Satire, Tea and Food, Tea and Life


I get asked questions all the time, here’s one from little Mandy of Manchester, UK:

Dear Lord Devotea, do you condone biscuit-dunking in tea?

It’s a vexed question, Mandy, and I’ll try to answer it succinctly:


As succinct as that is, I’ll have to add a few qualifiers. About nine pages’ worth, if I’m on my usual form.

Firstly, it has to be your tea and your biscuit, or between consenting adults. Random dunkage can be a social faux pas. You might be the best friend I ever had, but slip the tip of your jaffa cake* into my silver needle and you may get a very stern talking to, or even a hint of violence. If you are at a garden party with the Queen and you choose to graze the top of Her Maj’s Puttabong with your Pfeffernüsse** , you may be shown the door.

SIDEBAR: As a large portion of my readership is American, I may have to just mention once more that: (a) a biscuit is a small, usually sweet baked good, not the odd scone-like things Americans put gravy on at breakfast (b) ‘cookie’ is a word that sounds to my sensibilities like a word for four-year-olds. If you could just all fix that, it would be grand. Thanks.

Sunshine biscuit

JAM DROPS, FANCIES OR DODGERS: Vanilla based or floral teas work well, mid length dunk style about 3/4 of a second

The next point is, there are some times when you ought to not do it. Here’s a list:

  1. When your biscuit is coffee flavoured
  2. When your biscuit is so dry and crumbly that it will not survive the dunk
  3. When you are being offered tea as a professional taster
  4. If the tea is made from a teab*g (as you should be throwing it on the ground and storming out, taking your biscuit with you)
  5. If you think it might cause cultural offence

An example of the last one is this: If you are in a bamboo hut, sitting on a mat, admiring a stick in a jug with a single blossom on it and there’s lots of bowing, you may be partaking in a Japanese tea ceremony. Chances are that some form of thin, grassy unpleasant tea will be placed in front of you. Now, you and I know that slipping an almond biscotti out of your pocket and giving it a dunk is going to improve the experience for you, but your host is trying to impress you with quality of the tranquillity and the zen-ness of the rush matting. The crunching sound of the almonds will carry like a rifle shot across a serene lake, and everyone will be looking at you instead of admiring the teapot. Best to fake a seizure and then head home for a cuppa.

So, our next point, is technical biscuit selection. You just have to get this right.

Chocolate chip biscuits

CHOC CHIP: Dunk into an Assam or Keemun. Mid-length dunk style, about 3/4 of a second

I’ve added a pictorial guide down the side of this blog for your reference.

Timing is also of utmost importance. Basically, the scientific formula for dunking is this:


Where T is the optimal length of time to dunk. It is the time you are aiming for.

C is the crumbling point. It is the moment the biscuit subsides into your tea.

A is A bit of time. That is, a short interval of time before the crumbling point, where your biscuit should be pulled.

Finally, P is the Post- dunk subsidence allowance. That’s where you subtract a little more time, to avoid subsidence after you remove the biscuit.

Tea time biscuits

RICH TEA / SHORTBREAD : In an out style, quyick as you can or you get a cup full of sogginess. Great with a nice white.

And, believe me, post-dunk subsidence is to be avoided at all costs.

Imagine the scene:

You are visiting your fiancée’s spinster aunt, who made a fortune in bouclé and chenille futures ahead of the great knitting yarn shortages of the late 1970s. She is deciding upon whom to bestow her millions: your beloved other half, the Macramé Museum of Montana or a Shelter for Incontinent Cats in Santa Cruz de la sierra, Bolivia.

You are introduced, and the aunt sees you as a nice young man. Out comes the tea, and some Garibaldis****.

Halfway through the aunt’s recollection of meeting Andy Warhol in a public bathroom in New York***** in 1968, you idly dunk. You are so captivated by the Aunt’s tearful recollection of this major life event, you let your biscuit linger a little too long.

Gingerbread Biscuit

HARD GINGER BISCUIT: Absolutely dunkable in a lovely Darjeeling, give it a full second to soften.

You extract it hurriedly, and to your amazement, the biscuit is still whole. Your move it toward your mouth, but suddenly time seems to slow down, and you watch in horror as a slight downward movement of the far corner of the biscuit becomes a wobble, becomes a trickle, becomes an avalanche of crumbs and dried fruit into your lap.

Instinctively, you leap up, and this action projects the assortment of wet clumps and sultanas across the coffee table and pure white linen settee, and before you know it, your partner is offered the whole lot, on condition that she marry that nice chap Crispin from down the road,  and security is escorting you from the building.

Yes, post-dunk subsidence. It’s a major issue, and unlike the silent crime of a cup full of biscuit, it’s as plain as the nose on your face and the shortbread on your trousers.

My short summary here is just an overview, there is obviously a lot more to be said on the topic.

I haven’t even mention tea slamming with Tim Tams******. But that is for another day.





* A Jaffa Cake is a badly-named biscuit

** A Pfeffernüsse is well-named biscuit (if you speak German)

*** Almond Biscotti is also a well-named biscuit, if you mix English and Italian

**** Garibaldi biscuits are named after an Italian revolutionary. Who knew? In Australia they are called by the more evocative but less exotic “Full’o’Fruit’

***** Obviously the aunt has lost her marbles. There are NO public bathrooms in New York City.

****** Tim Tams are called Penguins in the UK. Actually, Arnotts nicked the idea from Penguins. And named them after a Kentucky Derby Winner.

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 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

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

It’s Happening Now

A year ago today, on our Wedding Anniversary, Lady Devotea and I were having a bit of an adventure.

We were in Las Vegas, having flown in the day before. It was the day before World Tea Expo and we had a dazzling array of stuff to look at, sights and sounds to absorb, book launches to be at and afternoon teas to attend.

It seems so much more than a year ago, but it isn’t. Today is once again our Wedding Anniversary. 28 fantastic years.

I’ve been quiet of late, hinting at stuff happening, but not blogging much.

The truth is, we’ve been working on a project that is huge for us. And whilst I would like to have announced it in March, and in my birthday post in April, and almost did in my last post for Lady D’s birthday: at no point have I been able to say for certain what the immediate future holds for us.

Until today.

We are spending our anniversary in a hotel in Adelaide, and it is our last day in Adelaide. We have sold up. We are moving on.

I’ve lived here since 1983, Lady D since the early 70s. Two thirds of my life: my entire adult life, I’ve been a person residing in Adelaide, South Australia.

The seeds of change were sown by our trips to the UK/Europe two years ago and for me particularly, America. I loved the energy, the welcome and the optimism. I must say I returned feeling a bit dissatisfied with my life and work here.

Not so much the tea – our pop-up tea shops were a great source of delight in particular – but the HR consulting work we had been doing for years was starting to get really dull. And clients were nervous about the economy.

I couldn’t reconcile the staid conservatism and caution here with the extravagant energy and enthusiasm of everywhere* we’ve been in the last few years that was not here: Thailand. London. America.

And so, it happened. Lady D and I were mid-karaoke one day in January and we got a Facebook message from a cousin of my good Lady. A couple of “how are you?” type-messages were exchanged.

Then, as Tom Jones‘ “Sex Bomb” started, a two-sentence business proposal was put to us. And before the song was finished, we had accepted.

What followed was months of intense work, putting together a business plan to make our newly acquired dream a reality. Most if it throughout the night.

By early March, we’d put together the greatest plan ever. And we received a crushing blow when it seemed all for nothing.

A month later, we were working on Plan B, when we got the news that the people we had lost out to had pulled out. It was back on.

That was four months ago. In that time we have re-written the plan four times. We’ve had wins and we’ve had setbacks. Times when it was so close we could touch it. Times when it seemed impossible. We had marathon days of 24 to 30 hour of continuous work; other days where nothing happened at all.

And so here we are.

It’s not all gone to plan, but it’s happening. It’s happening now.

We are in a hotel room, as I said, surrounded by huge suitcases. Our furniture and household effects have been partly sold off, partly put into storage, and partly loaded onto a cargo ship. Our cats are residing in a four star kitty hotel in Melbourne, awaiting a tearful reunion in about 5 weeks.

Our beautiful house, where our children went from teenagers to fledglings and then flew the nest, became the place we ourselves flew from when it changed hands yesterday, gone to a lovely couple with three children of their own.

This is our last day in Adelaide. The Devotea Australia has been handed over to one of our sons to manage.

Tomorrow, we board the plane for England, and a new life.

Our business partners this week took over a traditional English Pub in a wonderful village 40 minutes from London.

We will be living and working there, after some remodelling (of the pub, not us!).

The most important part of that remodelling for all of our tea friends will be this: the fifty seat Devotea-branded tea rooms that will form part of the complex.

We will take the opportunity to relaunch our on-line business the UK, and we don’t believe this will be the only Devotea tea room in England. There will be more to come.

It’s not all plain sailing from here. I’ll have to spend some time back in Australia obtaining the right work visa which will mean a bit of frustration and twiddling my thumbs. The building needs a lot of work. There are renovations to both the pub and the living quarters.

The past six months or so of work may well pale into insignificance compared to the next six. We will need all of our boundless energy and enthusiasm. We’ll need all of Lady D’s skills in remodelling the space to transform it from “room in pub” to “tea room/cafe/bistro” (as well as the other spaces), and we plan to launch that side of the complex July-ish.

So, there you have it.

Its all happening.

And it’s happening now.


* Obviously not France
Service, Tea and Food, Tea and Life, Tea Retail

The Big Eight – A Food Service Nightmare

Tea is pretty simple.

When you serve tea in a commercial setting, you can be mostly relaxed about causing allergic reactions.

Of course, you need to filter the water and boil it properly. Tap water can be dangerous and trigger allergies in some cases, as this medical paper on pesticides suggests.

But mostly, tea should be free of the “Big Eight” Allergy causing foodstuffs:  eggs, milk, fish, shellfish, nuts from trees, groundnuts, soy and wheat.

Obviously, it’s easy to just not put milk in tea, and to put soy milk in if someone wants it ‘milky’ but cannot tolerate milk but can tolerate soy, or to put almond milk in if someone cannot tolerate milk or soy but can tolerate tree nuts, or too…hang on, maybe it’s not that easy.

Some flavoured teas have chips made of vegetable protein with flavouring sprayed on them. The vegetable protein is often made from soy beans.

Now that’s confusing.

Add food and you get a whole new dimension.

Take my own allergy, which is not one of the listed one: citrus. This allergy surprises people because it knocks out Earl Grey Tea (flavoured with oil from a citrus tree), most cheesecakes (lemon as a setting agent), fruit cakes/ hot cross buns/Christmas fruit mince pies (lemon/orange peel is cheap and filling and therefore popular in them), dried apples and sun-dried tomatoes (lemon juice to preserve colour) and virtually every dish ever made in Greece, Spain or the Middle East. It’s often found in commercial tomato juices, in biscuits, in curries: it’s everywhere!

And my allergy is unusual, so I get that it’s awkward. Every time I fly I list the allergy, every time I get a meal full of citrus. According to Delta staff, there are 7 “tick boxes” for special meals, and as ‘citrus-free’  isn’t one of them, they just don’t care. It’s not like you can eat next door if you are unhappy!

But when it comes to the more prevalent allergies and conditions, every tea shop and café/bistro owner needs to be aware of the danger posed to potential customers.

The best source of information is the customer themselves. Everyone is different. For example, as a result of my citrus allergy, I have an irrational fear of orange or yellow coloured sweets. Give me a bag of jelly beans or jubes and I’ll fall on them with a vengeance, but I’ll hand back half a bag of yellow and orange ones. I may look sideways at the green ones too. I know that makes no sense. I don’t expect other people to guess it.

When we have been serving food and/or tea to the public, we’ve always worked on three principles:

  1. Think ahead and have a few items that suit common allergies and conditions or lifestyle choices: Coeliac Disease, Diabetes, Vegetarianism
  2. Make everything fresh, so the person who made the food can talk directly to the customer if needed
  3. Be flexible, especially if the customer is also

You can’t please everyone: one day a man marched into our tea shop and up to the gelati counter, screamed “THIS IS NOT VEGAN” and then marched out.

That guy? Not going to please him. And quite frankly, he wasn’t welcome back. Not that we ever saw him again, probably because of our hideously non-Vegan ways.

Coeliac Disease is one of the more interesting ones. Way back in 2007, we used to keep a supermarket brand of gluten-free frozen bread in the freezer in case anyone asked, wrapped in sets of two slices. Saxon AKA Devotea Junior was our chef, and he insisted. I thought the product was unpalatable rubbish.

Saxon was right.

People who suffered this disease were incredibly grateful that they could get a piece of tiny, hard, flavourless toast substitute under their eggs or around their burger. It was an important lesson.

Since then, Lady Devotea has ensured that every pop-up tea shop had a gluten-free offering, usually made with something like almond flour. Often they were the tastiest thing on the menu. Sometimes she steeped them in orange syrup just so I could be trusted alone in the van with them, I think.

Cost is an issue. Almond flour can be more than ten times the cost of wheat flour. Naturally this is reflected in the final price.

And higher prices are attractive to some food outlets for the worst of reasons. People everywhere are trying a gluten-free diet in pursuit of of other health goals, not due to having Coeliacs. Manufacturers can charge more for gluten-free, whether it is actually gluten-free or not.

Here’s an example: At Domino’s in the USA, you can pay extra for a “Gluten Free Crust” that comes with the warning “not recommended for Coeliac sufferers” .

I understand how cafes and restaurants play the percentages. If less than 1% of the population can’t tolerate gluten, less than 2% are vegetarian, less than 0.4% have an allergy, why spend money catering for them?

It’s a valid argument if you accept the premise. But I don’t!

The reason I don’t is that gluten or meat or shellfish or milk are not compulsory in all dishes. And you do not need to make a special effort just be aware of what you do.

I’ve never met a true (human) carnivore. Most people are omnivores: it doesn’t stop them enjoying a vegetarian lasagne!

When we have offered a wide variety of items at a Pop-Up teashops, we have to guess how many we can sell in 4 or 5 hours. And on many occasions, we had to break the bad news to a Coeliac sufferer.

“Well, we HAD some gluten free almond and raspberry cake, but it sold out first.”

Food for thought.



Tea and Food, Tea and Life, Tea Retail

Sukret te gate: It’s the ‘Sugar Tea Gate’ Scandal

Most of you reading this can recall a scandal, even if vaguely.

In America, there was a president who said “I am not a crook” Another who said “I DID NOT have sex with that woman”. And another who said “mumble mumble recroootament mumble”. All scandalous. All untrue. Admittedly, I’m guessing about the last one.

In Britain there were spy scandals all over the place, usually involving politicians, Russian spies and women of negotiable affection. It seems that the way to a man’s heart is not through his stomach after all.

In Australia, we’ve had a few. An entire football team (Australian Rules) turned out to be drug cheats, a Nurse’s Union official turned out to be using thousands of dollars in union funds for one-on-one meetings with young ladies who weren’t even nurses (but were willing to dress up as one for a few bucks extra, no doubt)  and a horse that was basically painted to look like another horse won a few races.

But Norway? There’s a country that has been relatively free of scandal.

Sure, some of the alleged sons of Ragnar Lodbrok such as Ivar the BonelessBjörn IronsideHalfdan RagnarssonSigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and Ubbe Ragnarsson may have done a lot of pillaging back in the day. And most of us would recall the scandal of 1824 when Bredo Henrik von Munthe af Morgenstierne had to resign as  a Parliamentary deputy after it was found out that he’d lied about whether the king of Sweden/Denmark had slipped him a wad of cash.

Nevertheless, dear readers, I bring you news today of a scandal that I believe will shake Norwegian society to its core. And even non-Norwegians reading this will suffer at least one shudder of distaste, probably more.

Thanks to a tip off from a regular reader who goes by the delightful name of @tea_choc on Twitter, I’ve been made aware of some research done on behalf of a TV station.

To quote:

TV 2 hjelper deg» har fått det anerkjente laboratoriet Eurofins til å analysere to typer te-poser: Twinings Green Tea & Lemon og Lipton Green Tea Indonesian Sencha Tradition

Or, as Mr Google would have it:

TV 2 help has gotten the recognized laboratory Eurofins to analyze two kinds of tea bags: Twinings Green Tea & Lemon and Lipton Green Tea Sencha Indonesian Tradition

So, why do we care? Because of the result:

I den ene typen te dere leverte til oss fant vi tjue prosent sukrose i teposene.
I den andre typen te fant vi fem prosent sukrose, altså vanlig rørsukker, sier Nina Dyrnes, salgssjef i Eurofins Norge.
Twinings Green Tea & Lemon inneholder mest sukker, hele tjue prosent. Liptons Green Tea Indonesian Sencha Tradition inneholder fem prosent sukker. Det står det ingenting om på pakkene.


In one type of tea you delivered to us, we found twenty percent sucrose in teabags.
In the second type of tea we found five percent sucrose, ie table sugar, says Nina Dyrnes, Sales Manager at Eurofins Norway.
Twinings Green Tea & Lemon contains the most sugar, (a) whole twenty percent. Lipton Green Tea Sencha Indonesian Tradition contains five percent sugar.

It says nothing about it on the packages.

WHAT? This tea has been ameliorated – at up to TWENTY PERCENT – with sugar – and it’s NOT MENTIONED ON THE PACKAGING!

This is basically substituting sugar for tea. It’s the most appalling substitution racket since sheep’s dung was used to make smuggled tea go further in 1700s England. Or is it? What do the manufacturers say?

Unilever (Lipton)  emailed TV2 to explain that they use maltodextrin as part of the flavouring, and that Maltodextrin contains sugar, but in such small quantities that it does not make the tea sweet”.

Whilst that’s pathetic, it’s mild compared to Twining’s reaction.

They refused a request for interview, and attempted to prevent the article being aired or promoted.

They argue – you’ll love this:

  • their own tests show only about ten percent sugar in teab*gs with Green Tea & Lemon.
  • the amount of sugar  becomes much smaller when you put the teab*g in water (I guess they mean in percentage terms) , and therefore is wrong to talk about how much sugar there is in the teab*g.
  • The reason they have added sugar is as a carrier for citric taste of the tea and that under European labeling rules they are not required to list such carriers  in the ingredient list on the product.

Good one, Twinings! Hope that works out for you.

Assuming that Twinings are right about the 10% thing, that means that .2 grams of sugar is present per cup. So yes, you would need to go through 25 cups to make  a teaspoon of sugar. And quite frankly, anyone who has ONE teab*g and then goes back for more deserves what they get to an extent.

Nevertheless, all joking aside there are some importunate questions here:

  • Are diabetics not worthy of consideration?
  • Is the tea that bad it needs sweetening?
  • What else might they be omitting from the label?

All companies need a measure of trust. Trying to close down a factual article about your product is not going to inspire that.

Both these companies are at least partly British. This could, and possibly should, be the biggest scandal in Anglo-Norse relations since Lindisfarne 793.




Tea and Food, Tea Retail


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

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

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

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

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

Directly inspired by Jamie.

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

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

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

So, let’s look at that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And believe me, it’s pukka.


Tea and Food, Tea and Life, Tea Stories

Bridging the Cultural Divide

Tea varies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




Tea and Food, Tea and Life

Baked Goods: Usage and Abusage

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with terminology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me help you out here.

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

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

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

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

Luckily, I’m here to help.





Tea and Food, Tea and Life, Tea History, Tea Stories

The Collective Minds of Tea on the 7 Great Stories

This is the final entry in my “List Week”. Seven Lists in Seven Days. If you’ve been reading, you have my thanks. If you haven’t – what’s wrong with you?

According to a famous work by a certain Mr Booker, there are just seven stories in literature, and all books follow one or more of them.

As a finale to my week of lists, I present my take on the seven great stories. For each, I have selected a blog post from Tea Trade – where my own blog is hosted – to represent that story. And I limited myself to just one of my own.

It’s my list based on Booker’s list. Here we go:

Story 1: Overcoming the Monster . My great friend and fellow Beast of Brewdom Geoff Norman is the master at this. He starts with the intention of writing a review and ends up with fantastical dream sequences, odd imagery and incredible nonsense. His writing is like a fairground ride and I never miss it. This one is actually a kind of a review of some of our teas, but it’s pretty hard to spot. Guan Yins, Tigers and Lords, Oh-My!


Story 2: Rags to Riches. Plenty of money has been made in tea and much of it by famous people or companies. Here, the always-interesting Xavier looks at some lesser known entities.  All it took was one ship

Story 3: The Quest I originally thought I might sneak one of my own blogs in here, but I remembered Jo from A Gift of Tea starting one of her Scandalous Tea Blogs with Bringing tea to the People and Bringing People to Tea. A worthy quest indeed.

Story 4: Comedy . Yes, I thought that has to be me. I am the resident clown. And then I remembered a piece by Jackie, one half of the team behind Tea Trade. It was a comic reply to one of my more scathing rants. And so, here’s A reply to “Burning down the Tea House”

Story 5: Tragedy Of my many friends on Tea Trade, Katrina is one of the more accomplished. Her Tea Reader is an excellent book to own (Whoever has got my copy, I’d like it back.) She does not blog overly often, but is unmissable. As a resident of Boston, she was confronted last year with tragedy, and shared it with us all via the post Boston Strong 
Story 6: Rebirth For this one, I’ve strayed slightly towards ‘birth of a new generation”. I love to read Jen’s pieces, they have a simplicity to them that is an antidote to those of us who try to be too clever at times. I make no apologies for the fact that this features one of our teas. In fact, I’m thrilled about it – it’s a piece that I love. A Persian Princess Moment

Story 7: Voyage and Return And so we come to the end of the list, and it’s an interesting one., There are many voyages that we can take. And so I’ll share one that sticks in my mind, my piece Taking Tea With The Buddha, because the voyages it contains are layered.

 I’ve loved List Week. I thank you all for the many comments, shares, likes and such. Let’s do it again, soon!