three Australian Members of Parliament got into it, in Parliament, about which of their home towns invented it. It is also famous for an iconic series of posters, which once adorned fish’n’chip shops across the nation. Each featured a motorbike, a scantily clad young lass, and almost unnoticed, a Chiko Roll.

chikoHere’s one from the 1980s.

So what is it?

It’s more or less a spring roll, but with several key features altered.

The pastry is kind of chewy and yellow, not crisp and thin.

It’s huge compared to a  spring roll.

And finally, it’s full of basically cabbage plus a bunch of other, not easily identified ingredients.

If you buy them frozen and oven bake them, they are truly awful. Exactly as they sound. The true artistry is drop them into red-hot, well-used chip shop oil, and cook them until they are just beginning to burn at the ends. Add salt and… MAGNIFICENT!

To pair with this, I use a mint and tea combo, such as our 1001 nights, to cut away a bit of grease and freshen up the mouth for the next mouthful. Also, try to have a cardiologist on hand.

The Pie Floater

This is a crowning glory and my home State’s biggest contribution to world cuisine. You can only get it here.

It is basically a meat pie, sitting in a bowl of pea soup.

Personally, I have taken it to great heights with an Oolong-infused Goat Pie in a 1910, Pea and Bacon Soup, but at it’s heart, it’s cheap soup and a cheap pie, combining magnificently. It represents home cooking and takeaway, healthy and not, vegetable and everything but vegetable, all on the one dish.

Any properly scented (i.e. not artificially flavored) loose leaf Earl Grey goes with this.

And there you have it.

Traditional Australian cuisine and tea. A pair made in heaven.

 

 

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*obviously a joke. No animals were harmed in the making of this blog.

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Tea: It Varies

One thing tea has in common with all other agricultural products is that each season produces a crop that is subtly different from all others.

In most agricultural settings, variance is to be avoided. Supermarkets demand tomatoes or apples that are a certain size and shape, unblemished, and that will sit in a cold store for weeks on end.  Beans that stand to attention. Parsnips that don’t look like the crude anatomical scrimshaw of a coarse sailor. Lettuces that that look they were hand-carved from jade and never once went near anything as messy as soil.

And so with tea. It varies.

The big blenders try to make their product consistent from here to eternity. That taste you get from a supermarket teab*g from a huge conglomerate. They intend to deliver EXACTLY the same taste –reminiscent of a mangy kangaroo who was rolled in cheap tea and then the results combed into a bag using a toilet brush by a diesel mechanic on his day off, and before his weekly bath  – forever.

While I often have a crack at people who think wine is something more than mere grape juice that has gone off, at least those guys know how to celebrate diversity of agricultural result. They’ll spend hours arguing about whether a Chateau d’Cobblers ’79 has more muscatel than the ’82.

We use mostly tea from small tea plantations, and yes, they vary from year to year. We tend to keep the formula the same, so for example,  if this year’s Assam is a little peatier, then so is our Finbarr’s Revenge.

I don’t often hear tea people argue about whether this year’s product X is better or worse than last year. Mention it, yes, but not argue.

I suspect it’s because another vital component in the argument scenario is being drunk.

But I’d love to hear that argument, because what we boutique blenders do is art and craft and skill. It’s designed to invoke and provoke.

And it’s personal. Praise our craft and the sun comes out. Dislike one of our blends and it’s like you’ve beaten up Bambi and left her behind a dumpster.

But talk about it with interest, intelligence and taste and it spurs us on to new things. New ideas, new tastes. New blends, new pairings.

Over to you.

 

 

 

Tea Cup as a tea Light Holder in the upcycled candelabra

The ‘No More Tea Bags’ Tipping Point

The storm before the storm:

The internet has been losing it’s mind.

Well, my version of it, anyway. Over the last 20 hours my feeds in Twitter and Facebook, as well as my inbox, have been full of messages about a product called “No More Tea Bags”.

Now, while “No More Tea Bags” sounds like a slogan that I would carry, marching along a street – and in fact, I have created and owned tea-shirts with similar sentiments – this is not about a return to proper, loose leaf tea.

No indeed. Brace yourselves: It is, in fact, about squirtable, concentrated tea in a can.

Phew! That was quite hard to type.

When I got the first Facebook message, I squinted at my phone while out and about and saw in the picture “Instant tea”. I assumed it was just that powdered tea that has been around for decades. In fact, I replied: “Been around for 40 years. Dreadful.”

It wasn’t until later last night when I realised that it was something new. I was tagged into a conversation. A few people were discussing it back and forth and Anne Downen of 52 Teas posted “Can we get some other smart people to chime in about this? How about Geoffrey Norman & Robert Godden? (Smart people = REAL tea people.)”

For civilisation as we know it, it’s quite worrying when Geoff and I are seen as the voices of reason and the high moral ground. Of, course, I was expected to call for the death penalty. Instead, and possibly just to infuriate people, I responded thusly:

We must calmly reserve judgement until we have properly researched this. It may be sensational, high quality tea. We must be open to new ideas… really, just samovar tea with a pause between brew and serve.

At this point, I’m sure some people thought it was the end times a-startin’.

And perhaps it is the end times.

It’s early days yet, though, in the apocalypse. Here are some random thoughts about this:

It may be a hoax:

What drove me from my warm bed on this chilly morning is the thought this might be a hoax. A scam to get a gazillion likes (or otherwise) on Facebook.spray-tea

I’ve had a look at the site. I’ve even requested a sample for review (no response yet). I’ve looked at the company behind it.

Despite a few spelling and grammatical errors, it seems pretty genuine.

So, I checked with snopes.com. I searched for ‘tea’. I found myself drawn to reading “Is there worms in Lipton’s tea?” and “Spider tea?”, and pointedly ignoring posts about “the Tea Party” (which may indeed be an elaborate hoax), but I found nothing about it.

Reluctantly, I have concluded it’s not a hoax.

It may be an excellent idea:

Seriously, what if it is?

The whole point with my hatred of teabags is the inferior nature of the experience? What if this isn’t? What if this is actually a delivery method for decent tea, brewed properly?

Their in-built argument about controlling the strength is indeed a great reason to use a samovar.

They have no ingredient list on line: It may be pure, brewed tea. Alternatively, it may well be a combination of cornstarch, E300, E420, bathwater, kitten whiskers and 100% pure leaf tea extract (2.3%).

Think of the convenience of spray cheese. No, stop thinking about spray cheese.

What we don’t have is a benchmark. Is it as good as, better than or even inferior to bagged tea? And is that the technology or the tea? Could you take a brilliant tea and make it into a brilliant aerosol tea?

And after all, this is a British product, and when it comes to tea, Britain has a reputation for great tea that is a complete sham. The vast majority of cups drunk in the UK are swill, pure and simple. This is a country that, for the most part, thinks a Twinnings teab*g is a premium product.

I am going to reserve judgement about the actual product until I try it.

It changes the conversation:

To me, the worst thing here is that the product info tries to lump loose leaf tea and teab*gs together as messy and difficult.

It’s an outrage, because it assumes you get a similar product.

We simply can’t let that happen. We don’t want to seem like we are arguing over the best type of horse to pull our carriages whilst cars are whizzing by.

The stereotype of tea as “messy and difficult”, which is just pathetic, get a new lease of life as any demand for this product tends to reinforce it.

The post-Apocalyptic world:

This isn’t the first time people have tried to “improve” tea by making it ‘more convenient’. On an Army Cadet camp circa 1980, some scallywag offered me a cup of tea made from powdered tea. “All tea will be made like this soon”, he confidently predicted. I assume he’s in prison now.

Nevertheless, we must go about our business as we should. We must not let this get to us. We must not prejudge.

If the product is awful, then we must take all reasonable steps, such as disinheriting children who offer it, overturning tables in restaurants or burning down the odd supermarket in protest.

If it’s not, we must embrace it.

I can assure you, though, as I sit here nursing a lovely cup of Jim’s Caravan tea, such an embrace seems unlikely.

In Australia, we have an adjective that I am now compelled to use. I know to the rest of the world it seems like a noun- and a very crude one, but to us, it’s a treasured adjective. When all is said and done, I suspect that this product will be shithouse.

And so, as I panic buy tea, start building my solar-powered bunker and stockpiling biscuits, I say to you all: “We may have to fight them in the hearts, tastebuds and teacups of tealovers everywhere. This may well be our finest hour.”

Or maybe, it’s just a storm in a teacan.

 

Kangaroo

Ignore Me For The Right Reasons

As a blogger, I get contacted a lot by tea vendors.

“Please review our tea” they say. “We’ll send you some, and you can write lovely things about it”.

This is often a very bad idea. If you’re a tea vendor, there are some really good reasons why you shouldn’t do it. However, I am very disturbed by the fact that a large number seem to be deciding against it for the wrong reason- geography.

Most often these vendors have found me, not because news of my blog has spread far and wide and they are clamouring to touch the hem of my garb, but because I am featured in the best resource of its type, Jen Picotti’s annual Tea Blogger’s Directory.

The directory clearly says “60+ bloggers in 14 countries.” My own entry starts with “Est. 2011. Location: Adelaide, South Australia”

And yet, this year alone, I have had ELEVEN approaches by vendors offering me tea, and after my agreeing to try it, the offer is withdrawn when they get my delivery address.

It’s like they have suddenly noticed that some people do not live in America, and basically, they have a hard time handling it. I feel like I have, in some small way, I have forced them to face the awful truth that there are places in the world that have some value, despite the inherent rudeness of them not being in America.

Does eleven sound like a lot? Well, I’ve had only three other approaches this year: from India, Taiwan and Italy. Yep, Italy. All three sent me stuff.

Underlying all of this is that free stuff for me is not the point of the exercise for anyone involved. It’s promotion, feedback , buzz, the vibe. It’s becoming the name and taste on everyone’s lips.

Over 80% of my readership is in the USA, over 85% is in North America. Where I live is quite a stupid reason to not have me publicly share my opinion on your tea or teaware. Yes, you eleven, I’m calling you stupid.

There are, however, some excellent reasons not to have me review your tea, and nearly all of them are actually in the very directory these guys are getting my details from:

Let’s take this one:

Currently reviewing: Tea, Tea accessories (strainers, cozies, etc.), Teaware (tea pots, cups, etc), Tea inspired health/beauty products, Tea inspired books, Tea venues, Anything tea, but I am not primarily a review site.
The last five words are a bit of a giveaway, I think.

And then there’s:

Post review on every tea/product received: No.
And yet, many of the offers are “We’ll send it to you if you promise to write about it”. Sometimes they even want to specify it must a good review.

That last factor is quite sad: it tells me that there are bloggers out there that will cheerfully wrote a good review for 10c worth of tea. In fact, as a vendor, I’ve sometimes been approached by them.

And there’s the third reason NOT to have me review your teas: Since 2012, we have had our own line of teas. So why would you get me to review your English Breakfast Blend when we have eight* of our own?

And look at the description:

“In which life’s eternal questions are ignored in favour of a cup of tea. To intertwine tea and life, and write about one by writing about the other. To be the sort of blog people make a cup of tea, and slice a cake, before they sit down to enjoy”.

Does that sound like I’m the sort of person to say “Well, I steeped this at 98.5 degrees for 118 seconds and then breathed in the heady aroma of mushroom, mescaline and jellyfish**. FIVE STARS”?

Most of all, though, what amazes me is that people don’t actually read my blog before they approach me.

Here’s just three key points:

My preferences: A search reveals the words “genmaicha”, “matcha” or “Japanese” in a total FORTY-EIGHT of the blog posts I have ever written. I  guarantee that if any these words is used in a sentence, it isn’t complimentary. For example: “matcha could only appeal to a colour-blind goat with no taste buds”. And yet, I get offered teas that any quick review of my blog will indicate are unlikely to get a great reception.

My allergies: I continually whine about being allergic to citrus fruits. yet I have had not just approaches, but unsolicited samples. One company sent me a tea with lemon peel in it, apologised and sent another with bergamot oil, then went one more round with orange peel. Great work, guys.

My anti-social behaviour: I bite the hand that feeds. I question claims vendors make. I deploy tea in unusual settings to try them. I set fire to things.

And finally: what if I actually do it?

I once reviewed a direct tea farmers subscription service by writing a time-flowing-backwards dramatic piece involving the threat of full frontal nudity.

I reviewed Bingley’s tea’s “Captain Wentworth” by taking Jane Austen quotes out of context and writing my own Austen-esque bits.

I once reviewed a tea house and concluded (humourously***) it deserved to be burnt down.

I think I’ve made my point: A vendor should think long and hard about whether I am the right person to review their tea. I’m probably not. But making the decision because I am based in South Australia, not South Carolina, is just a teensy bit stupid.

Come to think of it, it’s been quite a while since I’ve published any really bad poetry, so here’s my promise: the next tea review I do, I’ll bust out my best doggerel. You have been warned.

 


*at one point we had 8 different blends in the English/Irish Breakfast Style. I just love that style, but Lady Devotea made me stop being so silly. Nowadays we only have 1910. And Queen Adelaide. And Finbarr’s Revenge. And I reclassified Lord Petersham and The Duchess as English Afternoon Teas.

** I don’t even like matcha

*** and with no legal liability if someone does it.

 

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Suck It Up

Every so often, I find in response to a picture that I or someone else posts there is criticism of the drinker or the server in relation to the drinking vessel.

Opinions as to what type of cups one should, or more likely should not, sup from are a mainstay on Facebook.

Well, I have to tell you, it’s not always appropriate.

I recall back when we ran our first tea shop, the fact that the cups we served tea in were handle-free Chinese cups caused some consternation. But usually, people managed to cope. A few didn’t, and we had an emergency supply of other options.

There are certainly circumstances where the wrong vessel robs a little enjoyment from the drinker.

Or sends a message. If you are somewhere where they use cups with a coffee company logo on them, and you have just received a teab*g and hot, unfiltered water slopped into said cup, then clearly

  1. you are about to complain and/or have an ‘accident’ that will result in the fire brigade being summoned or;
  2. you have been taken to an unsuitable venue by friends, who are clearly also unsuitable and should be culled from your inner circle at once or;
  3. it is the only place open and you are cursing yourself for not carrying a vacuum flask and a china cup or;
  4. you are in that strange anomaly,: a$50 million dollar,  5- star international hotel that will charge you $5 for a 50c cup of tea, in which case refer to point (1).

Often, though, it’s the personal choice of vessel that is criticised.

And why? I don’t get it.  If someone posts a photo online of a cup of tea they are enjoying, where’s the payoff for someone to respond with “Oh that cup is totally unsuitable”?

This is totally different to someone posting a picture with a telltale tag hanging over the lip of the cup. As I have previously said, it is quite OK to give that person a quick lecture and ONE chance to eschew teab*gs, before you change your will / have them meet with an accident / unfriend them on Facebook, If you see it for second time, then go ahead. Sort them out.

But what if you don’t know the backstory? What if, after years of suffering bagged tea at home, this is the first cup of proper loose leaf tea a newly-fledged teenage breakaway has prepared in their share house, using an old french press and a styrofoam cup?  Are you going to stomp on that pride? Crush that spark? Harsh that mellow?

No, just like anyone confronted with a delicious watermelon iced bubble tea in the middle of a tropical day, you have to suck it up.

And different people have different needs.two cups

Here’s the drinking vessels Lady Devotea and I normally start our day with. One is 200ml. One is 700ml. That is a substantial difference, to put it mildly.

I love a nice china tea cup, but first thing, I need a huge fix of tea. After all, scientists tell us that the average male is composed of 60% tea*, so I need to keep it up.

Of course, one thing that it is quite proper to criticise is stupid slogans on mugs and cup. Generally, these slogans fall into these categories:

  • Suggesting that a mug contains strong coffee and further, that some sort of benefit is obtained thereby
  • Suggesting that a mug could be swapped for alcohol and further, that some sort of benefit is obtained thereby
  • Suggesting that one gender is inferior to the other
  • A tea-related slogan that suggests a teab*g is acceptable
  • Something that relates to bodily functions is a crass way

For all of the above, go your hardest. Tear them down.

new wn boxDon’t get me wrong, the right vessel can enhance your tea experience. Here’s a photo Lady Devotea took for the front of our new packaging.

Since you ask, it’s White Nights Fine White Tea Blend. As it has it’s origins in Moroccan-style tea drinking, a tea glass is the perfect vessel.

But let’s not rush to judge. If someone posts a cuppa in a somewhat awkward vessel, then just let it go.


*Remember, water is just tea that has failed to reach its potential

 

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Tea Themes – Why hold back?

Last week, Lady Devotea and I found ourselves at an afternoon tea. Not a big surprise, it’s somewhat of an occupational hazard for us.

We were surrounded by members of The Bonnet Squad.

Now, it is traditional to describe people who are so incredibly lost in the world of Jane Austen as “Janeites”, but quite frankly, that’s a clumsy word for such a hip and happening* lifestyle. So, we’ve redubbed them The Bonnet Squad for several reasons.

  1. They descend en masse and with seemingly little notice, much like Scotland Yard’s celebrated Flying Squads
  2. They are often not just into Jane Austen but several other writers of the era; for example the Bronte sisters usually get a mention
  3. Lady Devotea came up with it and I think it’s rather funny
  4. There is an awful lot of of bonnetry on display. (Although it’s not universal. The one male attendee and several of the women dressed as Austen male characters )

I was conversing with a woman in a bonnet and white dress about suitable tea for a forthcoming regency-themed wedding anniversary party, and she dropped into the conversation that she had been married at a Shakespearean-themed wedding. My mind immediately went there:

  • Romeo and Juliet? Did the families draw swords and slash at each other across the tables? Did anyone top themselves at the end?
  • Macbeth? Would have made for an alarming honeymoon.
  • Hamlet? Would have made for an even more alarming honeymoon.
  • Was it an Henry V-themed second wedding? “Once more unto the breech, dear friends…”

No, it turns out they went for A Midsummer Night’s Dream theme. I wasn’t there, but I assume that means it was very carnivalesque and sumptuous, and nobody fell in love with a donkey. (Incidentally, I note that Russell T Davies has just directed a TV version, so if you’ve not read it and you find Shakespeare a little hard to cope with, that might be an alternative. In fact, it could be very alternative.)

Themes are fun. I once worked in a job where I was responsible for taking new employees around. Our company had casual day once a month on a Friday, with drinks, and I used to say to each newbie “Every month we have a theme, and this month it is you have to dress in colours found in Liquorice Allsorts, and not just black and white”.  When the day arrived and they turned up in orange, lime green or pink the whole office would chortle all day at them.

Anyway, it got me thinking about two ideas. One one hand, what other themes can I come up with for Afternoon teas, and alternatively, what other events could become tea-themed?

Let’s take the latter first.

Weddings: probably not to replace the traditional wedding reception, but these days, bucketloads of people get married at 11am or 1pm in a registry office. and if you combined it with the idea of being a themed event, then I’m just going to say that a registry office wedding followed by a bite at your local Mexican restaurant is absolute rubbish compared to a wedding and Mad Hatter Tea’s Party combo.

Funerals: If you’re over 80 and pass away in a nursing home, I imagine after the funeral everyone goes back to the home for tea and a biscuit. so why should every one else have to endure booze and sandwiches? Seriously, themed Funeral Afternoon teas is a business idea just waiting to happen. One call, business turns up, serves everyone soothing teas and comforting cakes while they talk through their grief and remember the good times, with a theme that covers the recently-departed’s most notable passion, be it favourite football team / past-time / movie / breed of cat. A damn sight better idea than a drunken wake, where those of us who don’t drink get to watch some of those who do descend into chaos.

Birthdays: Hang on, I do that every year. Not really a new concept.

Religious observations: How many of those could become an afternoon tea? Lots! Obviously not anything involving fasting, but imagine how much fun you can have: turn a dull Confirmation or Saint’s Day into a riot with a nice cake and a pot of Finbarr’s Revenge. Note that any religious ceremony that involves lopping bits off of children should be teamed, in my opinion, not with tea but with arrest and charges.

Release from Prison: I had a conversation with Glenn Wheatley, an Australian entrepreneur who was incarcerated after being blatantly stitched up, and he told me one of the things he missed the most in prison was loose leaf tea. In honour of him, all people released from prison should be shown to a hall where they can enjoy good tea and cake with their loved ones. This is like a decompression chamber to help cross the divide from inmate to free citizen.

Anyway, there are a million more key life events that it works for. Getting out of hospital after a lengthy stay. Engagement. Graduation. First paycheque. Exoneration. Transplant. Divorce. Permanent residency. Emancipation. The list is literally endless**.

Now, we move to the first part of my contention. And it’s dear to my heart, because Lady Devotea and I actually put on themed tea tasting events.

Some of the themes we’ve come up with in the past have been a real hit. “Scandals and Scoundrels”. “The Women Who Made Tea What It Is Today”. We once put on a 1700s recipe degustation and tea and story paring event.

These are obviously planks in our arsenal, and as tea history is full of pirates, smugglers, Princesses, Emperors , Lords and Ladies, fast ships, slavery, dodgy characters and cunning and conniving ratbags of all sorts, we have no shortage.

But for our more traditional readers, here’s a few easy ideas to make your next afternoon tea different:

  • Dress Up (or Dress Down if you prefer)
  • Bring a (loose leaf) tea and cake to share
  • Come as a parrot
  • Star Trek vs Star Wars (tell the Star Wars fans the wrong date)
  • Dress as your favourite The Devotea Tea
  • It’s 1953!
  • Dr Who (you will need to hire a Dalek and have the exits well signposted for the panic-stricken stampede)
  • Dress as your favorite racehorse

The list is literally endless**. That lot took me less than a minute. Do you want me to do all the work? Come on, make an effort.

I’ll just finish up by saying after all this wonderful advice, I imagine you’ll want to say thanks, by inviting Lady Devotea and I to your next afternoon tea.

And we’d be happy to come, although I think our parrot costumes are at the dry cleaners at the moment.


* By “hip and happening” I mean that at least three I spoke to had recently had hip replacements

** Theoretically the list is literally endless, although clearly I’ve ended it.

Marie Villiers Self Portrait with quote

Who ARE these people?

When you have been involved in tea for any length of time, you’ll see the same old quotes come up time and time again. And they are usually from authors.

Have you ever wondered: Who ARE these people? In what way are they qualified to make pronouncements about tea? Is there a dark, sinister undertone? Are they likely to pop around to my place for a cuppa? and various other burning questions.

If you don’t know, it’s most likely because you were too lazy to find out. Luckily for you, I have completed the extensive research required, to bring you these facts that you can take the credit for next time you are showing off in tea circles.

Grab yourself a cuppa, and let’s get going:


 

#1 “Where there’s tea, there’s hope” 

This is by Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934), an actor and dramatist. Writing around the time of Gilbert and Sullivan, he was considered their equal but his work fell rapidly out of favour throughout the 1920s and 30s. At the height of his popularity his hit play Sweet Lavender ran for 663 consecutive performances in 1885, and in that, a character called Horace declares “In English society, where there’s tea, there’s hope”. The English bit is usually left off the various mugs and posters you see.

Another character in the play, Dick, also says at one point “Spoonful of whiskey in your tea?”, which I suspect is where the modern phrase “Don’t be a Dick” comes from.

In the same play another character, Minnie, utters these immortal words upon seeing a tea service set up and placing her head against the tea pot: “Tea! Hot! I must take to tea violently, now that I’m going to be an old maid. Tomorrow I’ll buy a kitten” which clearly inspired the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation, although they left out the bit about the kitten and added specificity of tea type and urgency.

#2 “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me”

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) knew a thing or two about long books, although it was his BFF, one J.R.R. Tolkien who really pushed the boat out on those.

Lewis did write the Narnia books as well as a truckload of other stuff. He also used to bore people rigid with his religion by all accounts: he was a reformed atheist, and used to bang on about it endlessly.

So, was he right person to make this remark? Why not? He made it as  lay person to tea, but books were something he knew a bit about.

#3 “Tea, though ridiculed by those who are naturally coarse in their nervous sensibilities will always be the favorite beverage of the intellectual”

Alright, so you don’t often see this on a tea shirt, but it’s one of my favourites. Thomas de Quincey (1785-1859) is most famous for Confessions of an English Opium Eater. It’s also misquoted.

It could take weeks to give you the rundown on this brilliant essayist and scholar, so lets get it over with in Hollywood form: “Its the story of one man, abused and abandoned by his family, addicted to drugs and on the edge of society, who overcomes the odds due to his incredible abilities and scholasticism”. Perhaps wait for the DVD release.

The whole quote is: “For tea, though ridiculed by those who are naturally of coarse nerves, or are become so from wine-drinking, and are not susceptible of influence from so refined a stimulant, will always be the favourite beverage of the intellectual.”

In his best known work, I have also found this gem: “Surely everyone is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a wintry fireside; candles at four o’clock, warm hearthrugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies to the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without.”

For this alone, De Quincey gets the thumbs-up from me.

#4 “All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes.”

George Orwell is one of my favorite authors (1903-1950) and I have written extensively about him, and years ago I even made a You Tube video based on one of his essays. His best known books are Animal Farm and 1984, but pretty well everything he wrote is exceptional.

His essay A Nice Cup of Tea is often quoted on tea circles, although often woefully out of context.

The quote above is unusual, in that it is more about growing old, but for me, I like the sense of continuity – the assumption that drinking tea is a lifelong pursuit. And anything he says goes as far as I’m concerned.

#5 “A cup of tea would restore my normality”

If you haven’t read everything ever written by Douglas Adams (1952-2001) then stop reading this and do it now. I’ll be here when you get back.

Like Orwell, Adams was taken too soon, and also like Orwell, every word he wrote was gold. He rose to prominence writing Doctor Who scripts, which should be enough for anyone, but then had massive success with The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

While he is responsible for some brilliant characters, such as Wowbagger The Infinitely Prolonged and Dirk Gently, it’s his Arthur Dent that steals the show: the star of the HHG books, a man who once nearly causes annihilation in his search for a really good cup of tea.

#6 It is teatime right now, somewhere. Or anywhere

Okay, so that quote is actually mine (1965-), but in my defence, I’ve seen at least a dozen places use it, sometimes with attribution and sometimes not.

Incidentally, I came up with it when I had a little widget to put a quote on each blog post, and originally the last word was “everywhere”, but I misquoted myself and the misquote stuck.


 

So, that’s a roundup of some leading literary figures (well, five out of six) and their tea quotes. I hope you found it educational, and if you didn’t drink a cuppa while you read it, then shame on you. You’ve really let yourself down.

Hot Cold tea percentage

Ask Lord Devotea (The Second Coming)

I have, at times, consented to share my wisdom with the world. This is one of those times.

Young Geoffrey, of Portland, USA, writes:

Dear Lord Devotea, why do people buy and consume terrible tea? In bags? What’s wrong with them?

Dear Geoffrey

Full marks for realising straight away is the big problem here is not the tea, but rather the sad, pointless existences led by people who buy bagged tea. Humanity is the result of some fish saying to itself, eons ago “surely I can do better than swimming around here all day, I’ll grow some legs and have a crack at that land thingy”. The teab*g drinking fish, however, would have said things like “no, this sea is good enough for you” and “you must be some sort of air snob”.

Even though these people clearly deserve our pity, there’s only so much pity one can spare, so I recommend giving them one chance. Explain how they are supporting virtual slavery in the manufacture of these things. Explain that they are one one taste notch above rabbit droppings. Explain that some might actually be rabbit droppings. Give then a teapot and a packet of tea you think might be to their taste.

If they respond well, you will have a new tea buddy.

If you ever see them with a teab*g again, cut them from your life. It’s the kindest option.

GN of USA, writes:

Dear Lord Devotea, I want to use a teapot and make proper tea at work, but Mr Bismark, my boss, says it is ‘too messy’. What should I do?

Dear GN

Sadly, this sort of ignorant half-wittery is all too common.

I’m going to assume that you are in that awkward space where you don’t have enough money for the two most obvious solutions: quit your job and embark on a two year tearoom tour of the world or pay to have your boss roughed up until he sees sense.

Your best hope is to explain that things are far messier when you don’t get your morning or afternoon cuppa. I suggest something like “Wow, Mr Bismark, I nearly had a terrible day yesterday. I almost set fire to all the incoming cheques, then I would have called the fire department, and then I would have been interviewed on the news, and of course I may have completely forgotten that I had these photos of you taken in a compromising position with some interesting, non-marital companions poking out of my top pocket. Luckily, I had a cup of tea and danger was averted. Now, I’d like to talk to you about increasing the office Darjeeling budget, and look, I have a birthday coming up so I’ll just leave this teapot catalogue here.”

If your boss does not take the hint, simply ‘accidentally’ use  a leaf blower in your office every time you are forced to go without proper tea for more than an hour.

Mr Norman, citizen of the world, writes

All my family know I love tea, but they don’t get it, and I keep getting teab*gs, not loose leaf, as a gift. They say it’s ‘the same thing’. How can I politely make them stop?

Dear Mr Norman,

You are obviously a great humanitarian, as you wish to treat with politeness those who are showing you such flagrant disrespect.

You could make an example of one or two but people are slow learners. I suggest you just take the principled decision to immediately react by setting fire to their gift, whilst screaming. “Oh no, you accidentally gave me teab*gs, luckily I have averted the crisis. Sorry about your carpet”.

It shouldn’t take long before this appalling practice stops, and we all know they will come to thank you in the future.


Note that names have been changed to protect the innocent. Or to disguise the fact that I made the questions up.


Further Note: If you were looking for serious answers to serious questions, then this blog is not the place. Try my profile page on Quora, where you will see I have mostly given very learned and serious answers to highly intelligent questions such as “Is there cannabis in green tea?”. So far, my answers have 68,000 views, which shows how desperate undiscerning people are for good tea info!

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What’s Not In The Bag

Regular readers will be familiar with my complete hatred of teab*gs, and usually, I mention that it’s the things they add: paper, plastic (usually described as ‘silken’ or silky to fool you into thinking it’s silk) string, tags, staples, glue, sneaky unlabeled sugar etc that have no place in my cup of tea.

I even once wrote a terrible Christmas poem in which violence is visited upon Santa over the issue.

But today, I’d like to discuss what is missing in a teab*g tea.

Ritual. Skill. Feel. Joy.

In this post, I’m going to ignore both the quality element – the fact that teabag tea is usually far inferior to the average loose leaf tea, and also the human element, as I’ve written many times about the disgraceful behaviour of large teab*g manufacturers, going back to my first ever tea post. Let’s not cover old ground here.

All forms of making loose leaf tea are quite functional to an extent, but they all start with measuring some tea. Some people use a spoon, some use the digital extraction method (otherwise known as your fingers) and I’ve also seen people pour from a tin directly, albeit carefully, into a pot. Those little spring-loaded infusers can even be dipped directly in a pile of dry tea.

All of this requires judgement. Even if there’s a general consensus that a teaspoon per cup is the best option, every person dispenses a teaspoon very differently. A level teaspoon of tea is rather hard to achieve, but that is the low point, whereas some large teas can be heaped up quite extravagantly on a spoon, The difference could easily be 100%.

Oddly, that’s one argument people* make FOR teab*gs, that it is a set amount of tea. And so let me handle that: are all cups the same size? Is all water the same? Is it always heated to the same temperature? Does everyone want the same strength? Do people who take milk and sugar want the same result as people who don’t?

Just taking the UK, where some credible data exists: 41% of people in Scotland take sugar, versus 26% in Yorkshire. If there’s that much variation in just one element across one porous border, it’s hard to see how dispensing the exact same quantity of tea is a worthy aim.

Now, when you use any of the methods above to dispense your tea, you get to smell it, either inadvertently or deliberately. This adds to the anticipation quite delightfully in the case of a lovely aroma, and is a warning if it doesn’t smell good. It gives you time to change your selection in the case of the latter.

Whatever the medium, pot or infuser, plunger or grandpa-style that you use, there is an auditory element. The rattle of cups, the pinging of metallic spoons, the pop of an opening tin, the rustle of leaves. In our household, our cats understand these sounds and will react accordingly, knowing what is coming next.

At this point, pre-water, we’ve engaged four of our senses directly – hearing and sight (if you have them), smell and touch, even if the touch was via spoon. Taste is in the future.

There is a linear, although meandering and variable, path from “I want some tea” to the pouring. And this is the first part of the ritual. Sometimes, it’s personal. You are alone in your kitchen, getting your tea thing on, and it can be very zen. Or there are two or more of you, working together, falling into familiar patterns and producing a delightful joint effort.

Others who may be on the receiving end of the tea may not get the sights, sounds and feel of the tea making process. They may get to see a pot or other device, but equally may simply get a cup or mug of tea.

What they do get, though, is a very real and deserved pride in undertaking a simple yet nuanced task and producing a fine cup of tea.

There must be a transference of confidence and pride in knowing that a cup did not rely on an inferior, inadequate expression of multinational bastardry, but instead it took skill and care: even if all other factors are the same, the tea will palpably taste better.

___________________________

*specifically, people I get sick of hearing from

 

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Lazy Sunday Afternoons

Having a delightful afternoon tea with friends is of course, the ultimate way of enjoying a Sunday.

Of course, some people might say “But Lord Devotea, my idea of enjoying a Sunday is on a motorbike driving like an idiot on dirt roads / attending some sports / visiting a leper colony / being chained up and naked and covered in yoghurt / watching I Love Lucy re-runs / climbing Mount Everest / playing a game of Backgammon with Horace the World’s Smartest Chimp / learning to walk again after my horrific Zumba accident”.

You know what we call these people? We call them “wrong”. They are the poor misguided ignoramuses (ignorami?) that try to enjoy, through gritted teeth, Junior’s oboe recital or camping with their in-laws, despite all the evidence that it’s just not possible.

Now sometimes, the world wants to intrude upon your Sunday. People do horrific things to other people in the name of religion or race or nationality or whatever other absurd construct people find to differentiate themselves in unimportant ways, and last Sunday was no different. But we decided that no amount of horror was going to make us change our way of life, and so, Sunday Afternoon tea was there to be enjoyed.

We had a couple we know coming over for the first time, and it looked to be a nice day.

So we made sandwiches. Here they are.

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Smoked Tasmanian Salmon & Cucumber, Turkey, Cranberry & Lettuce, and Tomato, Basil and Parmesan, since you asked!

The photo looks a bit fuzzy, and that’s because they are cling-wrapped.

We made them two hours ahead, wrapped them and popped them in the fridge for 90 minutes and then got them out 30 minutes in advance of serving.

Which brings us to the main point:

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These are light, airy sponge kisses made with our free range eggs, filled with Rose Blush and Raspberry Cream, and dusted with crushed crystallized rose petals

You cannot truly appreciate a lazy Sunday afternoon without a diligent and energetic Sunday Morning of preparation.

 

There is something mystical and magical about preparing for tea. We have about 60 teas available in the house, so we are never sure what people might want. By providing a varied spread, we should have options to go with just about anything.

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Barbecue Chicken simmered in saffron egg butter, in pastry pinwheels with cheese! Or, to be honest, leftovers in pastry.

We also have various wines, hot chocolates, and espresso coffee available, but hardly everyone ever picks them.

So we made some cakes and truffles and jellies and pinwheels.

To me, that’s one of the best ways to spend a Sunday morning.

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White Tea and Apple Jelly, topped with Honey Moscato Toffee Cream and a dusting of Swiss Blue Cornflower Sugar. Our guests brought the biscuits with them!

It means that your Sunday Morning is spent making your Sunday afternoon great.

 

Not just great, but grand, gracious and gorgeous. Why the hell not? No-one on their deathbed is going to say “Oh I wish I’d had a few less exceptional afternoons where I mixed great tea, good friends and a slab of cake the size of a wombat*.

Sure, there’s a bit of effort involved. But what worthwhile was ever easy? Did not the US president John F Kennedy say “We choose to make a delicious afternoon tea and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.**”

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Lady Devotea’s Kalhua Chocolate Truffles were a hit! They didn’t last long at all.

So I say to you, take the challenge and make afternoon tea this Sunday. Goddammit – EVERY SUNDAY! Show the world that Sunday afternoon is your time, and if your friends have any sense, they will get right behind you on this and you can take turns to host. If they won’t, then get new friends, better ones.

Conversation is the glue that binds the human race, and Afternoon Tea is the gluepot. It is your duty to the future of all humanity to have as many Afternoon Teas as possible.

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Fizzy Fleurs de Provence is an ice-cold tea option. We always make enough to last a week or so.

And what of the economy? Could the world be on the brink of an Afternoon Tea led economic recovery? No-one actually understands economics****, but let’s not take the chance that it could work and we didn’t do it.

You’ll save fuel and greenhouse gasses. There will be less car accidents, less drunken pub brawls, less shark attacks, less robberies if a significant percentage of the world’s population is enjoying Afternoon Tea at someone’s home.

So, throw away that season ticket.  Sell the motorbike. Send a short apology to Horace the World’s Smartest Chimp, because this Sunday, you are saving humanity by hosting Afternoon Tea, or attending someone else’s.

Let’s not wind up a lifeless globe whirring through space. Let’s save ourselves by the simple expedient of Sunday Afternoon tea, which is merely the first step,  as we dream of the ultimate evolution of humanity: a blissful state of Nirvana where we can ascend, as beings of light, to state of seven Afternoon Teas per week.

_______________________________

* For my non-Australian readers who are not sure of the meaning “the size of a wombat “, a wombat is bigger than a quokka and smaller than a juvenile Western Red kangaroo. I hope that helps all you non-Australians.

** he said it about the moon landing, but it’s widely believed*** that his original draft was about afternoon tea

*** or not

**** Sorry, Xavier.

 

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