Tea and Life, Tea Retail, Tea Stories

Mountain Tea

My self imposed rule about not reviewing tea places in countries where our own teas are available has meant not much action in the review arena for some time, and now here’s two at once!

Whilst the title of this post may briefly excite @lahikmajoe, @lazy_literatus and other Greek Mountain Tea enthusiasts, this post is not about GMT at all, so as you were, gentlemen.

Instead, it’s about yesterday’s day out, where we sat in a car, aimed it at the big lumpy things on the horizon, and drove.

They are called the Canadian Rockies and based on my limited experience of actual mountains, (coming from a country that basically doesn’t have them) these are in the class of “quite big ones”.

Of course, I had to remember that Calgary is a kilometre above sea level, so we are already quite high up.

Anyway, a day of mountains, food and tea was promised, so we duly set off at the crack of dawn. Let’s say 8a.m. I guess 9a.m. will be fine, we are in no hurry.

We set off at 10.20. I was already keen on getting some tea in.

We drove through quite a bit of snow by my standards i.e. I am used to none. Plenty of snow covered fields still.

Past some lovely lakes and fir tree covered hills, all the while the mountains got bigger.

Being English, Lady Devotea has some experience of snow and mountains. Being Canadian and pre-Canadian, our hosts have quite a bit as well. I have very little. I dressed for snow once on an excursion up the Pyrenees and it was 26 degrees Celsius. Today I took no chances and donned several layers. First stop: Canmore


View from a bridge:Banff


Main Street, Canmore


French Press of Lavender Cream Earl Grey, Maple Black, Snowflake Black at Comminitea


Communitea, Canmore


Clouds through a window is not a new experience, but it is when it’s not an aeroplane.

Canmore is lovely. See!

Nice little alpine village, and a stop at Communitea Cafe.

Our experience at Communitea was patchy. The tea list is extensive, and numbered, Chinese menu style, so they actually want you to order that way: “a 120 and a 106, please”. Sadly, while they have numbers, they have no explanations or description..

Service was patchy, they seemed to have a lot of staff who were all quite busy on what was a fairly quiet service. Neither of the staff I spoke to had much idea of what ingredients were in the tea, and the canisters were inconsistent: some had ingredients listed, some didn’t.

I went for Maple black, and others had a Lavender Earl Grey and a Snowflake black (with milk & sugar). I did not try the Earl Grey (allergies) but it smelt over-lavendered, the other two were quite good, the snowflake (which seemed to have nuts and coconut in it ) was the better of them.

I also bought three little sample bags, enough to do one big pot each, and really quite expensive. So far at home base we’ve had the After 8 Rooibos (an impressive choc-mint blend) and Himalayan Chai (fear of ginger has reduced this blend to quite bland).

Overall, it’s the sort of tea shop where, if you lived nearby, you’d quickly get to grips with the 40 or 50 teas and get on well with the friendly staff, but as a one off, it was a bit lacking. Had I struck a real tea enthusiast behind the counter, all would have been much, much better.

There’s a bit of a pattern developing based on David’s and this one: perhaps Canadians would prefer a bunch of flavourings in most of their teas, as I am seeing very little single gardens or even single region.

Anyway,a quick walk around the lovely town and then off to Banff.

Banff! It’s a bit legendary, isn’t it?

We had a great pizza, and a fantastic stroll. Also something called a “Beaver Tail”, which is basically a fried lump of flat doughnut dough covered in confectionary. It conforms to the general rule of Canadian Traditional Cuisine I’ve seen here, which is fry the hell out of something and then cover it with something even more unhealthy. Needless to say, I’m loving it.

I had in mind the Banff tea Co for a final destination in Banff, but when we got there, it was no tables, no chairs, just a retail store front. I was disappointed in that – not their fault.

And it was stacked with people.

I asked for 100 grams of the tea I had been planning to drink (Moroccan Liquorice) and found an amusing infuser, and headed to the counter. During my purchase, I expressed my disappointment I  couldn’t get a hot cup of tea. “Of course you can” said the server. “What would you like”?

As I already had the tea I wanted dry style, I had to think fast

“Didn’t I see a ‘Canadian Breakfast” on your site?


“What’s in that”?

“I don’t know, this is my second day”

“Can I have a sniff of it”

The canister was duly produced. I had a sniff.

“African, Indian and Chinese tea blend” I pronounced.

“No, that’s not right”, she said, “the ingredients are on the back. It’s tea from China, Tanzania and India”.

Faced with providing a geography lesson or just ordering the tea, I chose the latter.

It turned out to taste like cheap English Breakfast tea.

I think Banff Tea Co are a wonderful tea shop, but one I didn’t get the best out of. If I’d arrived at a quiet moment, I would have had a ball talking tea.

I am yet to try the Moroccan Liquorice.

Anyway, a splendid day out and two tea experiences that  were encouraging, rather than spectacular.

But never fear, because my next post IS about a spectacular tea experience. Stay tuned.


Tea and Life, Tea Retail

Short Circuit

Before I surprise all of my readers, let me just say I am quite surprised myself.

Barely three months ago, Lady Devotea & I announced an exciting new adventure: moving our headquarters to the UK and in that time, Lady D has been at the helm of a new tea shop that has presented our blends to the discerning English palate. With the notable exception of one gentlemen who objected not only to the Australianness but also the Americanness of our Lord Petersham, it has been very well received.

It was a great foundation for our next chapter, based in the UK.

So the stunning news is: we are returning to Australia.

The situation is not of our making. Neither of us is ill; we have not fallen foul of The English Tea Council and been run out of town for our stance on teab*gs. Our plans have simply and irrevocably altered.

Over the next few days, I’ll post something about the tea shop.

To our friends in Adelaide, we’ll be seeing you soon.

To the wonderful people we’ve met here, thanks for enriching our journey. It saddens us to go, but we are going.

At this point, we’re not making any further comment, and are heading off for a short holiday.

You’ll have to wait until our story is sold to Hollywood and released as a blockbuster.

Service, Tea and Life, Tea Retail

Eight Minutes To Normalise

Eight Minutes.

I just set the timer beside me for eight minutes.

In eight minutes, the cake I have carefully made to Lady Devotea’s exacting recipe will be ready to come out of the oven. It’s strawberry and white chocolate. There is no flavouring except actual strawberries and actual white chocolate.

But I digress. I have a rant to get to.

I got up today in order to let three people into the building at 5am. I’m usually up by 5, although that’s not the same being showered and in full “pants-on” mode by 5.

Two of the three people did not arrive on time. One has just arrived 90 minutes late.

The five minute warning just went off. Maybe a quick check on the cake.

So, the guy that I let in at 4.50 is an electrician, and before long, I offered him a cuppa. I was delighted to find he was a tea drinker.

I asked him which of the 30 teas I had at my disposal he might like.

“I just like normal tea” he said.

I recoiled a bit. There’s that word again. “Normal”. “Normal tea”.

It’s an expression I hate.

What’s normal? I could be existential about it and ponder the true meaning of normality, or hazard  a guess about the paradigms that exist with his reality… Is that really eight minutes? Best check the cake.

Looking good, but might give it another four.

Back to “normal tea”.

Unfortunately, exploiting underfed, unwell, unhappy African workers, smashing tea up with machines and then shipping to somewhere else with cheap labour – perhaps Poland – to be encased in cheap bags before stocking UK supermarket shelves with them is ‘normal’.

Well excuuuuuuuse me for saying “NO! THAT’S NOT NORMAL”.

It may be usual. It may be common. It may be prevalent. But it is in no way normal.

To call low grade teab*g tea “normal” is to imply that a proper cup is “abnormal”. It’s suggesting that either the method or the leaves themselves are not the real way of having tea.

Well, get a grip, guys.

Everytime you agree to have a cup of teab*g tea, you are going down the “abnormal” route. Don’t try to pin that on us loose leaf lovers.


OK, cake out, scones in!

Someone once said “Cafe owners who use teab*gs are thieves, or stupid, or both“*. Someone once said “Nothing says how indifferent I am about you than a cup of teab*g tea”.**

We must fight, people!

Now that our first branded permanent tea shop has been open a week, I can look at the figures.

For starters, the tea to coffee ratio is really pleasing to see. But I digress.

Slightly over 50% of our tea sales so far are Lord Petersham. And people are coming back for more.

So as far as I’m concerned, that’s what’s normal, A blend of hand picked teas named after an obscure Edwardian Lord, crafted for the daytime palate and served with whatever you want on the side.

Normality has been restored. Thank you for your patience.

Scone, anyone?

* I've checked and that was me
** Once again, turns out that was me




Tea and Life

One Kilo

I haven’t blogged for a while, and that’s down to an almost unprecedented level of activity and exhaustion

For those of you are unaware, Lady Devotea is opening a tea shop, in a pub in England. We are living above it and I am pitching in with the renovations to our living space as well as immersing myself in a writing project.

In a month or two, I’ll obtain the necessary paperwork and run it with her: in the meanwhile her effort is superhuman.

One thing she has done is install a one kilo container of Mokabari East Assam tea downstairs in the pub after the departing managers appeared to take the teab*gs with them.

Builders, painters and the odd punter have been enjoying pots of this delicious tea.

Inexorably it is being depleted.

One cup at a time, eh?

Tea and Life

One Lump Or Two?

Life is frantic, and that’s my excuse for no blogging for more than a week.

Lady Devotea is working 18-20 hours per day in her new job. I am using that same time to work on extensive renovations, shop for every single thing you need in a new country and research and writing the new book.

When I crawl out of bed after a few hours’ sleep, rather than a leisurely two hours of blogging, I’m dismantling a kitchen. At least we now have one habitable room plus a working bathroom.

So, I was sitting around talking* to the staff who now work with Lady D, and one story tickled my fancy so much, I knew I had to blog about it.

One staff member was talking about a business she used to work in where the male owner and the female manager enjoyed a lot of “personal time”. Long impromptu meetings – champagne included – with muffled sounds coming from the behind the office door – a door they really should have locked on one apparently memorable occasion.

So, talking to the staff member who actually walked in on them in the act of sharing their great and abiding passion – a passion his wife may well have had some thoughts on – came this gem:

“Well, it wasn’t the first time I caught them at it, I came in early one day and found them <insert your favourite euphemism for going at it like the clappers here> on the front counter, next to two cups of tea”.

I’ll repeat that last but… “NEXT TO TWO CUPS OF TEA”.

My immediate thought was “Well, there’s a blog right there”. Followed by “never go buy a sandwhich where that front counter is”.

I just thrilled to the possibilities.

Were they planning a three minute act in order to time the brew to perfection? Perhaps they both drank it black and were waiting for it to cool when they were seized with an unstoppable passion?

Or maybe, just maybe, it was the tea itself that drove them to contravene the rules of polite society and enact a scene of infidelity, carnality and food hygiene offenses.

I’d like to think so. And I’ll leave it there, because your imagination is where this story is truly fleshed** out.



*Researching, not talking. Researching, definitely. 

** Yes, I said “fleshed”.

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
Tea and Life, Tea Stories

The Restoration

Today is May 29th, and on this day in 1660 the English Throne was restored.

Here on this tea blog, why should we care?

For starters, Charles II of England marred Catherine of Braganza, who  is credited with making tea fashionable in England. This eventually lead to its consumption in English colonies. After all, it had already been in England for a while, but it was not popular until this highly successful celebrity endorsement.

On a blog post of May 29th two years ago, I also mentioned other key events on this date in history, such as the fall of The Byzantine empire. And on that particular day in 2012, we were announcing that we were making The Devotea teas available in both the USA and the UK .

But as I mentioned back then, they overriding feature for me of May 29th is it is Lady Devotea’s Birthday.

Yes, it is an annual event, but for me, one that gives me a chance to demonstrate the depth of my love for this remarkable woman.

We’ve been married nearly thirty years, and as you probably know, she would have got far less for murder.

It is an annual event that can fill me with dread if I don’t think I’ve had a spectacular enough idea to celebrate it. Most years, I get the thinking cap on about April and plan it with incredible precision. Some years, it’s hard to come up with that killer idea or the time itself is awkward.

I’m not a very clever person when it comes to expression, but I am quite an organiser and planner at times, so there are still a few obvious ideas in the tank, like skywriting a message* or organising a visit to somewhere fabulous and exciting.

I know this is a big day in the tea community: It should be referred to as “International Lady Devotea Day” and I imagine a whole lot of Lady Devotea tea blend will be raised in celebration.

When it comes to my own personal monarchy, no restoration is needed. I swore my allegiance in 1984, and nothing’s changed.

I know that Lady Devotea rarely, if ever reads my blog. And that’s not surprising. After all, she gets an unfiltered stream of my opinions and rants, why look for more?

I have taken the opportunity on these pages many times to express my love for her, I’m better at it in writing than I am in real life in many respects.

When I started this blog post several days ago, I wasn’t sure where it was going. Various circumstances have dictated exactly what course I charted and what point I reached. Watch this blog for plenty of news, real soon.

But right now, early on on this most notable of days, there is a cup of tea that won’t make itself. A silver tray awaiting that tea. A folded newspaper. Perhaps some flowers. All these things arrayed with as much love and care as I can pour into them.

Hopefully, fit for a Queen.


* I mean paying for it, I do not plan to actually pilot a plane personally, And believe me, that’s for the best

coffee, Service, Tea and Life, Tea Retail, Tea Stories

I’ve Bean Meaning to Mention…

Those of you who pay attention and follow my every word – that’s all of you, right? – will know that I have had an uneasy relationship with coffee. I outed myself as bi-beverage when I wrote Swinging Both Ways. I mentioned that it was acceptable, in some circumstances to order coffee, not tea, after a meal in No Shame, But Plenty of Blame. And then finally, I had a messy divorce from coffee and outlined it in It’s Not You, It’s Me.

In several of those, there is a mention that when we do a Pop Up Tea Shop, we blend our own coffee.

Well, soon we’ll need to blend some coffee for a project, so what I thought I’d do here is compare blending tea and blending coffee, as I see it. For your amusement and edumacation.

Bear in mind I’m not a fan of blending for consistency, I like seasonal and annual variation. So this is not about that.

To me, here’s what is the same, and here is what is different:


Blending for taste: it needs to achieve an excellent taste that is in your head, OR answer a question (What if I mixed 30% of A and 20% of B with 50% of C) in an unambiguously brilliant fashion.

Offering a significant variation: There’s no point having a stack of very similar tastes. This is an easy trap to fall into and we are not immune: we are in the process of culling some black tea blends because we have 8 out of our stable of 23 teas.

Blending for customer preference: “Very strong”, “lower caffeine”, “not bitter”, you need to understand what customers will ask for and provide an answer.

Consistency of supply: There’s no point making a super blend if 15% of it requires raw material from a Tibetan monk who brings his product to market only on leap years. Or a raw product that varies wildly and predictably.


With tea, it is far easier to blend for forgiveness. Using core teas that produce a good brew across a wide range of steep times and temperatures and methods makes it a little “idiot-proof” . With coffee-making being a more mechanical process, if someone can stuff up a cappuccino with one blend, they can stuff them all up equally. And some machines are not as effective as others.

With tea, one can blend for (leaf) smell, whereas coffee is not normally smelt by a customer as a raw product in isolation.

With tea, one can blend for raw tea texture to add interest. Coffee, well – it’s beans, and not many people know a Nicaraguan Maragogype from an Ethiopian Limu by sight.

With tea, one should not blend in such a way that all the heavier ingredients end up in the bottom of the pack. Not an issue with coffee.

So, with all that in mind, it’s time to blend.


Tea and Life, Tea Retail

Not Exactly a Hunger Strike

In 1989, I found myself on a plane belonging to Hassanal Bolkiah.

There was a pilot’s strike in Australia, and I had earned a trip overseas for selling many printers. This involved getting to and from Sydney, and with Qantas and Ansett on strike, our Government made other arrangements.

On the way to Sydney, I took a C-130 transport plane provided by the RAAF. We sat in webbing along the fuselage. Lunch was a box containing a tin of tuna in lemon juice, two crackers, an orange and an orange juice. (only a person with a citrus allergy would remember that 20+years later) The toilet was a hole in the wall, around which a plastic sheet could be held up by burly airmen. I ate the crackers and crossed my legs.

On the way back, I had a choice of 4 splendid meals, and visited the bathroom several times to marvel at the gold tapware and avail myself of the 5 different liquid soaps on tap.

Yes, the Australia Government had rented some aircraft from Mr Bolkiah, AKA Kebawah Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan dan Yang Di-Pertuan Negara Brunei Darussalam and who holds the posts of prime minister, minister of defence, minister of finance, head of Islam, head of customs, supreme commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces and the inspector general of the Royal Brunei Police Force.

He is most commonly known as The Sultan of Brunei, and with $20bn, there are no end of people lining up to give him more titles.


Skip forward to 2012, and Lady Devotea and I visited The Dorchester in London. I blogged about it at the time, and it was a sublime experience.

What I did not know at the time was that the aforementioned Sultan had bought it in 1981. His Dorchester Group includes the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles.

He’s also been busy in the intervening years, for example, passing a law in 2006 that said he was infallable. I guess if the prime minister, minister of defence, minister of finance, head of Islam, head of customs, supreme commander of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces and the inspector general of the Royal Brunei Police Force are all in agreement, that should not be hard.

And in his wisdom, he’s set about bringing Sharia Law to Brunei. To quote Wikipedia:

Bolkiah is implementing a Sharia law penal code that includes death by stoning, the severing of limbs, and flogging for crimes in Brunei such as abortions, adultery and homosexual acts. The Sultan himself, together with his family members are exempted from the Sharia Law.

Now, Sharia Law is a form of religious law, and it is quite similar to many other religious codes. Promulgators of it believe that religious law should trump other forms of law, such as civil or criminal, and they do not believe in what many people believe to be an important principle, the separation of church and state.

There are many other religions that offer similar viewpoints and there are many religious leaders who would happily adopt the principal that an old man with a book written hundreds of years ago of dubious provenance is all he needs to inflict suffering upon others and feel righteous and self-important about it. It doesn’t matter what that book is, having the book and the moral authority is all they need.

As an atheist, I find all religions equally odd, and so I can’t really comment. I certainly respect people’s right to believe in God, Allah, fairies, Cybermen*,Vishnu, Buddha** or His Majestic and Glorious Majesty the Giant Goat of Joy***.

The penal code described above is, however, barbaric. It is cruel and is nothing more than the sadly inbuilt savagery that significant proportions of the human race have struggled to expunge from their basic make-up, while others malevolently embrace it.

It is also the most hypocritical action ever. To exempt his own family makes him a huge laughing stock, or would if it were not so serious.

So, it comes down to this: to take afternoon at The Dorchester or to visit another hotel in the group is to support this regime. Now, a celebrity boycott has targeted the group.

On CBS News Dorchester Collection CEO Christopher Cowdray said the campaign to boycott their group was unfair, pointing out that many people deal with Saudi Arabian companies (with a similar regime) and that many of the protesters where wearing clothes made possible by human rights abuses.

Despite the fact what he says is true, it  does look awfully like Pontius Pilate’s washing of his hands.

First raised by Stephen Fry and Ellen DeGeneres, the celebrity boycott of these premises is an impressive flexing of the power of press. No doubt all of the premises have suffered somewhat.

Sadly, I think it’s true that whilst the Sultan enjoys his $20b and his 1800-room palace, the real losers will be the minimum wage workers who work at these places.

But I’d like to think they can find jobs at other places who might benefit from not being boycotted by famous faces and thought leaders.

So, looking at the pros and cons, Lady Devotea and I will state here, on the record that we will not re-visit the splendid Dorchester (or any other parts of The Dorchester Group) until either the ownership changes or the laws introduced a month ago in Brunei are repealed.

I urge you to examine your own conscience and join us if you wish.


*  I really, really hope not

** OK, so he was an actual person

*** Send me $75 for Holy Book of Goatisms and license to preach.