Context and the Art of Slurping Your Own Tea

Drinking your own tea?

When I worked at a computer store many years ago, a lovely lady there named Janet had a saying, that someone had been “drinking their own bathwater”. Using this phrase to mean someone who was “a little different” had been drinking their own bathwater. And by ‘a little different” I mean touched. And by ‘touched’ I mean mad. And by ‘mad’ I mean nuttier that a posse of squirrels that have ingested LSD, then broken into a secret government acorn storage facility.

And so whenever I think of ‘drinking my own tea’ I wonder if it is the first sign of madness.

Now, I’m not talking abut ‘my own tea’ in reference to tea that I own. Of course I drink  a lot of tea that I own. I have, on the premises, about 60 single origin teas at this moment, plus a few blends by others.

Now, I’ll just pause – SLURP – to have some Lord Petersham.

So of course, I’m talking about my own blends – the dozen or so that you see for sale in our tea store, plus a miscellany of other bits that I have in the pipeline or that I created for a purpose.

Because drinking your own blends is scary.

Over the last few months, I’ve spent about 30 hours offering people samples of our teas and gauging their reaction. In some situations, they could react by buying tea, which is a pretty obvious commentary on your products. In other contexts, they could taste a few then choose which one to accompany their meal, which was another interesting exercise. It’s like lining your children up before a friendly cricket match and seeing which one the opposing captain selects first for his team.

Let me divert now for no more than about twenty paragraphs and talk about last Sunday.

Last Sunday was the global event known as International Devotea Day, where I like to think people all around the world eschew the bitter brew of coffee, steer clear of beer, put the mockers on mocha and say ‘no’ to hot chocolate – it is a festival of “drinking way too much tea”, as explained by Ken in his excellent and tasteful blog on the subject.

For me, it was to be a birthday High Tea with friends and family; which are often two mutually exclusive groups. I invited three friends and three lots of family, sadly all of the friends were working or otherwise occupied, but I was determined not to let that spoil things. All of the family members I invited accepted, but I was determined not to let that spoil things.

It started with running way too late, and it was to be a drive of about 90 minutes via picking up The Devotea Jr. and his other half (Miss S.), and by the time I drove in a panicked state to get there and had trouble parking and worried about the booking and worried about being seen to be rude and wondering how I would ever live with being five minutes late, it turned out we were ten minutes early. I guess the extra half hour I built in for emergencies and the extra quarter hour I built in for further emergencies paid off . You see, I hate being late.

So, we arrive and we are alone. Lady Devotea, Devotea Jr., Miss S. and myself had arrived at Antiquteas, a High Tea and Dessert Bar in the gloriousness of Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills. The rain clouds that had been pelting on us for most of the drive had parted, and there was a gentle bathing of sunlight and people all over the main street, soaking up the Easter festivities and generally having a great time.

Now I don’t mind sharing that was a meal that I had been preparing for diligently for weeks. You see, I am dieting, and had been for 14 weeks as of that moment, without a slip up or relapse. And I had planned for this meal, manipulating many days’ worth of eating and drinking to ensure that I could eat the High Tea with no guilt. So I was not only breathless with excitement; I was starving in a way that only other fat westerners can truly appreciate.

So, the allotted time comes and NO-ONE ELSE is here! Come on, folks, there’s a sugary 60’s style love-in of cake to be had, and I’m Austin Powers without the excessive teeth.

Waiting, waiting.

Then I get a call. One lot of relatives has stupidly ignored my excellent directions – interpreted “skirt by Echunga without going in” as “drive in the opposite direction to Echunga until you get to entirely the wrong place then turn left”. So they will be very late. The other group, not a word.

Waiting, waiting. Quarter past. Waiting, waiting. Half past.

Oh bugger it! Let’s have some tea.

I do not have to reach for the tea menu. I know every word on it. Why? Because I created it myself.

The Tea Menu for High Teas at Antiquteas features four teas: All created at The Devotea’s Secret Tea-Tasting Lair. All the result of the efforts of Lady Devotea and myself. All hand-blended by us. Lord Petersham. The Duchess. Finbarr’s Revenge. Lady Devotea (the tea, not the Lady herself in this case).

Gosh, I say, that is exciting. (It’s hard to say anything but “Gosh, I say” when there are cucumber sandwiches without crusts in view).

So we order some Finbarr’s Revenge.

It’s the very pot that you see here.

In any other context, I love seeing such teapots deployed, but there’s tension in the air as I pour.

It’s delightful!

Smooth, well made, in perfect cups and great company. From here on in, I’ll give you the rest of the afternoon in three word bursts, except for one incident.

Next group late. Last group absent. Let’s start eating. Delicious cheese rolls. Tasty mini quiche. Best-ever curried-egg sandwiches. Cheesy bacon sandwiches.  Perfect little scones. Phenomenal strawberry eclairs. Avoid Lemon Cupcakes. Pouring ‘Lady Devotea’ . Last group arrives. Some Lord Petersham.God-this-raspberry-tart is one of -the-best-ever-things. Some people grumpy. Pot of Duchess. Another Scone, please. Choc-dipped strawberry, please. Another Scone, again. More Lord Petersham. Thanks for presents. Burst into sunshine.

So, that gives you a fair idea. So, let’s talk about “the incident”.

Early on, after I’d had a cup of Finbarr’s Revenge and was out the front trying to get a glimpse of the absent rest of the party, the waiter had approached a table out under the balcony and taken an order. “We’ll have a pot of that Lady Devotea, please. That sounds nice.”

To me that was “a moment”. There’s nothing like overhearing your own product being ordered in an exchange that you have no part in to give you a feeling of elation. And the fact that the product is named after the most important person in my life was a bonus.

I could go into great detail about the décor (fabulous), the chairs (I loved them), the gold two-tone cutlery, the magnificent cups, the wonderful service, and quite frankly, I probably would if the photos I took had been any good. I might also express the opinion that the carefully chosen teas match the food incredibly well and I felt pretty damn good about that.

But the fact remains, in the midst of all the excitement and fun, hearing a stranger order one of our teas from another stranger is a moment crystallised in my memory.

So now it’s 22 paragraphs later (sorry), back to the original theme.

I often get asked “Do you drink your own blends at home”.

And the answer is yes.

We blend and pack in the same exercise, so if we make a batch of a tea, the entire 2 or 5 kilos gets packed on the spot. So to drink our own tea, we have to open a retail pack and get stuck in.

Probably half the cups of tea we have in a day are our own teas. Some of them are teas that you will never hear of. Some are the names you hear me banging on about all the time.

And every time I pick up a cup of any of it, from Lord Petersham that we drink virtually daily to Ye Olde Bastarde – a tea I created specifically for a friends’ birthday, from an in-house signature blend I”m developing for a tea rooms to a milky honeyed Aussie Ginger Chai; I get a momentary pang of terror that this cup will not be good enough; that I will have to plough all of my stocks of tea  into a great bonfire and scour the evidence of its foulness from the planet.

And so, the joy of sipping what is always a great cup of tea – after all, it has been blended to my taste – is like a movie moment every time, with birds singing and fingers of sunlight spreading their radiant joy across the land; a land where crippled orphans walk again and the beast has been slain, where good triumphs over evil and all that is good and pure of heart stands tall.

It’s a good thing I don’t actually drink my own bathwater. I’d be quite mad if I did.

 

Robert Godden

Certified Tea Nutter. Blender. Author of "The Infusiast" and Tea "Stories"

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9 thoughts on “Context and the Art of Slurping Your Own Tea

  1. International Devotea Day is one of the finest days on the calendar.

    Hearing someone else order your tea is something like hearing your song being played on the radio.

    Congrats. Am excited about your tea empire slowly taking over the entire globe.

  2. How very exciting that moment where someone yo don’t know is ordering your tea blend and ordering it from someone you don’t even know. I know that feeling, I hope it never gets old. It is the highest form of flattery and encourages you to move forward.

    Btw, I know where this secret acron facility is… Send me some tea and I’ll send you directions to said storage facility. Hey, why is there bathwater in my cup?

  3. Oh Robert, I do love reading your posts, they eternally crack me up. Beyond that, I am also so very, very happy for you (and so is Tennant) that your tea enterprise is taking off so well. What a thrilling moment for you. May the novelty never wear off, and the sun never set on your benignant empire.

  4. What a wonderful read! I truly enjoy your posts! Congrats on having your teas sold in a local tea room….super exciting. I long for the day I hear someone order tea I made and not teas someone else created (good though they may be)!

  5. International Devotea Day reads like a brilliantly emotional tsunami:

    Delayed gratification – weeks of careful eating and drinking

    Resolve – have your cake and tea regardless of who did/n’t show

    Anticipation – did others prepare your ‘children’ as well as you would yourself

    Exhilaration – others expressing appreciation for your ‘children’

    If this is madness, then please pour me another cup.

  6. The Devotea, conquering the world one sip of tea at a time 😀

    More seriously, I can only imagine how proud you were when you heard them asking for one of your tea and saying “it is nice”.

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