Tea and Life, Tea Stories

Roll Out The O’Barrell

Being an enthusiast when it comes to politics, I’m one of the limited number of  Australians outside of New South Wales that even knew that the Premier of that State was a man called Barry O’Farrell.

He was the most popular State Premier in Australia, had a huge 27 seat majority, and was leading his party in a state where the other side had politicians being paraded before corruption commissions and jailed for child sex offences and/or drug offences.

He came across and competent and very proper. He even wore the nickname his opponents saddled him with – combining his name and his girth to come up with the imaginative “Fatty O’Barrell”- with pride, which must have really annoyed them no end.

He was untouchable.

And in two days he went from rooster to feather duster, as the old saying goes.

Why? Well it was wine.

Wine, for those of you who have not heard of it, is grape juice. Not lovely freshly pressed grape juice, but grape juice that has basically gone off, which is then bottled and sold to the unsuspecting consumer. When people first drink it, their reaction is normally “well, that’s not nice”, but repeated exposure causes a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, sometimes turning people into willing and earnest consumers of the stuff, often at outrageous prices.

This has been happening for millennia, and to such an extent that it often turns people quite mad, as demonstrated in this fine piece on Beasts of Brewdom from a few years back.

The wine in question was a 1959 Penfold’s Grange. Yes, one of the world’s most famous wines, sells for hundreds if not thousands of dollars per bottle, and made in my home state of South Australia.

Penfolds thought it had no future, and cancelled it in 1956. However, the winemaker, the late Max Schubert, refused to follow instruction and for the next few years produced it and hid it. These so-called “hidden vintages’ are rare and expensive. Not good apparently, but rare and expensive.

Mr O’Farrell was born in 1959, and so an oily, somewhat (now) discredited lobbyist sent him a bottle of the 1959 Grange as a little present, right when a huge contract was in the wind. A few years ago.

Mt O’Farrell was asked to give evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, an interesting body in NSW, which has spent millions proving that various individuals were massively corrupt without actually charging them with anything so far, whilst simultaneously managing to wreck a few careers on the sidelines.

Mr O’Farrell was asked about the gift of the wine, and informed the commission that not only did he not remember it, but on the dates he was given that he was supposed to have received it, he was away.

Then the dates were adjusted. Still didn’t remember it. Hardly knew the guy in question.

Many people have a problem with someone not remembering a gift of wine valued at $3000. Come to think of of it, many people have a problem with valuing a bottle of not-so-good wine at $3000.

Mr O’Farrell claimed to not be much of a wine aficionado. And to be fair, he probably got 200 bottles of wine a year as gifts, though not of this ascribed value.

So, having pretty well denied it all, the Commission produced a hand-written thank you note from Mr O’Farrell.

Mr O’Farrell did the decent thing and resigned. Unlike a federal politician who, with a bit of luck will be locked up for fraud shortly, but who served out his political term whilst the investigation dragged. Unlike a politician in my own state, who has been delaying and delaying a court appearance of repulsive charges for  years now whilst collecting a fat salary and doing not much.

But I put it to you, what if Mr O’Farrell had been a well known tea drinker? Not a wine drinker at all?

Here’s how it might have gone.

Special Counsel Assisting The Commission: Mr O’Farrell, do you remember receiving a gift from this man?

Mr O’Farrell: Not really. I get a lot of gifts.

SCATC: Really, it commemorated your birth year?

Mr O’Farrell: Oh, you mean that copy of Tea For Two Cha Cha by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra from 1959? Along with a packet of a superb Lord Petersham Tea?

SCATC: I put it to you, Mr O’Farrell, that the vinyl record you casually mention was worth EIGHTY-NINE American cents on Amazon.com, and the tea was worth at least TEN DOLLARS.

Mr O’Farrell: Well, I’ve drunk the tea, but you can borrow the record if you like.

SCATC: No further questions.

Mr O’Farrell: I’ll just get back to a spot of Premiering then, shall I? It’s been real, you guys.

The temperance movement over a century ago where right when they pushed the line that  alcohol ruined many a great career.

It just goes to show, that we should be electing tea drinkers to high office. Sure there might be the odd scandal (“I put it to you, Mr Treasurer, that the records show that your office spent $24 last year on ‘milk for tea’, and yet you claim to be a First Flush Darjeeling expert”) but overall, it seems a lot wiser.

The twist in this tale is that the lobbyist was trying to win a  contract to supply water to Sydney. If he’d been smart enough to send every politician some tea, he could have recouped some of the cost.

Ah, politics.

 

 

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Tea and Life, Tea Retail

A New Name?

This is a scene from Yes Minister that I have always loved. The second bit, not the first bit.

http://youtu.be/OzeDZtx3wUw

If you didn’t get around to watching it, there’s a suggestion that legislation is to be enacted in the European Parliament to cause the British sausage to cease being referred to as a ‘sausage’, but instead being called a “emulsified, high fat offal tube”.

It does make me think about the nomenclature of tea.

  • If you have a cup of a fine Arya Ruby Darjeeling SFTGFOP, it’s “tea”.
  • If you enjoy a lovely Ali Shan Oolong from your favourite tea garden, it’s “tea”.
  • What about a simple Grade 1 Gunpowder Green, brewed GongFu style in a Yixing pot? “Tea”.

And how about the lowest possible grade black, picked by machines, stuffed into paper bags in eastern Europe or a third world country with no minimum wage and poor food hygiene standards, boxed, plastic wrapped and deposited on supermarket shelves with no consideration except delivering it a few cents/pence/pesos cheaper?

When it’s talked about, it’s still “tea”.

In fact,the latter is over 90% of tea.

So, do we have the nomenclature wrong? Should we rename bad tea as something else. Or good tea as something else?

I’m working on an idea inspired by this.

My next blog will tell you all about it.

But for now: What do you think? What can we do?

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Tea and Life, Tea Stories, Tea Workers

Because I Can

I can add milk to my tea, if I want.Tea or do not tea. There is no \"try\".

Usually, I don’t want to, but let’s say I do.

A tablespoon of milk is about 13 calories. So if one has five cups of tea per day with a tablespoon in each, then it provides about 2% of the daily caloric intake that someone who works manually might survive on.

A teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories. Let’s add two spoons per day to our five cups – though I don’t take it myself – and this works out to 160 calories per day from sugar. That’s actually about 6% of the aforementioned necessary daily caloric intake.

Based on the current price of milk and sugar in Australia – and assuming I buy the supermarket brand cheapest option of both – that’s about $0.42 AUD.  Add the price of a supermarket loose leaf tea and this rises to $0.58

Many Ugandan tea workers would not make that in a day. Comparatively well-paid workers in Assam might take three hours to earn that. Both would likely find a chance to enjoy 6% of their necessary daily caloric intake to be quite significant.

I wonder what either would think of my problems. My “first world problems”.

Once and for all, I’d like to put things in perspective.

If I decide to put milk and /or sugar in my tea, it’s because I can. I generally don’t have to assess the use of milk and/or sugar in terms of budgetary considerations. I also don’t have to use it to supplement my daily caloric intake, as that’s already too high.

I get tired of hearing about how adding either is offensive. “You can’t. You shouldn’t. You mustn’t.”

I will if I want to.

I can call Afternoon Tea ‘High Tea’ if I want to, amongst a group of consenting adults who all know what I mean. I can make my tea in a pot, or a plastic cup or an old sock*. I can drink it from a cup, a basin, a bottle, my bare hands.

Inaccurate nomenclature is deadly: if you are an atomic scientist. Inaccuracy is not good in a surgeon. If you are a chemist or an engineer, please get everything right, all the time.

Yes, you can make a difference with tea. Drink good loose leaf tea. Don’t support the major companies who exploit workers. Don’t trust the untrustworthy. Don’t blindly believe guys like “Rainforest Alliance”. Try not to contribute to the tax dollars of despotic regimes.

But no-one died the last time someone said “Chai tea”. Or credited the teab*g to John Sullivan or the invention of Afternoon tea to The 7th Duchess of Bedford, both of which are demonstrably wrong.

So, a final note for today: I wrote this for myself, but I’m willing to share. The next time we get annoyed at someone for repeating the “rinse away the caffeine” nonsense. The next time someone has a cappuccino instead of a Long Jing or adds creamer to a first flush Darjeeling**. The next time someone mentions K-cups or I am aggrieved at something someone did, or said, or didn’t say, or didn’t do.

I’ll re-read this and get a sense of perspective, and find myself a calm and happy place – probably to rant from.

Some sources:

  • A slightly old report (2005) on nutrition amongst tea workers in Assam is here 
  • A recent UK newspaper report on tea workers conditions in India is here
  • A report on tea worker wages from a Ugandan newspaper is here

——

 *an old sock is the least likely option, but don’t even try to oppress my right to do so!

*OK, so maybe that is TOO far. Some corporal punishment is warranted.

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Tea and Food, Tea Retail

Oliver!

Well, there’s big news in this neck of the woods, and it’s about Jamie Oliver. He’s big news indeed in The City of Onkaparinga, South Australia.

Let me start by saying I love Jamie Oliver. Right back to The Naked Chef, I’ve enjoyed all his programmes. Jamie at Home is a favourite, and it must be said that The Devotea Homemade Hot Chocolate that we serve at some markets owes an awful lot to his Christmas Special recipe.

He’s a brilliant ambassador for good food and has made massive strides toward improving the food at schools across the globe.

Sure, I find some of his programmes a little basic. Take 30 Minute Meals. If you can cook, you can automatically make a great meal in 30 minutes. If you can’t, you’ll spend 29 of those minutes trying to find the right-sized pan and wondering if buckwheat is different to polenta. I have about 100 cookbooks – people love to buy them for me – and I think the one time I have actually used one in the last two years it was Jamie’s British Menu.

In my 2007 book “1001 Nights in the Trans-Arabian Corporations Boardroom”, I wrote a short story inspired by something Jamie said. In the story, at an international Egg and Chips cooking contest in the future, all the chips are grown in test tubes. No-one knows what a potato is. The winner pulls a master stroke in making a chip out of an actual potato.

Directly inspired by Jamie.

So, I’m a fan. I’d like to shake his hand. I’d like to invite him ’round for dinner with us. I think the Queen should knight him. “Go Jamie!” etc.

Our local shopping centre has been chosen to host a pop-up version for one year of Jamie’s Ministry of Food. And the self-congratulation has started.

We’ve been chosen from 170 applications around Australia. According to the gushing of our local dignitaries, it’s because we have great local produce and the local shopping centre management offered free premises.

So, let’s look at that.

Yes, we do have great local produce. Yes, the local shopping centre is large and has been rarely fully tenanted since a major makeover a few years back. But I’m sure of the 170 applications, approximately 170 offered free digs.

What it comes down to is that: have any of these guys actually seen “Ministry of Food” on TV?

We’ve not been chosen because of these reasons at all. We’ve been chosen because they have data explaining that we are a bunch of idiots who can’t cook.

Ministry of Food is never sited near a picturesque Greek village where the locals spend all day making wonderful dishes. It’s never sited in the middle of a fine dining district. It’s sited where the clueless idiots are.

Listen, Jamie, I’m on your side. Get out there and educate the uneducated masses. Open a swag of ‘Fifteen’ restaurants, one of the best social initiatives ever.

But not Ministry of Food here! If anyone here in our district needs to be told that spinach is better for you than takeaway yiros; that reheating a frozen lasagne is just rubbish, that a pie and a six pack is not a seven-course meal, then it’s not because they don’t have the information. It’s because they don’t want to hear it.

Damn you, Jamie Oliver, you’ve conspired with our local council to promote our community’s stupidity, in order to get more traffic at the local shopping centre. There are a zillion places more needy.

I know that part of it was the City of Onkaparinga convincing you we can all barely operate a can opener and spoon shop-brand tomato soup substitute into a microwave-friendly bowl, but to be honest, given some of their decisions, you can trust their judgement like you’d trust a paper rowboat. One look at their unreadable logo and signage should tell you that.

So, it’s got my dander up. I’ve got a good mind to counter this by moving to Essex and opening a tea shop. Last time I was there the local were using teab*gs. It’s about time someone showed them the loose leaf light.

I wonder if I can get a free shop? The Devotea’s Ministry of Tea. Coming to a town near you.

And believe me, it’s pukka.

 

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Tea and Food, Tea and Life, Tea Stories

Bridging the Cultural Divide

Tea varies.

There’s no doubt that I’m reluctant to drink sweetened green tea with milk. But if I hailed from the region of Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan, I probably would make it that way.

Rancid yak butter, tea, salt and water may make a delicious beverage if one is from Nepal, but I can’t say I’m keen to try it.

But closer to home, there are cultural divides within the tea community. There’s the “No Milk, Ever” brigade versus the “Milk Always” team. The “Sugar In Tea Is An Abomination And You Will Burn In Hell” syndicate versus that “I’ll have three, and make ‘em generous” lot.

Generally, these groups can get along, but there’s one that I always find interesting here in Australia: the revulsion that some people feel for the concept of Iced Tea.

I CAN understand those people who feel revolted every time someone over 5 years old writes or says “Ice Tea” rather than “Iced Tea”, because it’s just plain ignorant and wrong. But I am fighting a losing bottle as ALL of the multinational conglomerates call their Ready To Drink products that, and I guess they are the new arbiters of the English Language.

When talking to people about Iced Tea, one of the common themes is for detractors to refer to it as “cold tea”, to suggest that it is tea that has gone cold, as opposed to a brew specifically made to be cold. I suspect that not just in Australia, but in Britain and New Zealand and a few other places this might be so.

We find at markets that kids are more than willing to order it. We serve it unsweetened, but with sugar syrup on the side that they can help themselves to. The syrup pours quite slowly and they tend to add about 2 teaspoons of 50/50 sugar syrup, so about 5 grams of sugar. The same sized cup full of cola would be around 35 grams of sugar.

Of course, keen twenty-somethings in full hipster mode drink it unsweetened over ice, but then hipsters always do stuff like that specifically to annoy me. I waited years to be old enough to wear cardigans, and the minute I was, all these young folk started to wear them and drink tea, making me look like I am just a Vespa and a brown shoulder bag away from a mid-life crisis of age-denial.

But there is a fair proportion of people we talk to that are revolted by the thought.

Sometimes we can sway them with a sample.  Sometimes we can’t.

Thinking about it, I wonder if the problem in the USA is reversed. “I only drink hot tea when I’m sick” is something I’ve seen a bit from those quarters.

When we were sick as kids, my mother would dissolved a teaspoon of Vegemite in boiling water, add a teaspoon of margarine, pour it into a bowl over ripped up white bread and pronounce it “Vegemite Soup” as a sort of cure-all.* In that context, it’s hard to imagine willingly having that when one is not sick. Given that it’s closer to the Nepali Tea mentioned above than the way I normally drink tea, I am imagining that these Nepalis are virtually illness-proof.

So, I am left to ponder: what’s harder?

Selling hot tea to Americans? Selling iced tea to Aussies, Kiwis and Brits?

Or just the act of taking any person outside their tea comfort zone?

 

*I might admit to having made Vegemite Soup for myself at times. It’s actually delicious.

 

 

 

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Tea Retail

Two Market, No Market

Regular readers, Facebook Fans, Twitter Followers and anyone within earshot will know that one of the things we regularly do in our hometown of Adelaide, South Australia is to run either a simple retail stall or a Pop Up Tea Shop at various markets.

We love it: it’s a great way of learning about our tea. We get instant feedback from tasting, and from the little tins of tea we provide for people to touch and smell. We get to see people scarf down a fizzy iced tea or relax with a scone and a cup of Lady Devotea.

We can share the wonder at the exotic leaf of Doke Silver Needle and listen to stories of a favourite tea that someone last had in 1962 in Crete.

Our US distributor has been known to pop up at markets from time to time as well.

Here in Adelaide, we do the odd one-off market but lately had settled down to two distinct markets, a weekly one on Saturday(Bellevue Heights) and a monthly one on a Sunday (Mitcham).

So, had all gone to plan, in about a week we’d be announcing something.

Interesting, though not massive news: Lady Devotea and I planned to no longer take part in these markets ourselves.

Our main staffer at markets Sarah, along with Saxon(AKA Devotea Jr.) were being positioned to take responsibility for our market activities. They have done a great job in the past where we have been absent, and the move would free us up to spend our weekends on an important new project.

So, we were maybe a day away from creating an announcement that the last market where one could come along and bask in the proximity of Lord & Lady Devotea was to be our April event at Mitcham. It is a great location where we have a dining room as well as a kitchen.

And then we got the call. The Mitcham Market has closed down.

The last few Mitcham markets have been quiet. They’ve competed with WOMADelaide, car races, the fringe and the festival, Carnivale, a plethora of new markets. They don’t call it Mad March in Adelaide for nothing, and it starts in February. During these times not only to punters have other things to do, but even regular stallholders can disappear as they chase the big money events.

As we have a bunch of regulars, plus bored stallholders tend to buy a fair few sausage rolls or cakes and drink plenty of hot drinks, we haven’t suffered the way other stallholders at Mitcham have.

The organisers could not have worked harder, and in the end, it did not work out. These things happen.

Whilst we were getting the news that the Mitcham Market had died, we also received an innocuous email concerning the weekly market. It seems the coffee van was not available, but the coffee van operator wished to still provide coffee by sharing our kitchen. This had been flagged to us as a possibility from time to time, and we were happy to accommodate this.

However, we felt uncomfortable with this guy’s other products – “chai latte” and teabag tea. Quite apart from the ethical and environmental issues I have with the latter, our product range at this market is basically hot tea, proper chai and about a dozen scones. Add to that the awkwardness of having to quiz each customer who came to the window and asking them to choose whose tea they wanted. So we contacted the organisers and ran past them the scenario where we agreed to share the kitchen but on condition that the coffee guy did not offer those products on the day. The organiser felt that was fair enough.

I sent a quick email to the coffee guy outlining this, and I was staggered when he refused. He basically wanted to offer all his range.

Bluntly, I thought it was arrogant and very one-sided. Worse still, the organiser basically backed his stand, and suggested if we didn’t like it, we simply skip this week.

You might imagine, this did not go down well. We have a first-class product we sell across the globe, we will not play second fiddle to some sort of paper or bio-plastic bag dumped in a takeaway cup of hot water*. At this point I just sent an intemperate email at some ungodly hour of the morning and so, we have severed our ties with this market.

It’s a shame for the regulars that turned up every week to buy their packets of tea. It’s a shame that we will not spend Saturdays with some of the other traders we have grown genuinely fond of.

The good news is, some other markets have since contacted us and are making efforts to accommodate us in an appropriate manner. So I guess it won’t be long before we resurface, but for now, we are disappointed that we have no market offering.

In a year that we believe will see radical growth and change in our business, we will do what we can to continue to connect with our loyal Adelaide fan base.

UPDATE AND CLARIFICATION

The following is presented without prejudice

On both Facebook and here, we have received a long commentary from a person connected to parts of this story. In it the person makes an assertion that parts of this blog post are dishonest and untrue. I have elected not to allow the posting of the reply as it seems is potentially libelous. In it, I am accused of knowingly publishing untruths. This I deny.

This person is at one remove from the events: I am not sure if have ever spoken to or met them. I am going to assume, however that they are speaking from genuine belief, and so I have examined the articles that they are presenting as “Facts” (that’s their word) to see whether I have either (a) given the wrong impression or (b) unknowingly posted something untrue.

I will continue to use fact as “fact” when I am referring specifically to the issues they raise – not to be derogatory, but for clarity, so that readers will understand when I am specifically referring to the material in the comment.

The first “fact” they publish concerns a variety of issues including the quality of their teabags. Whilst tangential to the piece, I did mention just some of my many objections to teabags.

Teabags by and large end up in landfill, but then, so do many tea leaves. The supplier to the people in question, Hampstead Tea, does say this on their site:

Our tea bags are unbleached, staple and glue free. The tag is stitched to the bag to avoid any contaminants. We use state-of-the-art tea bagging machine to achieve this rigorous standard. In keeping with our philosophy all of our packaging is fully biodegradable.

My stand on teabags has long been documented and is pretty well expected here. However, had I had any idea that this was the specific teabag used I would have no doubt phrased the portion now marked with an asterisk in the original differently, as the ethical and environmental concerns with a vast proportion of teabags may not be appropriate here.

There is also a reference to our use of UHT milk. It’s a great example of what happens when people get information secondhand.  On one occasion we arrived at our milk supplier (Foodland) on the way to the market and their Fleurieu milk had not arrived. Ironically, we had been advised to buy a lot of milk by the coffee van operators as they were not planning to be present that day and and we ended up with the best Foodland had: a reasonable quality UHT milk. Virtually all of it was left over after a bushfire closed the market that day. At every other market, we used Paris Creek, Fleurieu or Paul’s Organic. We did lug our crate of UHT milk along to every market as backup, but have not needed to use it (one person specifically requested we use it on one occaision.) Yet we kept hearing about it! I don’t doubt the commentator believes that it is our standard product, and we are not suggesting that this is a deliberate untruth, just what happens when information is secondhand.

The second ‘fact’ outlined in the comment states that the coffee van has been at that market since it’s inception. I’m happy to accept that as true. The market started a few months before we found it. It also states that they were consulted before we were accepted at the market, and that they graciously consented.

I was not privy to whether they were asked about our presence or not. I have no reason to believe that this is untrue in any way. I don’t believe I stated otherwise. When we were invited to the market, I asked if coffee was needed, and was told this operator was there. Since their coffee is superb and I have always got along with the main operator, I was actually quite delighted as to who it was. (Not as delighted as if there had been an opportunity for us to do the coffee, obviously, but we just scale our staff and offering according to each market).

Under “Fact #3″, the commentator had this to say:

You talk about “our [my italics] kitchen”. It is the kitchen of Bellevue Heights Primary School, kindly lent to us for the shared use of all stallholders. I have sold coffee from there many times, long before you arrived at the market, and happily shared the space with other stallholders.

This is fair criticism. It was sloppy language on my part. Nothing more, nothing less. We rented the kitchen space at each market, but yes, many stallholders used it for cleaning up and for cold storage. I should have said “the kitchen that we operate from” or some such phrase.

“Fact #4″ seems to be a reference to the fact I have enclosed “chai latte” in quote marks. As regular readers and readers of many tea blogs would know, the nomenclature around chai is confusing and it is not unusual to put quote marks around such a phrase. The commentator has taken this as implied criticism of their powder-based chai. The funny thing is this: my opposition to powdered chai in most of its forms is well known, but in 2012 I had asked about the chai at that very van and was told they hand- made a syrup and then added that to milk and steamed it on the day . An excellent method!  Had I known they used a powdered product, I may well have commented on that. But in essence, I believe this be a misunderstanding.

“Fact #5″ suggests that our initial request was “a demand, not a request” and “combative”. Well, here it is:

Hi <name removed>

We make our money selling tea, chai, cakes and scones.
I am sure we can make the sharing of the kitchen work if you are  only doing coffee and hot chocolate and we do what we usually do. It would be unworkable if you were planning to also offer products we offer.
Looking back, I’m pretty comfortable with that. Yes, it did eventually spiral out of control. Yes, at one point I cheekily suggested that we should bring our coffee machine and compete with them on all products- to make the point. Yes, I did no doubt get quite combative in later emails as my frustration levels rose. But I don’t think that is a demand. And it was met with a blanket “no”.
It is also mentioned that there was fear of “setting a precedent”. Since that was never raised with us, I don’t know what this means. But if the operator had a legitimate concern, it could have been raised with us for discussion. It wasn’t.
Added to “Fact #5″ is an assertion that the operator had decided independently to simply direct all tea sales to us. This was not said in any of the seven emails that were exchanged, but has now been shared after the fact. The very last email from the organiser says the opposite. Had that been the response to our email, we would not be undertaking this exercise.
“Fact #6″ in the comment refers to the conversation I had with the organiser of the market. The email reproduced above was sent less that 5 minutes after I completed a phone call. I made that phone call to specifically ask the organiser if I was being “unreasonable” or “out of line” if I was to make this request. Nothing else was discussed, that was the sole purpose of the call, and the organiser could not have been clearer as to stating that our request was not unreasonable. But in “Fact #6″, the commentator suggests that this was not the case, which I feel suggests that either I was not telling the truth in my original article, or that I have somehow made a call, asked a question, confirmed the answer several times, apologised for being awkward and then hung up not understanding that the organiser had not confirmed my opinion that my request was not out of line.It is the implication in this section – that I am either stupid or lying – that I take offense to and would like to receive an apology for.
Final Thoughts
As regular readers will know, I often comment on controversial topics, offer candid thoughts and engender discussion on this, my personal blog. I am no stranger to getting robust messages on my blog, and yet of over 1400 comments, I have only blocked one from publication before this incident.
I’m not unused to criticism, on many occasions I have responded by updating or changing information. I commonly even criticise myself – I have many blogs where I talk about a feeling or belief that I have had which does not stand up to scrutiny once I undertake the research needed. I am an imperfect yet overly loud oracle at times.
I feel that the person who made the commentary in this case believes every point they made. I believe they are genuine. I also believe they are unhappy with the criticism implied in this piece. I also see that they have some information second hand, and some not at all.
There are other ways to deal with that than to publicly post on Facebook. I have had to block some people – something I have never done before – whilst I wrote this addendum. I have spent three hours examining every assertion, checking emails, making sure that my response is measured and as accurate as I can. I have certainly be guilty of suggesting guilt by association (as in most teabags are environmentally and ethically scandalous, and these guys have teabags, so…) in a way that I did not present entirely fairly in my original post.
As the original post may or may not make clear, pulling out from this market hurts. I believe I did it as a matter of principle, I do not believe I was unreasonable – perhaps intemperate, but not unreasonable. I have worked hard to promote this market and our presence there. I personally feel that we have let down those people who had started regularly visiting us for their tea. It was an awful situation and affected me deeply.
Whilst The Devotea is more than just me, I was the principal negotiator on this. Not being able to negotiate a workable solution, I felt, was a failure, and yet the only response we received was flat-out rejection of our request. 
I still have absolutely no understanding as to why our original request was met with rejection, especially as there is material in the commentary that suggests that on the day it would have in fact been partly met. At the time of sending, I honestly believed it would be accommodated, and that we would actually have a great time with extra people crammed into a busy kitchen.
Let’s hope in ends here. We have new projects to move on to, and we wish all of our former market colleagues all the best.

 

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Tea and Life, Tea History, Tea Stories

The Hypocrisy Continues

I wasn’t sure I should post this. But, here goes.

I spent many hours writing a post recently. And then found one fact that challenged my assumptions.

My basic premise was that the new anti-gay laws in Uganda were a springboard for more or less boycotting African teas.

What I have decided to do is share the post, as it was, up to the moment I discovered a fact I did not like. And then make some commentary around that, and how it actually showed me my own hypocrisy.  The original, unfinished post is below – all the bits in blue.

It’s a heavy post today, folks. Quite a bit of politics, and only a little tea.

The recent history of Africa – the last 1000 years – has been dominated by the actions, not of locals, but by Europeans, and those of European descent.

Significant European interest in Africa started with interest in slavery, and in the centuries that followed, Western countries have looked down on Africans – first as chattels, then as ‘poor savages’ needing civilising, and now as being incapable of running their own affairs.

In particular, the period of colonisation. A time when European countries who couldn’t organise a decent empire – France, Germany, Italy, even pathetic pretend countries such as Belgium – nibbled bits of Africa so they could feel like they were part of the big league, competing with Spain, Portugal, the Dutch and of course, Britain. A time when the big guys hit back and took some of Africa for themselves. A time when brave white men went out to take ownership and shoulder the “white man’s burden” of running these places.

Whether being sadistic, paternalistic or opportunistic, Europeans always knew they were superior on one area: religion. The wonderful term “mumbo-jumbo” is at heart an attack on the spiritual beliefs of various African peoples – an indication of how believing that your ancestor lives in a mountain or that lions have souls is so much less believable than virgin birth and a God who can’t solve famine because he’s too busy checking on what teenage boys are doing under the covers at night.

Colonialism is a mixed legacy at best: the law is one institution that was often pressed upon the unwilling but is now seen as a good thing, whereas other colonial legacies are decidedly bad, such as the genocidal hatred of two basically similar peoples in Rwanda.

Of course, tea is a colonial legacy, and about 12 African countries grow significant amounts of tea. They are the massive tea growing country of Kenya, then a long way back Malawi and Uganda, with Tanzania the only other one of note. The latter three combined grow about 30% of what Kenya grows.

And who grows it? Vast tea companies, like Liptons (Unilever) and Tetleys.

So many people have written so much about the poor practices, lack of workers rights and inhumanity of these sprawling tea estates that I cannot usefully add anything to that commentary at this point.

But Uganda have made the news this week, for passing anti-homosexuality laws. Punitive and primitive, these appalling laws even make it a criminal offence if you know someone is homosexual and don’t report them to the authorities.

Whilst on the face of it it seems absurd to punish a man for having sex with another man by locking him up with hundreds of men for seven years, it is far more than just absurd. It’s an appalling attack on human rights. Led by the teachings of three “Evangelical”  (in the sense of ‘demented’) American preachers, Uganda seems to be determined to cling to the reputation it earned during the reign of Idi Amin for brutality; and the saddest thing about this is, it’s popular.

What is not so readily apparent is that similar laws exists in the other tea growing countries I have listed. It’s not surprising, with South Africa the only significant country in Africa that does not persecute gay people.

The laws in Kenya are virtually identical to the ones in Uganda, one key difference being that they no time or money is being spent on enforcement. However, there is agitation within the Kenyan Parliament for this to happen, with many MPs casting an approving eye on the Ugandan travesty.

In Tanzania, the laws are similar and enforced. In Malawi, the laws are on the books but enforcement was suspended in 2012. It’s great that these vile laws have been suspended, but it is shameful they exist at all.

It’s hard to get tea anywhere without wondering if the provenance means that someone unpleasant somewhere is not getting a benefit. But in this case, the governments who pass these laws get millions on taxes from tea.

And that’s where I stopped, folks.

Because I decided to just check the laws in other tea growing countries, to make sure I was not going to have some unhappy facts pointed out to me via comments. And I did discover just such facts.

China? Check. Japan? Check. India? Er, not so good.

Chapter 16, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is, in essence a slightly milder version of the same law as Uganda has just passed. It was put there in 1860 under the British Raj.

It’s true that there is a popular campaign in India to repeal this appalling travesty; and I doubt that it will be on the law books in another 5 years. Some people say that as only 200 people have ever been charged under Section 377 since 1960, it’s not really enforced.

For me, the discovery that this exists undermined my idea that a boycott would be a good plan. After all, I don’t actually drink African Tea which I find generally quite inferior, but I drink and sell a lot of Indian tea. This is a boycott that might actually affect me!

For years, westerners have pontificated about “What Africa should do” and “What China should do” and “What India Should do” and in many cases, there’s been a healthy dose of self interest.

Me too, it seems.

 

 

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Tea and Food, Tea and Life

Baked Goods: Usage and Abusage

Look, you guys, I love you all, but in the words of today’s generation: you’re doin’ it wrong.

By ‘you guys’, I mean Americans. The whole lot of you.

You might find this hard to take, but I’m writing this because I care about you.

You have some wonderful things like the Statue of Liberty, Brian Cranston, a mayor called “Nutter” and marshmallow fluff in a jar, but in other areas it’s not so good.

In amongst the splendid hospitality and much love that we found in the USA last year, we couldn’t help but notice that when it comes to baked goods to accompany tea, there was some serious deficiencies. Even in really good places.

Let’s start with terminology.

The word “cookie”. An excellent word- if you are under three years old.

Seriously, how childish is that word? The damn word is ‘biscuit ‘. As soon as one’s vocabulary reaches the level where “Johnny wanth bithcut. PLEATHE!” is possible, then ‘cookie’ should be extinguished from the tongue of a child. If the word ‘potty’ has ceased to be used then ‘cookie’ should go as well.

There is some argument that cookie is not a childish diminutive of “to cook” but in fact drawn from the Dutch word for little cakes. If so, here’s a tip: if you are tempted to take a loan word into your language, avoid Dutch. It is the singular most appalling language in the world.  A mangy fox with tuberculosis choking to death on a rabid hamster makes a more attractive sound that a Dutch person ordering a pizza. Netherlands has an incredibly high rate of English language proficiency, and it’s easy to see why: even they hate it. There is a special dispensation for the word ‘Speculaas’, but other than that, the Dutch language is dead to me.

Now as far as the biscuits themselves go, you guys do them well. Keep up the good work.

Now we move on to the mistake you guys make when instead of calling biscuits ‘biscuits’, you call something else ‘biscuits’. Something rather unpleasant that you try to hide with gravy at breakfast.

It’s important that every culture have at least one breakfast food that guarantees a stroke by fifty, and you guys excel yourselves at providing a whole raft thereof. In that context the “biscuits” are probably the least offensive thing on the plate.

So what are they? They are almost bread, almost damper (I mean the Australian campfire bread ‘damper’, not ‘more damp’) and basically a mildly edible spoon for gravy. I realise you do have to give them a name. I suggest you call them ‘OHaPoMS’, which is an acronym for “Overly Hard, Poorly Made Scones”.

And that brings us neatly to scones. Which rhymes with “upons” unless you are from certain parts of the UK where regional dialects and/or class alters this.

So, here’s the thing about scones. Look at this quick table and see how you are doing it wrong.

  • Correct: Light and Fluffy. Incorrect: Like chewing on a desiccated doorknob.
  • Correct: Round. Incorrect:Triangular.
  • Correct: Served with jam and whipped or clotted cream. Incorrect: Served with jam and ‘dairy wip’.
  • Correct: Size about the circumference of a teacup. Incorrect: Bigger than my head.

Most of what passes for scones in the bits of the USA we visited are not only offensive but virtually an offensive weapon. And this is true of ritzy 5 star places as well as Bohemian little tea shops.

Guy, you do tea pretty well- if one goes to the right places. But between making some baked treats poorly and giving daft names to others, it’s a bit of let down.

Let me help you out here.

I have a theory that part of the problem is that “lemonade” is a part of many scone recipes. And lemonade in the USA is, for some reason, not a fizzy drink like it is in the rest of the world. The fizziness is part of the rising process.

Here’s one of the simpler versions from Lady Devotea’s extensive list of scone recipes: Just mix together 6 cups of self raising flour, 2 cups of actual proper  cream, and 2 cups of ‘Sprite’ or other fizzy lemony soda. Add a pinch of salt, form into a sticky dough, rest for 5 minutes (the dough, not you), cut out with a floured glass and bake on a tray spread just far enough apart to almost touch when they rise. I have no idea what temperature to bake them at using that confounded Fahrenheit system, but they can be baked quickly at a medium temperature, or for a better result, slowly at a lower temperature. Take them out when they almost start to colour.

15 minutes and a teapot full of Lord Petersham later, you’re doing it right. You can spend some of that time whipping actual cream with some icing sugar and real vanilla extract.

There you have it, America. Think of this as an intervention. You can recover from this. But it will take time. And love. And quite a bit of baking and eating.

Luckily, I’m here to help.

 

 

 

 

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Tea and Life, Tea Retail

Transition

My posting has slowed down lately.

Partly that’s because of a huge rant that I spent a week on and then never published after some facts I discovered damaged my contention. Part of it is that I am writing for paid sites here and there. And partly it’s the time factor.

The funny thing is, it’s happening at a time when I have a lot to say. Or a lot I could say.

Many of you know Lady Devotea and I have operated two distinct businesses for half a dozen years now: tea and …the other stuff.

Well, we’re closing the other stuff.

And we are working on a plan to undertake The Devotea in a new way. A bold, surprising plan.

And of course, it’s top secret. I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.

Maybe it will come off, maybe it won’t and I’ll give it all up for a new career as funeral director, chicken sexer or street sweeper. The next few months are critical.

Since I’m not sayin’ , feel free to make up your own scandalous lies about what we might be doing. Or even suggestions.

 

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Tea Retail

I’m Sorry, We’re Going To Have To Let You Go

Does anyone remember the taste of “January XXVI”?

This was one of our very first tea blends.

At the time,the Indian Cricket team were touring Australia. On Australia Day, there is always a one-day match in my home town of Adelaide, and every year the local paper bangs on about it being “extra incentive for the Australian team to win on Australia Day”. Our ‘National Day’ and all that.

Except what these insular prawn semi-journalists usually fail to notice is that for Indians, January 26th is Republic Day – it’s also THEIR national day. Presumably also extra incentive to win.

So, in the midst of this, I created a blend of Australian and Indian teas, and dubbed it January XXVI. The Roman numerals added just the right touch of literary class, don’t you think?

From the above, you can see that it was all my idea. Lady Devotea had no responsibility for this tea, which was a commercial non-event. If she had, it might have least have had a name people understood.

The initial batch was small. Sales were smaller. Eventually, it disappeared from view.

These days, we have 23 blends, and some of them are reaching levels of success that thrill us. Some are travelling okay, and some…

…well, there are one or two that could be performing better.

In my other career – Human Resources – I’d be counselling these teas. Advising them to lift their performance. And eventually, perhaps letting them go.

It’s obvious to us that our range could use a little streamlining. We have 9  breakfast- or afternoon- style black tea blends, for starters.

So one of our jobs is to assess our teas in the next few weeks, and see which of them might no longer enjoy our full confidence.

It’s a task I am personally going to hate. I’m very sentimental*. Many of our blends bring back memories of why we created them in the first place. They are all special.

But it has to be done.

You can imagine us, can’t you, at our desks? Pressing the intercom button.

“Miss Jones**, send in Liquorice White Tea.”

* Proudly sentimental! 

** There is no Miss Jones. It is a literary device.

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