Lord Devotea's Tea Spouts

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

Author: Robert Godden (Page 1 of 35)

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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.

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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.

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*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.

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* 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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Black and White

I drink my black tea black.

Often, I drink my black tea with others, and some of them drink their black tea white.

In fact, afternoon tea opens up myriad possibilities.

Sometimes, I might try a particular black tea white. Sometimes, my friends who normally drink their black tea white might try one black.

Of course, sometimes we are not drinking black tea. sometimes we are drinking white tea, which is usually drunk without milk, therefore technically the white tea is ‘black’ or ‘not white’, even though it’s white tea, not black.

Sometime we drink green tea, or yellow tea, or oolong. In fact, we drink tea in every hue imaginable.

By the time you add bold coloured herbals, like chamomile, rooibos, hibiscus and butterfly pea, the tea table can be a veritable cornucopia of colour.

Sadly, at tea time, you will occasionally get someone who eats all the custard creams. Or who puts all the jam on their scone, leaving none for anyone else. Or who, in the course of the discussion, says something hurtful or untrue.

When it happens, good Afternoon Tea etiquette is to judge the behaviour of the offender, not the colour of their tea. There is no place for judgement based on colour; we must as a group, insist that everyone gets what they need, no-one takes all the jam and that our lively discussion of today continues tomorrow, once we’ve refilled the custard creams.

Dedicated to the memory of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the five brave law enforcement officers killed in Dallas, Texas this week, the 200 people in Baghdad killed because of the way they worship and no doubt innumerable others we have lost to hate since my last blog.

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Brexit. Tea. Envy. Loss. Coffee. Really.

My preferred title for this blog post was just too long, so let’s just enjoy it here:

Brexit, Elections, The Politics of Loss and the Implications in the Marketing War between Tea and Coffee.

DISCLAIMER: many of you are used to my habit of (a) adding a little tea to make a long-winded rant about something else relevant to a tea blog and (b) taking forever to get to the point. If not, then make yourself a cuppa and settle down.

Let’s talk about Brexit.

Observing another nation’s politics from afar, one can easily form a superficial view. Local media will characterize the central characters into easy to understand boxes, eg “left-leaning” or “far right” or  “colourful”, which we then filter into “hippy”, “fascist” and “muppet with shocking hair” respectively  and from then on, they are stuck in that role.

But the thing about the Brexit /Bremain campaign, is that it was, starkly,  all about loss.

The Leave campaign spoke of loss of the Britain that once was. It’s part a longing for the genuine article, part an idealised Agatha Christie novel where everyone has a jolly good time, unless they are being murdered. It’s really easy in England today to find “villages” near London that are composed of reproduction houses, Tudor to Art Deco side-by-side, where middle class white people live on what is basically a set from Father Brown. Like the Truman Show with less impressive dentistry. The only coloured face in town is that nice Mr Singh who runs the takeaway, there are winding footpaths to the local well-funded schools and parks and the only concession to life in this century is the competition to see who can have the newest BMW.

Now, I think these places are symptomatic of what the Leave campaigners were seeking: GREAT Britain, not Reasonably-Important-Britain in a European Context.

One of the unfortunate things since the vote was taken, was to characterise these people as old and selfish, just wanting to preserve the memories of their idealised childhoods in the Empire upon which the sun would never set, but I think that sells them short. It’s not really a stretch, when you think about it, to think that these people might be of a generation that simply wants the next one, or two, to have what they dimly remember they had, whether they actually did or not.

The Remain camp ran their campaign on loss as well. Loss of jobs, loss of financial services, loss of banks, loss of ability to backpack through Bavaria without having to get a visa, loss of a place in the Eurovision Song Contest.

And regardless of the result, there was always going to be a national sense of mourning, because about half the population was going to be keenly feeling the loss. As it turns out, a large percentage of those feeling the loss are Scottish, a nation with somewhat of a history of loss and a definite reputation for being loss-averse.

I could turn to tea next, but let’s detour to the Australian Election. As I write this, I don’t know who will win, but I suspect it will be the incumbent Liberal/National Coalition, who ran a campaign of “things are OK, and we’re on the right track, but if you vote the other mob in, you’ll lose that and things will descend into unmitigated chaos”.

One of the problems with this approach is the loss is too mild. You lose people. they disengage. They are already apathetic. To many Australians, our  Parliament is like a much larger version of Wham! with 226 Andrew Ridgeleys and no George Michael.

So, for the Opposition, the challenge is to engender a sense of loss in not voting them in. They were running a fairly standard campaign until they seemed to almost accidentally hit on a strategy that had some traction.

Bluntly, they invented a lie, built on a flimsy pretext. They claimed the universal health care system was under threat of being privatised, which (a) it’s not and (b) isn’t even technically possible. Most services are already delivered by private providers.

Over the last few weeks, they have heaped all their resources into this. It was never truthful in the first place, and the claims have been getting weaker: “We have evidence” has turned into “You can’t trust them on this ” to, incredibly “it’s in their party’s DNA to do this”. It’s actually quite similar to racist hate propaganda – the difference between “Liberal Politicians want to steal your money, because that’s what they do” and “You can’t trust Chinese People, they are only after your money” is certainly only one of law and not philosophy.

But if loss sells, then what the hell does it have to do with tea?

Well, not much.

But look at coffee:

We are familiar with signs, tea shirt, Facebook posts. “Give me coffee and I’m human”. “If I have coffee, no-one gets hurt”. “I’m sorry if I said anything before I had my coffee”.

In a twisted way, lack of coffee is nearly always presented as a loss. If I don’t have coffee, I have somehow lost an aspect of my humanity. If I don’t have coffee, I don’t have the energy to attempt the day.

And so this brings us to the Brexiters, The Bremains, The Australian political parties. No-one is offering hope. No-one is offering better. It’s all about what we have now, or what we think we have or had. If I have my coffee and vote the way I choose, I’m gaining what? Nothing. But at least I’m not losing.

And this is where tea starts behind the 8-ball. We don’t sell tea to provide the status quo. We sell what? Enjoyment. Refreshment. Health.

Time and again we see cases where fear of loss wins. Can we jump on that train? Do we want to jump on that train?

One area tea will break through is nostalgia. Watching Downton Abbey or reading Pride and Prejudice, cup of Lord Petersham in hand, we can acknowledge what we think we have lost in a safe environment, and we can take comfort from the fact that even the people paraded in front of us will not have it all their own way, but that they will undoubtedly, in the end win through if they are worthy.

If you had hoped I might end this with a magic formula for tea marketing that neatly encapsulated the above, then sorry. I’m clearly not the sharpest tool in the tea marketing shed to begin with, when you consider that the massively inferior product of truly unethical global corporations outsells our product about a trillion to one.

But can we find instances of hope and then lead, not follow? Can we make tea such a positive experience that people, start looking for the positive in everything, not just using tea as respite?

Yes, I’m sure we can. I’m just not sure how.

 

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Penang: Over and Out

My last blog – before the Pictorial Interlude – ended with Lady Devotea and I in Little India, Georgetown, Penang, hailing a cab to go back to our accommodation.

Over dinner, we’d discussed the idea that we would do something in morning and then head back to take it easy for a few hours before being picked up by our airport shuttle mid-afternoon. My suggestion was a tropical spice farm not far from the resort.

Once in the back of the cab, we continued this discussion, and all a sudden, the driver joined in, asking what we had seen and, as is the way of cab drivers in Asia, suggesting excellent itineraries that he could offer.

Over the 40 minute ride, we spent a lot of time talking about his background: Anglo-Indian/Portuguese. His grandfather was an English guy who arrived in the early 1900s and created five rubber plantations and had some incredible number of children that escapes me now. After all, there was no TV and there are limits to the amusement possibilities in a rubber plantation or five, I guess.

At some point our driver, Jude, suggested that of all the things we should fit into our schedule, Suffolk House, the old residence for the island’s governors, should take priority. And while he was an interesting guy who seemed to know what he was talking about, we politely took his card at the resort and promised to call in the morning if we were suddenly seized with a desire to visit Suffolk House. or anywhere else.

And back in the room, I idly googled Suffolk House. And discovered that we absolutely had to go!

Back in Australia, two weeks before we left home, the ABC had started showing a series we had fallen in love with: Indian Summers. And unbekowst to us, it was filmed not in Simla, India where it was set, but in Penang.

In fact, Lady Devotea had pointed out a bungalow up on Penang Hill a few days earlier, and said “that looks exactly like one of the houses in Indian Summers”. Turns out she was 100% correct!

So in the morning, we rang Jude. We visited Suffolk House, a Hindu Temple, the Botanic Gardens and a batik factory over the next four hours. He proved to be an excellent guide.

Leaving aside the batik factory, which was OK and we bought some stuff, and the Hindu temple, which was great but we were close to melting in the direct sun, the other two were quite excellent adventures. Suffolk House is a great place to have a proper cup of tea and some scones. The Botanic Garden is a great place to look at plants and hand-feed monkeys.

Best of all, though, is that every time we catch an episode of this show we love, we spot little corners where we sat, roads we strolled and trees we looked in wonder at, and it transports us back – a cup of tea in front of the TV in cold, wintry Adelaide becomes a cup of tea on a balcony overlooking a lush tropical garden.

Penang. My verdict: well worth a visit, if you can parley that visit into memories you can share with the person, or people, you love.


Here’s a few photos I pinched from Lady D’s camera.

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A traditional ox drawn wagon in the grounds of Suffolk house.

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Suffolk House. Yes, it’s a displaced Georgian Mansion with some Indian style additions.

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The hall at Suffolk House, if you watch Indian Summers, imagine it full of desks and clerks.

A Pictorial Interlude

My last blog post was a bit of a teaser on our last night in Penang.

Then… nothing for two weeks! I’m sorry about that.

A combination of lack of time and illness and then technical difficulties at my scheduled blogging time meant I missed last week’s entry.

As I work to rectify that, I thought I’d post the pictures I promised of the tea set Lady Devotea presented to me for our 30th anniversary.

So, without further ado, here it is:

The box

The Box

The box opens... there are cups...

The box opens… there are cups…

... the box cantilevers and there is the rest of it...

… the box cantilevers and there is the rest of it…

The pattern

The pattern

The pot...

The pot…

The set

The set

ready to go, full of our 1001 Nights

Ready to go, full of our 1001 Nights

It’s a lovely set to drink from, the Celadon glaze inside the cups is very delicate and it holds memories of a great 30th anniversary. It’s hard to imagine a better gift.

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I said “Kapitan”.

I have a passport that says I have never been to India.

However, standing in a confusion of sounds and sights that suggested otherwise, we soaked up music, dialects, scents, the sound of blaring car horns and parping motorbike horns, rows of saree shops and grocers with spices piled high.

Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam all combine to outgun Bahasa Malay here, as we sauntered though Georgetown’s “Little India” district, firstly strolling through the late afternoon heat while sipping coconut water and seeking a bank machine, then seeking a meal from the row of food stalls that spring up along Lebuh Queen.

It was the Hindi temple on Lebuh Queen we had originally come to see, and as we approached from the outside, it was superb: a riot of devotional colour. Unfortunately, the colour orange is most thoroughly represented by the bunting that criss-crosses it. Through the sectioned off doors, we can see the inside has been gutted and is being rebuilt. A sign on the wall says that the temple will be finished when it’s finished, and donations gratefully received.

But regardless of getting less temple time than we thought, our breakfast was a long-faded memory and so our thoughts turned to our evening meal.

We circumnavigated the block, checking out where the chairs and tables were free, and they seemed to be communal. First we approached a chicken-seller – the chicken legs with black bean, date and honey glaze looked incredible and I asked for two, forgetting the golden rule of asking the price first, and so probably got taken advantage of. The legs were provided in plastic bags.

Next, some biryani, so we found the best biryani seller – at least that’s what was written on the stall. Again, I forgot to ask the price first.

So, at this point we have a bag of black bean chicken, two rolled-up packages of rice, two plastic bags of sauce, two plastic bags of raita It was a substantial pile of food for RM31 (AUD 11, USD7.5), and left us just to find a table. And also with no cutlery, which is pretty traditional.

A considerable bounty of comestibles.

A considerable bounty of comestibles.

We found a table, and started to unwrap our bounty, but were ejected from it. We don’t really understand why, but the sun was going down which meant those who fast all day during Ramadan were flooding in and seemed have priority. You can’t really draw much of a conclusion, despite the fact that 100% of Westerners (i.e. us) suddenly had no seat.

We cruised a while in search of a seat, or even some cutlery, and in the end, we accepted an offer to enter a restaurant on the fringes of Little India – Restoren Kapitan.

We were to hungry to take a photo of the place, so here's one from their website. At night, the verandas and surround streets are full of chairs and tables.

We were too hungry to take a photo of the place, so here’s one from their website. At night, the verandas and surrounding streets are full of chairs and tables.

In the early days of Penang, Sir Francis Light selected a “Kapitan” for each ethnicity – Chinese, Malay and Indian – to dispense justice and make decisions for their communities, referring bigger issues to him. And clearly, thereby inspiring a restaurant name a couple of centuries later.

It’s pretty basic looking, and it was packed to the rafters. It offers every kind of local food.

Lady Devotea ordered Fish Biriyani In A Claypot and I the Black Pepper Chicken, vessel unspecified. We added some Mango Lassi each, and two breads – Cheese Naan and Onion Malay-style Roti.

Cheese naan and black pepper chicken.

Cheese Naan and Black Pepper Chicken.

When the naan arrived, first I started to rip it in half, pausing just to take a photo.

I often order black pepper anything, as I can’t tolerate chilli and it’s my fix of heat. I’ve found in Malaysia they take no prisoners with the black pepper, Even the pepper sauce offered with western food, such as a steak, is rather blam-blam on the palate. While scoffing the Black Pepper Chicken, I note the naan we had split was also as good as it looked. Both were short-lived and seemed to just evaporate.

1465559016709Lady Devotea’s Fish Biriyani arrived next, and she was moved to quote Masterchef judge Gary Mehigin’s phrase “party in my mouth”. I think we can be clear it wasn’t a tupperware party, children’s birthday party or even a political party, but more a “teenage-boy-left-alone-for-a-week-with-a-house-full-of-booze” kind of party.

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You know you want this: exceptional Onion Roti

Not being a fish eater or chilli, I can’t comment, but this little baby was sensational: a flaky malay-style roti. I watched the way they do these in Malaysia, they are different to Indian Rotis. Without going into the technique, they end up more like a paratha in terms of crisp flakiness. And this was, I have no doubt, one of the most delicious breads we have consumed over our 32 years and 3 day together. It’s a bread that will turn up in our “remember when…” conversations for years.

While slurping some lassi, I recklessly ordered more breads: a Kashmiri Naan and an Egg Roti.

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Mango lassi. I may have had seconds.

The egg in the roti was delicious, but textually it took away a lot of the flakiness, and the Kashmiri naan had an unwelcome surprise: candied orange peel, which meant I could not indulge due to allergies.

I wandered off to use the bathroom ( I won’t go into it, but not Kapitan’s finest feature), and on the way I passed an elderly Chinese woman who can be reasonably deduced as being very poor, homeless and visually impaired. She had moved onto a table as someone left with half a cup of tea undrunk, and she was remedying that.

Despite being stuffed to the gills, I also ordered a “Masala Tea” from the board from a passing waiter.

Shortly after I returned to the table, the elderly homeless woman swung by, looking for a few coins, and Lady Devotea did something that would have infuriated more than a few cafe/restaurant owners in Australia: she sat the lady down at the next table to ours, and furnished her with our uneaten Kashmiri Naan, some dahl and accompaniments.

This pleased the lady greatly. I guess reading this, you might wonder how the staff felt.

I saw the waiter approaching us with two cups of tea. My first thought was that there had been a mix-up, and although Lady Devotea had not ordered one, we were getting one each.

But no, the second cup was for the homeless woman, Our waiter had bought one for her himself. A great act of kindness and community spirit, and unlikely to be a one-off event.

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I stopped slurping this Masala Tea just long enough to take a photo.

And what sort of masala tea do you get from an inexpensive cafe in Georgetown? A damn sight better than you might have guessed. It was loaded with milk and sugar of course, but it also had an excellent spice blend. Again, black pepper was almost overplayed, with nice cinnamon tones, over top of a robust Assam tea.

The total bill was RM50 (AUD16, USD12) and having had a wonderful time, we tipped 40% on top. This led to a really comical scene, as our main waiter then ran about the restaurant with the proceeds, being chased by his co-workers demanding a share. I got the impression this was a regular occurrence, and something they all enjoy.

Our cold, uneaten street was still in the plastic bag, and it was 90 minutes after purchase, so we regretfully slipped in into a nearby bin as we felt it might not be hygienically sound.

Having had the best meal of our time in Penang, we found our way back to Lebuh Queen, purchasing some Indian sweets for later from the only stall still selling.

While reluctant to call a halt to our last night in Penang, the streets were emptying, so we wandered toward the bigger streets and found a taxi.

We certainly found the right taxi, but more on that next time.

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