Tea and Life, Tea History, Tea Stories, Uncategorized

She and He and Tea

Tea has been caught in the crossfire of a battle that is ostensibly between men and women for hundreds of years now.

Why bother, you might ask? You might say “Don’t we have gender equality now? Not only for men and women, but also every variation of gender and sexuality therein. It’s it, like, the law and everything”.

cycling twatWell, here’s a photo I snapped from the TV this week.  It shows a young man by the name of Jack Bobridge who was clever enough to win a stage of a bicycle race in my hometown of Adelaide.
And it shows two attractive young women, provided for the purposes of kissing his cheeks for the big photo opportunity.

Really? This is 2015? Even The Sun, the infamously sexist British newspaper has announced this week that the women they objectify on page 3 will no longer be topless. It’s start, I guess.

Of course, there’s more to it than attractiveness and showing some skin. The world is full of beautiful paintings of women (and men, though that’s not the point) and they all have one characteristic – they offer a multi-dimensional array of expression that The Sun could never have hoped to equal with its basic premise, which is “Mandy is a 36DD cup, here’s photographic proof.”

Returning to professional cycling, which is incredibly testosterone-fuelled (some competitors have actually been identified as injecting testosterone), I’m also going to note that it seems to often be identified with a beverage: coffee. It’s not coffee’s fault, but rather the attitude.

If you can ride a bike for a stupid amount of kilometres and drink a three shot latte, you must be a man. If you are the best in the world at it, you get the double kiss photo to prove your superiority to other men. The women are merely an indicator; a status symbol.

So, let’s turn to what women are doing about it, and where tea is involved. We’ll start in  1674, with an excerpt from the infamous petition against coffeehouses, which served coffee, tea and hot chocolate, and where men tended to hang out with other men:

“For besides, we have reason to apprehend and grow Jealous, That Men by frequenting these Stygian Tap-houses will usurp on our Prerogative of tattling, and soon learn to exceed us in Talkativeness: a Quality wherein our Sex has ever Claimed preheminence: For here like so many Frogs in apuddle, they sup muddy water, and murmur insignificant notes till half a dozen of them out-babble an equal number of us at a Gossipping, talking all at once in Confusion, and running from point to point as insensibly, and swiftly, as ever the Ingenous Pole-wheel could run divisions on the Base-viol; yet in all their prattle every one abounds in his own sense, as stiffly as a Quaker at the late Barbican Dispute, and submits to the Reasons of no othre mortal: so that there being neitherModerator nor Rules observ’d, you mas as soon fill a Quart pot with Syllogismes, as profit by their Discourses”

"Edenton-North-Carolina-women-Tea-boycott-1775" by Attributed to Philip Dawe - Edited from the image file http://memory.loc.gov/master/pnp/cph/3g00000/3g04000/3g04600/3g04617u.tif on the Library of Congress website.http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g04617http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a15070. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edenton-North-Carolina-women-Tea-boycott-1775.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Edenton-North-Carolina-women-Tea-boycott-1775.jpg

“Edenton North Carolina women Tea boycott-1775″ Attributed to Philip Dawe the Library of Congress Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -


There was another landmark instance of tea being involved in equality, and it was by women, but the issue was colonial rights, not gender equality. It was the boycott of British Goods, by women, and the famous Tea Party in North Carolina:

“As we cannot be indifferent on any occasion that appears nearly to affect the peace and happiness of our country, and as it has been thought necessary, for the public good, to enter into several particular resolves by a meeting of Members deputed from the whole Province, it is a duty which we owe, not only to our near and dear connections who have concurred in them, but to ourselves who are essentially interested in their welfare, to do every thing as far as lies in our power to testify our sincere adherence to the same; and we do therefore accordingly subscribe this paper, as a witness of our fixed intention and solemn determination to do so.”

Whilst it was the Tea Tax Act that precipitated this, tea was not the major issue, although it’s been maligned ever since in certain quarters.

Again, tea was used as a powerful symbol of an idea, and we still speak of another event as “the Boston Tea Party” today, although that term was not created until decades after the event it describes.

So at first, tea was part of the problem. It was mainly drunk by men (brewing it at home was not common or affordable back then) and was part of a system of exclusion of women.

How things changed. By the intercession of people such as Thomas Twinning, a market was created for women to buy tea (or have their servants do it) and brew it at home (or have their servants do it) and serve it to their friends (or have their servants do it).

The next innovations were tea rooms,  but it was in tea gardens where men and women could stroll, converse, take tea and pay court to each other that we see some stirrings  of equality.

By this time, in the mid to late 1800s, tea was no longer the enemy of women, but a neutral if reliable ally.

This changes with the temperance movement.

For much of human history, alcohol was a survival mechanism. Ales and wines protected against drinking the polluted city drinking water, and in many cases provided much-needed calories.
But as both sanitation and water quality improved, sugar became affordable and beverages made from boiling water became readily available, there was a reluctance to leave them behind.

But by the mid 1800s, pubs were in the same position as coffeehouses two hundred years earlier. In the 1600s men were avoiding going home to wine, ale and gin and spending their money and time drinking tea, coffee and chocolate with other men. By the time of the first stirrings of temperance in the 1820s, men were eschewing the tea, coffee and chocolate of home for the ale, wine and gin of pubs and spending their money there, drinking with other men.

It wasn’t just women leading the temperance movement, religion had a place. Early American temperance was more about not drinking whiskey on the Sabbath, and in 1847 the Rev Jabez Tunnicliff started preaching to children in Leeds, UK, on the evils of drink, eventually founding Band of Hope, a charity dedicated to rescuing young people from alcoholism. (It survives today as the drug and alcohol charity Hope.)

But with the exception of suffrage, few political movements are as identified with women as temperance. Indeed, many of the suffragettes learnt their craft as protesters for temperance, and its extreme cousin, the teetotal movement.

We often see in film, scheming women scheming over a cup of tea. It has become a signal of the female who takes charge, who has power or at least wants it. The Queen drinks it, and who’d ever argue with Her Majesty? No-one with any brains. She may no longer have the option of “Off with his head!” literally, but I think she’d be able to do it figuratively any day of the week.

Head into any really expensive tea room, and there’s a fair gender balance. But find a mid level one, putting on a nice afternoon tea, and it’s packed to the rafters with women. I’ve been the only male (other that serving staff) in a room of a few dozen tea drinkers on more than one occasion.

You have to wonder what it is all those women are plotting and scheming over tea and scones. The downfall of men? Peace on Earth? Theoretical Physics? Whatever happened to Corey Hart? Culottes vs Slacks? The enduring legacy of Lord Petersham and the overcoat he invented?

Probably all this and more. Although there’s one thing I’ve never overheard in a tea shop.

I’ve never heard women discussing their life’s ambition to kiss a sweaty, Lycra-clad, testosterone-fuelled cyclist.

Tea and Food, Tea and Life, Tea Retail, Tea Stories

Temperance Tantrum: Get Off My Lawn!

As I have remarked before, there is a tea for every emotion, every occasion.  I have many times mentioned those occasions and/or occasions.

I drink Lord Petersham* if Downton Abbey is on the TV. Doke Silver Needle (with corn chips on the side) if I have a migraine. 1910* if bacon and early morning conversation is on the menu. And so on.

When we owned our tea shop, we had a customer who would come in and describe her mood in one or a few words: ‘whimsical’, ‘running on empty’, ‘elated’ and ‘over-monsignored**’ remain in my memory. Each time, we’d select just the right tea.

Even as recently as a few days ago, a guy whose Queen instructional guitar videos I love  (James Rundle, look him up on facebook if you need to play any Queen song ever released) was posting from the line outside the current tour and then from within. I didn’t exactly count, but I think it was 3156 photos, 746 videos and 3761 observations. This led me to think: what tea goes with seething with jealousy? In the end I drank some Seaside Rendezvous*** to get with the vibe.

But this leads me to the point of today’s blog: what about times where quality tea is so ingrained that one does not need to think about? Where it is just expected? In this case: Afternoon Tea.

Whether you call it Afternoon Tea or High Tea (let’s not have that argument here) I’d have to say there is a massively worrying trend.

A few years ago such an event would consist of delectable comestibles, wave after wave of excellent loose leaf tea and for those who like to indulge, a glass of Pimms No 1 or perhaps a flute of champagne.

Often this is reflected in the way the pricing is presented. For example, the Dorchester in Park Lane has a price with or without a glass of champagne and with or without a glass or Pimms.

In other words, why not add a nice cold, alcoholic drink to your afternoon tea experience? And indeed, it’s a fair question.

But lately, I see two worrying trends:

  • The march back to loose leaf tea has been halted, with even quite large establishments seemingly believing that it’s OK to cheat your customers by using teab*gs.
  • The idea of unlimited alcohol packages.

What? Really? What? Really?

Part of this, I am sure, is an idea that as Afternoon Tea becomes less of an event to take your Mum**** to and more of a get-together by 20-somethings (a group I am old and grumpy enough to criticise), the venues may believe they are catering to the needs of a growing consumer segment.

But surely the environment of small treats and civilised conversation cannot stand up to the truly awful swathe of destruction caused by a group of young professionals who are off their noodles by 3.15 in the afternoon?

A group whose day has consisted of skipping breakfast, checking facebook because they can’t remember what they did the night before and then filling up on sugary cakes and sparkling wine might well behave themselves. They might also dance on tables. Who knows? It’s hard for proto-adults – as many under 30s actually are – to act in a civilised manner at the best of times.

Now, I must say over the years I have met many young people – the youngest being 4 – who take tea incredibly seriously and wouldn’t dream of misbehaving.

So, I’m going to mention the Temperance movement. The one either side of the turn of the 20th century.

Contrary to popular belief these days, it was not a campaign to stamp out alcohol (though that was its stupid conclusion in the US), it was an attempt to stamp out anti-social behaviour. Mostly men blowing their week’s wages on the way home in a bar or fighting and public drunkenness.

These days, we like to fight such issues by understanding the social pressures which lead to these occurrences, and good on us, we’re all really clever until it goes wrong and then in can’t be helped and we can all wring our hands. There’s a young irish tourist in Australia fighting for his life right now after a drunken punch from his brother.

Unlimited drink packages encourage people to drink unlimited drinks. Afternoon tea should be a relaxed, civilised affair. It’s not the perfect combination.

Wonderfully presented food and  quality teaware, filled with gorgeous tea, is not sullied by the presence of a jug of Pimm’s all kitted out with fruit and mint. It is sullied by obnoxious high pitched laughter, drunken arguments and someone vomiting on the ribbon sandwiches.

To take another tack, why promote these events as Afternoon Tea? Surely venues wishing to go down that path can thaw out some supermarket frozen cocktail pies, get some corn chips into a bowl and call it by a more suitable name, like Cocktail Party, Drinks Arvo or Barf-a-thon.

So, I say, Temperance 2015 starts here. Let’s get unlimited drink packages out of the tea rooms and get drunken family brawls back where they belong: at weddings and funerals.

Perhaps we won’t organise marches in the street, but we can start by gently and politely criticising those who promote such events.
Let’s do it over a cup of tea. Now, which one?


*Links are to the USA shop. Head here if the Australian store is required. The UK is currently not active.

** The lady in question worked for the Catholic Church as a librarian
***Not available in the USA, sorry. And being phased out in Australia.

**** Not my Mum. She has no tea palate whatsoever and is quite frankly an embarrassment. When she was in hospital once, she asked ME to take in her favourite brand of teab*gs. ME! The whole thing haunts me to this day.


Tea and Life, Tea History

A Trolley Good Time

The Tea Lady is virtually a mythical figure these days. Once an essential part of any medium sized business; the post is now reduced to a couple of stereotypes.

In my part of the world, they finally seem to have totally disappeared in the early 1990s, although the die was cast a couple of decades earlier.

I blame “Time and Motion Experts”. Remember those guys? They had a stopwatch and a calculator, and they stood behind people and worked out how much work they could pump out in a given time. Then workplaces such as factories could insist upon that work being completed.

I had a factory job on a muffler welding line when I was in my early 20s and every task had a number of seconds it was supposed to take. The reality was, when people got to the number of items they were supposed to have completed in a shift, they’d stop. Sometimes they’d go and help someone else who was behind in their work, mostly they’d hide outside in the yard with an iced coffee and a cigarette for an hour.

“Time and Motion” Experts have, over time, been shown up for the complete waste of resources they were. The standard version is a guy with a stopwatch, a calculator, a clipboard, an accounting degree and a complete lack of understanding of behavioral economics, who made stupid pronouncements, put in a large bill and then wandered off to cause misery and mayhem elsewhere.
And it was as business became entranced with these charlatans that the demise of the tea lady was complete.
There were other forces at work. The idea of a tea “lady” was bound to come up against notions of gender equality, and was unlikely to be a role that educated young women with the world at their feet would aspire to. Whereas previous generations of office workers could not leave their desks, the gradual phasing out of smoking in the workplace led to the extraordinary idea that nicotine junkies had the special status of being able to leave their workplace to indulge in their foul and anti-social habit every so often.

The ironic thing that underlies all of this is that tea ladies were mostly introduced during wartime to boost productivity.

Yes, it’s true. The theory being that if people who were working very hard on typical wartime pursuits such as moving information about, creating armaments or directing forces could be refreshed and energised with a nice hot cup of tea without leaving their station, more could be achieved.

And you know what- it worked.

Pretty obvious when you think about it. Slow release caffeine, topping up of bodily liquids, a sweet treat and a small bit of office gossip delivered in one hit. The perfect pick-me-up.

The same theory holds for a cup of coffee delivered in the same way, of course, except that coffee is not ideal as the caffeine is more of an instant hit and dissipates more quickly.

So, something that was introduced to boost productivity – and worked – eventually fell victim to various social forces including the just plain wrong assertion that removing it boosted productivity.

When I was working at a large company in the early 2000s, I simply took 15 minutes just before 11am and 3pm precisely and headed to the kitchen with my large teapot. As the hour struck, up to a dozen people from all over the building would drift in to share whatever tea I had bought along that day. Since a few of the people involved were quite senior, everyone assumed it was some sort of officially sanctioned activity. Eventually it lead to The Humorous Incident.

I’m a big fan of the meeting over a cuppa, and wherever I can, it’s something I indulge in. If you have to have a meeting, might as well have a teapot, I say.

It’s a fact, though, that many people in their workplaces cannot just pop out to meet a client or some other stakeholder over a brew as I like to. Many people cannot leave their station, whether it be the booth of a car park, the ninth cubicle in the second row on the left or a front counter.

I doubt there’s a better way to boost their morale, productivity and blood sugar than tea and a biscuit.

So, where to from here? Let’s be practical. How do workplaces bring back the tea lady?

It’s not via help-yourself methods such as vending machines or filthy teab*gs in the kitchen.

Vending machines in particular irk me, as they are full of corner shop type impulse buys – chocolate bars, potato chips, oat bars. The joy of a small biscuit or cake is often that they are not in your eyeline every time you buy a newspaper. And these machines dispense foul, substandard beverages. Powdered milk, or even worse, “non-dairy creamer”, which as I previously examined, is basically so wrong that it is used as an explosive and is not allowed to be sold as “creamer” in countries where it’s against the law to lie to your customers.

No! You can do so much better.

The first thing a workplace needs is a conveyance, be it trolley or tray, and a conveyor, which can well be someone who also has another task. Sadly, so few places have workplace cafeterias these days, which is an obvious place for a tea lady to work when not delivering tea.

We have to drop the “lady” as it is clearly not a gender-specific role. “Tea boy” is a well established alternative but just isn’t right. I myself was effectively the office tea lady for several years – and was called that – but we need a better term. So what to use?

Corporate speak would be “Beverage Requirement Facilitator” and I think we can safely say that’s a non-starter. We could borrow the word “sommelier” from wine, but I personally disapprove of using overblown winespeak – something I have opposed since Alexander Neckham’s remarks in 1240 or thereabouts, so that’s out.

“Trollista” is something I came up with, but rightly should be smacked about for. “Beverage Attendant” sounds wrong.

If you need to sell the idea to management, perhaps “Work Booster” is the best title.

Since I can’t actually come up with the perfect title, I’ll leave that for the comments.

But business needs to hear our clarion call. Do it now! Do it properly!

Teapots or large french presses or samovars or urns. Loose leaf tea. Biscuits (cookies) and/or small cakes. Sugar cubes. Proper milk. Drip filter coffee if you must.

Get your business trolleyed up and equipped to take on the world.

Bring back the tea lady. Give her a different title, lose the gender specification and add a flashing amber light if your Health and Safety requirements insist but bring “her” back!

There are so many workplace morale ideas that can now be implemented. Golden teacup of the day for outstanding effort. Special jam biscuit when it’s your birthday. Competitions to pick the week’s tea blend.

And when your company rises like a phoenix, slaying all it’s tealess competitors and becoming top of the heap, you’ll have the means on hand to enjoy a well-deserved celebratory tea.

And perhaps a really nice little cake.


Tea and Life

The Humorous Incident

In a blog post I am writing, and have been writing for a while, I mention The Humorous Incident.

Not the Hilarious Incident, not the SideSplitting Incident, but just a Humorous Incident. As I didn’t want to insert the details into an already lengthy blog, I’ve decided to relate it here.

And thus:

On the 25th of May, 2005 I started a new role, after a promotion. In addition to being Research Manager at the firm I worked for, I had now become Administration Manager.

This had many new responsibilities but the most startlingly obvious one was this: I now controlled kitchen expenditure, including the tea and coffee budget.

I filled in a petty cash voucher and the next day, took a large chunk of cash tea shopping.

I visited one of my favourite tea outlets, and had  a cup of a nice large-leaved Darjeeling.

It was so nice I asked for a kilo.

All talk ceased in the shop.

“A kilo?” asked the shopkeep, being more used to people buying 50 or 100 grams.

Nearby customers tried not to look like they were listening in.

“Yes indeed, Stout Providore” I replied (or something along those lines). “If you actually have a kilo. If it’s not… too much for you”.

The other customers were definitely sensing trouble in the air.

He raise the ante.

“I think I have… TWO kilos”.

Other customers edged toward the door. One got under his table. I wasn’t about to back down.

“Then I might as well have all of it”.

He produced two kilos of a light, airy large leaf Darjeeling in a sealed plastic bag. It looked like a see-though pillow of tea.

“And …” he added whilst the other customers quivered in or under their seats. “I have no brown paper bags left”.

“That’s OK” I retorted “I’ll take it.. as is”.

After this, the tension passed, and the other customers returned to their business, the pianola player started back up, I handed over $126 and departed.

Now, I may have confused some of this transaction with a Clint Eastwood film, but I’m definitely right about the $126. I remember the accounts department in Sydney querying it for months, with stupid remarks like “twice the annual tea budget”. Halfwits.

Anyway, we’re almost at the Humorous Incident.

I then proceeded to walk though the streets of Adelaide with two kilos of Darjeeling in a plastic pillow under my arm.

A gentleman of the hippie persuasion said to me in passing. “Right On, Man, Well Done”.

Obviously a tea fan, I thought.

A moment later a young lady passed me at a crossing. “I think that’s brilliant” she said.

“Wow”,  I thought. “People love tea in Adelaide”

A car went past honking its horn, and four young men within all gave me a thumbs up and yelled something I didn’t quite catch.

I got back to the office somewhat bemused, dispatched a minion to go buy some airtight jars and headed back to my office, just in time to hear the news on the radio.

On Thursday, May 26th 2005 an Australian woman, Schapelle Corby was convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia after a large pillow-sized bag of marijuana was found amongst her luggage as she entered Bali. It was a controversial case, with various allegations of corruption, dubious behaviour on both sides of the law and the resultant 20 year sentence sent shock waves throughout Australia.

I guess that night, a hippie, a young woman and four young men probably told their friends about the brave protester who was striding Adelaide’s street with a plastic pillow full of marijuana under his arm.






Tea and Life

It’s a Mugs Game

New Year’s Day is a time for reflection, and as I am writing this on just that day, I’ll reflect.

2014 was the best of times and the worst of times, to paraphrase Dickens, and over that year I blogged a little less due to being extremely busy, living in several different locations across the world and being quite angry at times. Now, most people who regularly read my blog would expect a bit of anger from me in midst of my rants, but I’m not talking about the righteous anger that is justified when I get a sub-standard cup of tea, but the sort of white-hot anger that has one thinking less about blogging and more about hiding the bodies.

During 2014 the ones I love and myself were subjected to appalling situations, and interacted with some very poor specimens of humanity, as well as meeting some really lovely people. It was a year where the bad guys were a lot more significant, though.

Our transient lifestyle means that our extensive collection of beautiful teacups was packed up in April, shipped in May and not seen since. Best guess at this point is late January.

So, the obvious question is: what have we drunk tea out of over the last seven months?

We’ve had nice cups while out and also standard coffee cups. We’ve had polystyrene and paper. We’ve stayed with friends with elegant tea glasses and IKEA coffee mugs. We’ve even had to put up with the hipster craze of putting everything in mason jars or milk bottles.

Along the way, we’ve been confronted with times when we just needed to buy a cup, any cup. And worse, the only place open or available was a supermarket.

Some of those we’ve brought out of necessity have been abandoned, lost or broken along the way, but as I write this our cupboard contains 4 supermarket-bought mugs.

So, when you are making a cup of tea and reading our blogs and posts, you might imagine that we are indulging in a big cuppa from one of these, which I present in chronological order of purchase:


JUNE: This 600ml mug is huge, and is from Tesco in the UK. We have a 600ml teapot so it is a perfect ‘tea for one’, assuming one wants a massive tea hit


AUGUST: This was one of three different mugs I bought as gifts for Lady Devotea, and our son and his girlfriend at Sainsbury’s in the UK This is the only one of the three that made it to the case.




OCTOBER: From Woolworths in Australia, this is from the Jamie Oliver range. With ‘Luscious and Lovely, just like my tea’ on it., I had to buy it for Lady Devotea.


DECEMBER: Lady Devotea gifted me with a fez-wearing superhero cat. “Cuppa Kitty To The Rescue” is my new favourite tea mug, from Target in Australia.










So, regardless of whatever is going on in your life, if you have a whimsical mug, great tea and your loved ones close by, it’s not all bad.

After all, both loved ones and tea are necessary when you have all those bodies to bury.


Service, Tea and Life

We Trust You

As a strictly loose leaf tea vendor, we are offering our customers something that teab*g vendors never can: trust.

Taking aside all of the other reasons to not buy teab*gs – poor work practices on mega-plantations, lack of quality, a desire to not have staples, glue, paper or plastic in your tea – the very idea of them is one of distrust.

Teaba*g vendors are, in effect, saying:

  • We do not trust you to measure out the correct amount of tea
  • We do not trust you with tea making implements – a strainer is far too complicated for you
  • We do not trust you to organise your life sufficiently that you have four minutes to make tea

By delivering a risk free, effort free, complication free – and usually taste-free – solution to a problem people never had, the teab*g has become an insidious and ubiquitous symbol of the dumbing down of Western society.

But hang on, why are we dumbing down? We have the internet! We can Google stuff! If we want to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangular frame to make a chicken shed roof, or work out how long to cook a turkey for, or how much the repayment is on a ten year loan,  or learn the guitar solo to Bohemian Rhapsody, or calculate how much fuel you’ll need to burn down the extension your neighbour built that blocks your view across the valley, it’s all there.

It’s like a conspiracy where the conspirators and the conspired against are conspiring. “Yes, we are stupid. Please help us by giving us a product for we don’t need, to emphasise that:

  • No, we are not capable of using a measuring spoon
  • No we do not understand gravity
  • No, we cannot find a couple of extra minutes in our day as we have the time management skills of a wounded racoon”

A few years ago, I described restaurants and cafes who used teab*gs: ” lazy, uncaring and have no interest in quality. Oh, and stupid as well.” I accused them of basically stealing their customers’ money. Comments I still stand by.

But customers have to take some of the blame.

Even me. In most places that have teab*gs, I have hot chocolate these days. I usually don’t want it, but it’s the easiest hot beverage to make palatable and if a cafe doesn’t trust their staff to make proper tea, I’m not going to trust them to make a cappuccino.

Think about that. If a barista is incapable or unwilling to spoon out tea, add hot water and press a timer, then how is that a suitable person to handle dangerous hot equipment, well roasted coffee beans and a steam wand?

So, the message is simple. Trust is a two-way street.

If a vendor has so little trust in you that they feel the need to encase their tea in a paper or bio-plastic* bag, why would you trust them to deliver great quality tea?


*That’s the stuff they make teab*gs that are often deceptively called “silky” or “silken” from.



I’ll Fire You All For Christmas

The following is a Sony Pictures corporate email our friends at the North Korean Embassy have forwarded to us, along with a note that they did not hack it and merely found it on a bench at a bus stop in Pyongyang.  

To: Senior Executive Team

From: Michael Lynton, CEO, Sony Pictures USA

November 1st, 2014

Subject: I’ll fire you all for Christmas

Look guys, back during the Smurfs 2 fiasco, I warned you all that the whole damn lot of you could be fired if anything quite so revolting happened again.

Well dammit, don’t any of you turkeys listen? Seriously, the frozen head of my old boss Walt Disney has more sense.

I just came into my office and found some new guy poking around.

The poor guy had no idea where he was or what he was doing. Seemed a nice young man, good manners, though I’m not sure that a North Korean soccer top is ideal workwear, even on Casual Friday. People might think we hire commies.

Anyhoo, the guy seemed pretty nervous, and bowed a lot.  I’m not sure who hired this guy but he threw himself on the floor when he saw me, begging for my forgiveness for “Disturbing My Most Esteemed Personage” . You lot could learn a bit from him.

When I found him, he was poking around over behind my computer. He was even pulling some of those thumb drive things in and out of my computer, searching thoroughly and diligently.

I asked him what we was looking for. He looked a bit confused, I don’t think English is his main language, but then he told me it was teabags.

Teabags? Goddam filthy teabags.

I don’t know how many memos, emails, personal edicts I have had to send you guys about tea.

Here at Sony, we only drink The Devotea’s Lord Petersham. It’s our official tea. It’s in every kitchen.

And yet, I have to find out from a new employee that one of you is sending someone to my office to find disgusting, revolting, appalling, criminally bad teabags.

I’m the President of the damn company and yet it’s up to ME to have to instruct a new employee on our tea policy? Goddammit, I even had to show him the policy by logging onto my computer and letting him spend an hour or so browsing our system for policies. What OTHER policies are you guys not enforcing? The cake policy? The scone policy?

Seriously, the next one of you that fails to toe the line can forget about working on Spiderman 17 or the new Mario thing, I’ll transfer your ass to Pop Girl and reduce you to a six-figure salary.

Anyway, I’ve made the new guy, Kim-il-Spi, my new Semi Assistant Deputy Vice President for Tea. He’s suggested that I have him go though all of your computers and filing cabinets looking for instances where any of you may have deliberately ignored the tea policy, and I’ve agreed. Please send him your log-ins and passwords to info@embassyofthegloriouspeoplesrepublicofnorthkorea.com

I’m thinking of taking the rest of the year off to get over this. I can’t imagine anything worse that might happen to our company this year.

Anyway, I’ll sign off  now as I have to go meet the new James Bond. Remember, it’s top secret as I’m stringing along a few high profile actors’ agents in the hope of a new yacht for Christmas.

Do better, guys.


Tea and Life

Nerd? Geek? Or Maybe Just Better Than You?

When was it that ‘nerd’ became a pejorative term for someone who does things properly? If you take the time to use punctuation correctly, all of a sudden you’re a “grammar nerd”.
Yet it isn’t applied universally. Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t called a “soccer nerd”. Win a chess tournament, you’re a chess nerd, but bowl a perfect 300 game in tenpin bowling and no-one calls you a “bowling nerd”.
What is disturbing is the rush to own the term. Why should we celebrate this? People proudly “outing” themselves as grammar or punctuation or political or word or tea nerds.

Of course, let’s take the last one.

But first, a side journey into “geek”. Geek is a related word, for those of us nerdy or geeky enough to care.

The Free dictionary defines “nerd” as:

1. A foolish, inept, or unattractive person.
2. A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.

And defines “geek” as:

a. A person regarded as foolish, inept, or clumsy.
b. A person who is single-minded or accomplished in scientific or technical pursuits but is felt to be socially inept.
2. A carnival performer whose show consists of bizarre acts, such as biting the head off a live chicken.
So, not much difference, except that nerds are uglier than geeks and less prone to bite the heads off chickens.
Anyway, tea nerds. tea geeks. What was I saying?
Oh yes, the pejorative aspects.
It doesn’t matter whether we are defined by others, or choose to label ourselves as either. What is wrong is the underlying assumption that there is something wrong with us.
There is a blog called Tea Nerd, although it appears inactive over the last three years, and the exceptional and ironically named Michael J. Coffey has a store/blog/wiki thing called Tea Geek. Good luck to both of them. The latter even has the tagline “A Socially Unacceptable Level of Tea Knowledge” or something similar, from memory.
But the very labelling makes assumptions.
When the side blogging project the Beasts of Brewdom was set up, I wrote the “about”section to address a similar and just as objectionable theme, that drinking tea is somehow not masculine. Here it is:

Men! : Specifically, tea-drinking Men!

Are you fed up with being stereotyped, just because you drink tea?

If they don’t think you’re some foppish panty-waist with a peerage, they think you’re a beanie-clad navvy with a Thermos of Liptons.

Well, it’s time to tell ‘em to stick it. We’re LOUD, PROUD and REEKING of TANNINS.

The Beasts of Brewdom are a collective of tea bloggers that aren’t afraid to thumb their nose at convention; to swear, to rant, to muse, to wonder and to drink an insanely manly amount of tea. None of your effeminate macchiato-sipping poseurs here.

If you eschew cola for a brew; if you can take down a bison with one arm whilst filling a teapot; if you can skull a mug of hot Lapsang Souchong and shout “Please Sir, Can I have another other”, then welcome to the Beasts of Brewdom!

It may be a different topic, but in many ways it’s the same, and that is that the preference for tea is not an indicator for a bunch of other personality or lifestyle factors.

Evil geniuses drink tea. Opera lovers drink tea. Incredibly wealthy individuals drink tea. Chinese peasants drink tea. Dr. Oz drinks tea. Royalty drinks tea. I am none of these.*

I drink tea. That’s doesn’t mean I’m socially inept**. It doesn’t mean I can quote π to 10 decimal places***. It doesn’t mean I bite the heads off of live chickens****. It doesn’t mean I believe it will make me live to 150 years old and guard me from ever getting sick*****.

It means I like drinking tea.

And because I like it, I like to make it well, with quality tea and all the care and attention I can muster. And when I’m thinking about making tea, I’m really not wasting any brainpower on what anyone else might think.

After all, there’s cake to think about as well.


*I'll take a job as an Evil Genius, if the pay is good, I get sufficient holiday time and I like the white cat that comes with the job.
**It doesn't mean I'm not.
*** I can.
**** I don't.
***** Don't get me started.
Tea and Food, Tea and Life, Tea Retail

I’m stupid? No, YOU’RE Stupid!

All thoughts of that lovely, historical, whimsical post that I had planned for this week (after delaying it from last week) were swept away as a red mist descended across my eyes.

Who are YOU calling Stupid?

It started with a news item about the latest weapon in the War. War with a capital ‘W’, of course.

But which War? The War on Terror? The War on Drugs? The War on Poverty? The War on Crime? The War on Morris Dancing? The War on Climate Change? The War on Teab*gs? The War on Poverty?

Everything’s a war these days. If Isaac Newton was publishing Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica these days, The Laws of Gravity would be called  “The War on Stuff Not Floating Away”.

But in this case, it’s the War on Obesity.

I really, really dislike the War on Obesity. Not because it’s not worthy, but because of the incredibly earnest types that form the front line troops.

They front up to news conferences with alarming statistics about heart attacks and diabetes, whilst conveniently leaving the statistics of the cost of repairing people who take to the streets with just shiny lycra and insurmountable smugness as their defence against cars, and never breathe a word about the legions of people treated for organic free-trade locavore kale overdoses every day in our major hospitals.

The biggest problem I have, though, is the reason they held this press conference: They are calling me stupid.

You see, these thinocrats have discovered the underlying cause of obesity: it’s stupidity. Fat people are stupid.

You see, we can’t read a label. We don’t understand. We don’t know that butter is actually just fat. We have no idea that there is more sugar in a glass of cola than there is in a lettuce. If we only knew that a hamburger, fries and coke were nutritionally inferior to a kale and lentil burger on spelt flatbread with beansprouts and a celery mousse, we’d all be heading for the nearest hipster eating houses quicker than you can say “Quinoa and Spiroulina Roulade, my good man!” .

So the Australian Government, in its wisdom*, is introducing a star rating system. We all know how that works, right? Like a movie review, except that a movie review lets you know how much you might enjoy something; whereas a five star rating for an absence of sugar and fat is actually letting you know how much you might not.

But what if they are wrong? What if many fat people actually do know this? What if obesity is a complex issue with a range of physical, physiological, mental, hormonal and social factors?

The War on Obesity is actually the most extreme of all the Wars. In contrast to merely pointing at the lack of intelligence demonstrated by being overweight, there are medical people lined up to excuse drug use: If you are lying in a gutter using a dirty needle to inject heroin paid for by prostitution, you’ll get more sympathy, an acknowledgment of the complexity of your problems and absolutely no-one calling you stupid. Even terrorists get to see foreign affairs specialists pop up on TV with tales of underlying contributory facts and how they are simply misguided when they decide to blow themselves up in a crowded market. The drug user has an illness; the terrorist is responding to socio-ethnic imperialist oppression and the fat guy is just a moron. Get on a bike and munch on some spinach, Fatty, and your troubles will be over!

But perhaps I just don’t understand all this, being overweight and therefore having less firepower in my head that a sustainably-grown savoy cabbage does.

Let’s find out.

I went to the official government site and downloaded the official calculator, all officially, and after absolutely promising that I would treat the macros with as much care as a hydrogen bomb, the spreadsheet begrudgingly agreed to answer my questions.

I picked one of our teas: Lord Petersham.

  1. It has no fat. So, there’s a 0 in that column.
  2. Black tea has a tiny amount of natural sugar. Let’s call it 2 grams per 100, though that’s most likely an exaggeration.
  3. Tea leaves naturally can contain a small amount of sodium, let’s use a massively exaggerated 4 %. That’s less than a tenth of the sodium in some fresh tuna, which is the sort of comestible that has nutrition groupies gasping with desire.
  4. There are traces of protein in tea, let’s call it 1%.
  5. Fibre’s a tricky one. You could always eat the leaves, but that’s not really standard. Call it 0.
  6. It’s generally considered that a cup of unsweetened tea has between 0 and 1 calorie, so we will add the whole 1.

So, how many stars does it get? I was hoping for 4.5. I think you get points for fibre, so 5 is probably out of the question.

After all, this is a beverage almost universally recommended by nutritionists and dieticians. It is the world’s most popular beverage. It helps people maintain a healthy lifestyle. And in my case, it’s the healthiest regular product in my diet. Much as I love yoghurt, fruit, lean meat and celery**, I don’t have them virtually every meal, and between meals, as I do tea.

So I pressed the button.


 Yes, TWO stars. Not five, or four, or even three and a half.

So, why are all these lovely earnest health wonks, who earnestly work for the government and earnestly have my welfare at heart, advising me against tea?

I don’t get it.

Perhaps I’m too stupid.


*We all know what “in it’s wisdom” means, right? 

**Ok, not celery

Tea and Life, Tea Retail

The Tea Break That Never Came

My original blog of this week will become my blog of next week, and this week has been rather trying.

Not for me, apart from minor issues of earache, toothache and headache, it’s been a good week otherwise. It’s been far worse for many others.

In Ferguson, Missouri, USA, a Grand Jury listened to a bunch of witnesses telling contradictory stories, then decided not to go ahead with a trial to work out who was telling the truth. I thought that odd. Thousands of Americans and others protested this decision, peacefully, online or in person. Sadly, thousands also decided that robbing a shop-owner of their livelihood or torching a family car could make things OK.

The “Black Friday” sales in the US & UK have also provided uncomfortable footage of greed and people acting like wild animals.

Wild storms in Brisbane have damaged incredible amounts of property and thankfully not claimed any lives.

But in Australia this week, there is only one news story:Phil Hughes.

As regular readers realise, I can never mention the greatest sport in the world- cricket- without a few humorous remarks about other, inferior sports. But not this week.

On Tuesday, my state’s team, The South Australian Redbacks, was playing the New South Wales State team. Our opening batsman, Phil Hughes, knew that a good performance was likely to earn him a spot in the Australian team to play India next week.

He grew up in, and started playing cricket in NSW. He was batting well against many of his former teammates, when a good friend of his, Sean Abbott, bowled an excellent delivery.  Phil misread it, and ended up out of position. He turned his head, and the ball somehow struck him just outside of the grille of his helmet, on the neck.

The ball split an artery. A moment later, he collapsed.

The usual outcome of such an outcome is instant death, but thanks to on-ground medical staff and a trauma specialist who was in the crowd, he was revived and taken to St Vincent’s Hospital. After surgery and two days, he passed away, at age 25.

The injury was so unusual, St Vincent’s – a major Sydney hospital – had never seen one before.

The collective outpouring in Australia and elsewhere has been incredible. I could list the hundreds of tributes to show this, but it is exemplified by the 2 minutes and 7 seconds it took Australian Cricket Captain Michael Clarke to read a prepared statement – it seemed like 10 minutes – or the footage from the Pakistan vs New Zealand match in Dubai, where a whole day’s play was conducted in virtual silence, with no loud appealing, no celebrating of wickets or great scores.

The most notable emotion in Australia, and everywhere from Buckingham Palace to an Elton John gig in Germany, has been quiet respect.

And so, on what would have been Phillip Joel Hughes’ 26th Birthday, I find myself sitting quietly with an early morning cup of simple Keemun, pondering the Tea Break that never came.