Lord Devotea's Tea Spouts

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

Category: Tea and Life (Page 1 of 28)

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What’s Not In The Bag

Regular readers will be familiar with my complete hatred of teab*gs, and usually, I mention that it’s the things they add: paper, plastic (usually described as ‘silken’ or silky to fool you into thinking it’s silk) string, tags, staples, glue, sneaky unlabeled sugar etc that have no place in my cup of tea.

I even once wrote a terrible Christmas poem in which violence is visited upon Santa over the issue.

But today, I’d like to discuss what is missing in a teab*g tea.

Ritual. Skill. Feel. Joy.

In this post, I’m going to ignore both the quality element – the fact that teabag tea is usually far inferior to the average loose leaf tea, and also the human element, as I’ve written many times about the disgraceful behaviour of large teab*g manufacturers, going back to my first ever tea post. Let’s not cover old ground here.

All forms of making loose leaf tea are quite functional to an extent, but they all start with measuring some tea. Some people use a spoon, some use the digital extraction method (otherwise known as your fingers) and I’ve also seen people pour from a tin directly, albeit carefully, into a pot. Those little spring-loaded infusers can even be dipped directly in a pile of dry tea.

All of this requires judgement. Even if there’s a general consensus that a teaspoon per cup is the best option, every person dispenses a teaspoon very differently. A level teaspoon of tea is rather hard to achieve, but that is the low point, whereas some large teas can be heaped up quite extravagantly on a spoon, The difference could easily be 100%.

Oddly, that’s one argument people* make FOR teab*gs, that it is a set amount of tea. And so let me handle that: are all cups the same size? Is all water the same? Is it always heated to the same temperature? Does everyone want the same strength? Do people who take milk and sugar want the same result as people who don’t?

Just taking the UK, where some credible data exists: 41% of people in Scotland take sugar, versus 26% in Yorkshire. If there’s that much variation in just one element across one porous border, it’s hard to see how dispensing the exact same quantity of tea is a worthy aim.

Now, when you use any of the methods above to dispense your tea, you get to smell it, either inadvertently or deliberately. This adds to the anticipation quite delightfully in the case of a lovely aroma, and is a warning if it doesn’t smell good. It gives you time to change your selection in the case of the latter.

Whatever the medium, pot or infuser, plunger or grandpa-style that you use, there is an auditory element. The rattle of cups, the pinging of metallic spoons, the pop of an opening tin, the rustle of leaves. In our household, our cats understand these sounds and will react accordingly, knowing what is coming next.

At this point, pre-water, we’ve engaged four of our senses directly – hearing and sight (if you have them), smell and touch, even if the touch was via spoon. Taste is in the future.

There is a linear, although meandering and variable, path from “I want some tea” to the pouring. And this is the first part of the ritual. Sometimes, it’s personal. You are alone in your kitchen, getting your tea thing on, and it can be very zen. Or there are two or more of you, working together, falling into familiar patterns and producing a delightful joint effort.

Others who may be on the receiving end of the tea may not get the sights, sounds and feel of the tea making process. They may get to see a pot or other device, but equally may simply get a cup or mug of tea.

What they do get, though, is a very real and deserved pride in undertaking a simple yet nuanced task and producing a fine cup of tea.

There must be a transference of confidence and pride in knowing that a cup did not rely on an inferior, inadequate expression of multinational bastardry, but instead it took skill and care: even if all other factors are the same, the tea will palpably taste better.

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*specifically, people I get sick of hearing from

 

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Lazy Sunday Afternoons

Having a delightful afternoon tea with friends is of course, the ultimate way of enjoying a Sunday.

Of course, some people might say “But Lord Devotea, my idea of enjoying a Sunday is on a motorbike driving like an idiot on dirt roads / attending some sports / visiting a leper colony / being chained up and naked and covered in yoghurt / watching I Love Lucy re-runs / climbing Mount Everest / playing a game of Backgammon with Horace the World’s Smartest Chimp / learning to walk again after my horrific Zumba accident”.

You know what we call these people? We call them “wrong”. They are the poor misguided ignoramuses (ignorami?) that try to enjoy, through gritted teeth, Junior’s oboe recital or camping with their in-laws, despite all the evidence that it’s just not possible.

Now sometimes, the world wants to intrude upon your Sunday. People do horrific things to other people in the name of religion or race or nationality or whatever other absurd construct people find to differentiate themselves in unimportant ways, and last Sunday was no different. But we decided that no amount of horror was going to make us change our way of life, and so, Sunday Afternoon tea was there to be enjoyed.

We had a couple we know coming over for the first time, and it looked to be a nice day.

So we made sandwiches. Here they are.

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Smoked Tasmanian Salmon & Cucumber, Turkey, Cranberry & Lettuce, and Tomato, Basil and Parmesan, since you asked!

The photo looks a bit fuzzy, and that’s because they are cling-wrapped.

We made them two hours ahead, wrapped them and popped them in the fridge for 90 minutes and then got them out 30 minutes in advance of serving.

Which brings us to the main point:

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These are light, airy sponge kisses made with our free range eggs, filled with Rose Blush and Raspberry Cream, and dusted with crushed crystallized rose petals

You cannot truly appreciate a lazy Sunday afternoon without a diligent and energetic Sunday Morning of preparation.

 

There is something mystical and magical about preparing for tea. We have about 60 teas available in the house, so we are never sure what people might want. By providing a varied spread, we should have options to go with just about anything.

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Barbecue Chicken simmered in saffron egg butter, in pastry pinwheels with cheese! Or, to be honest, leftovers in pastry.

We also have various wines, hot chocolates, and espresso coffee available, but hardly everyone ever picks them.

So we made some cakes and truffles and jellies and pinwheels.

To me, that’s one of the best ways to spend a Sunday morning.

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White Tea and Apple Jelly, topped with Honey Moscato Toffee Cream and a dusting of Swiss Blue Cornflower Sugar. Our guests brought the biscuits with them!

It means that your Sunday Morning is spent making your Sunday afternoon great.

 

Not just great, but grand, gracious and gorgeous. Why the hell not? No-one on their deathbed is going to say “Oh I wish I’d had a few less exceptional afternoons where I mixed great tea, good friends and a slab of cake the size of a wombat*.

Sure, there’s a bit of effort involved. But what worthwhile was ever easy? Did not the US president John F Kennedy say “We choose to make a delicious afternoon tea and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.**”

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Lady Devotea’s Kalhua Chocolate Truffles were a hit! They didn’t last long at all.

So I say to you, take the challenge and make afternoon tea this Sunday. Goddammit – EVERY SUNDAY! Show the world that Sunday afternoon is your time, and if your friends have any sense, they will get right behind you on this and you can take turns to host. If they won’t, then get new friends, better ones.

Conversation is the glue that binds the human race, and Afternoon Tea is the gluepot. It is your duty to the future of all humanity to have as many Afternoon Teas as possible.

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Fizzy Fleurs de Provence is an ice-cold tea option. We always make enough to last a week or so.

And what of the economy? Could the world be on the brink of an Afternoon Tea led economic recovery? No-one actually understands economics****, but let’s not take the chance that it could work and we didn’t do it.

You’ll save fuel and greenhouse gasses. There will be less car accidents, less drunken pub brawls, less shark attacks, less robberies if a significant percentage of the world’s population is enjoying Afternoon Tea at someone’s home.

So, throw away that season ticket.  Sell the motorbike. Send a short apology to Horace the World’s Smartest Chimp, because this Sunday, you are saving humanity by hosting Afternoon Tea, or attending someone else’s.

Let’s not wind up a lifeless globe whirring through space. Let’s save ourselves by the simple expedient of Sunday Afternoon tea, which is merely the first step,  as we dream of the ultimate evolution of humanity: a blissful state of Nirvana where we can ascend, as beings of light, to state of seven Afternoon Teas per week.

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* For my non-Australian readers who are not sure of the meaning “the size of a wombat “, a wombat is bigger than a quokka and smaller than a juvenile Western Red kangaroo. I hope that helps all you non-Australians.

** he said it about the moon landing, but it’s widely believed*** that his original draft was about afternoon tea

*** or not

**** Sorry, Xavier.

 

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Black and White

I drink my black tea black.

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

In fact, afternoon tea opens up myriad possibilities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about Brexit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, not much.

But look at coffee:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Penang: Over and Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

A Pictorial Interlude

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

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

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

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

So, without further ado, here it is:

The box

The Box

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

The box opens… there are cups…

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

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

The pattern

The pattern

The pot...

The pot…

The set

The set

ready to go, full of our 1001 Nights

Ready to go, full of our 1001 Nights

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

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I said “Kapitan”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A considerable bounty of comestibles.

A considerable bounty of comestibles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheese naan and black pepper chicken.

Cheese Naan and Black Pepper Chicken.

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

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

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

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You know you want this: exceptional Onion Roti

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

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

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Mango lassi. I may have had seconds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eastern, Western and Oriental

It is obligatory, when travelling, to enjoy an afternoon tea. Admittedly, it’s not always easy. If you’re in London, it’s easy to find. The Australian Antarctic Territory, not so. Most places are somewhere in between, and Penang certainly is.

The afternoon tea to be had in Georgetown is that at the ‘1885’ tea room at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel, and so we booked.

Before I get going, some people will refer to this as ” a high tea”. That’s fine. It’s not technically correct, but it’s a bit like the phrase “chai tea latte” – maddeningly inaccurate, but I’d rather drink a cup of tea in the time I could spend debating it, and I recommend that approach to all.

Built in 1885, it's rather grand.

Built in 1885, it’s rather grand.

So, we arrived, and the door was opened by a concierge in pith helmet and safari suit. I kid you not.

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Nosh par excellence!

As you can see, the crisp white linen, superbly crafted food – both in terms of taste and aesthetics – and the decor is just what you expect from a quality afternoon tea.

I guess the question many of you will ask is: what is the tea like?

I’d have to say the selection of 14 teas was pretty good. Lady Devotea started with an Assam (Mokalbari) and I with a Darjeeling (Jungpana).

Unfortunately, the making of the tea was the weak link. It was made with water that had a chlorinated taste, so they are either not using filtered water or they need to change/clean their filters. Whilst it was not as apparent with Lady D’s strong Assam with milk and sugar, it was very obvious in my delicate Darjeeling.

So, in a change of pace, I asked for a Tarry Souchong – no matter how bad the water, this is going to taste good – and Lady D plumped for a Vanilla Rooibos, (they spell it ‘Roibosh’, which I think is a much better transliteration.)

Unlike other afternoon teas, the tea is not unlimited here, and you have to pay for the further pots. They are large pots, so a better strategy might have been to have one to share and then another.

At a total cost for both of us, including the extra teas, of about RM170 (AUD56, USD41) including the compulsory tip and a rounding up, this is great value.

Much of the food was of a par with the very best: The Dorchester or Browns in London, The Mandarin in Vegas. In particular, the bread/sandwich course had a lot of variety and was very intelligent in terms of the range of shapes, sizes, construction and taste. The scones were scones, which is not always the case. The service was pretty good, although the staff did not know much about the tea.
Alcohol played no part, which to me is always good to see. I hate stale fizzy grape juice being elevated above tea.

Dollar for dollar, it’s probably the best hotel afternoon tea we’ve ever had. Even taking out the fact that it’s a quarter the price of some we’ve had, it’s still top 5.

It’s cool in the middle of a hot sultry day. The staff are painstaking, the view of the water is excellent. It’s a shame we had it late on our visit: I don’t think having it every day would be a bad strategy!

Afternoon tea is the best tea ceremony in the world; sharing it with the one you love, or a group of good friends  is surely the point. Once you’ve got that right, it’s over to the venue, and the Eastern and Oriental’s quite Western Afternoon Tea is very good indeed.

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A Tale of Two Teapots

I bought with me on this trip a tin of “Love of My Life 2016”. Most years around Valentine’s Day, I like to come up with a unique blend. This year, due to using some ingredients from our own garden that were in short supply, I was only able to make 6 small tins, so I made the decision not to give offer them for sale, but to present them all to Lady Devotea.

So, I put one in suitcase for Penang, thinking that it would be perfect for our 30th anniversary dinner,

I realised once here that two infusers was not the way to go, if one wants to have tea over a special dinner, so I needed a teapot or some other device. Of course, I explained this to Lady D as needing a teapot for the hotel room, to not give the game away.

Lady Devotea informed me that, as an anniversary gift, she would like to buy me a special teapot. And so, we were questing for two teapots.

A few days back we had the first serious attempt to fulfil that quest, wandering around Georgetown. Whilst we saw the most amazing things and loved much if it, none of the teapots were what either of us wanted. One Chinese emporium had a cardboard box for a teapot that would have suited my purposes, but the box was empty as they were using the teapot themselves.

Wandering around in the tropical heat has a consequence for the unwary: heat exhaustion, and we ended up curtailing our shopping trip and returned to the hotel. Another day, then!

Next day saw us at a tropical fruit farm, which was excellent (especially the lemongrass tea), and a butterfly farm.

We then caught a cab into Georgetown again, and asked the driver about pots. He took us to a department store.

They had about 100 teapots. Not all displayed together, but scattered over an entire large floor and mixed in with every other imaginable homeware.

I picked up one, then another, then another. In the end, I settled on a tin teapot, with old fashioned design but with a filter. Here it is:IMAG0461

Lady Devotea did not find anything special enough. There were some nice ones, but mostly what you see anywhere. And Lady Devotea does not compromise.

We had to return for our anniversary dinner, a candlelit dinner by the beach. I picked up some new shirts I had tailor-made, then dozed in front of the TV for half an hour. Still a tad dozy, I of course forgot to take the teapot and tea. Never mind, I thought, we’ll have it as a nightcap.

As it was almost certain to rain, the staff tried to persuade us to move our beachfront candlelit dinner indoors. We decided to risk it.

It didn’t rain. It was warm, and the food was good. It was a long leisurely meal. We surreptitiously fed a stray cat under the table with rib-eye steak. As there was hardly anyone else there, we got great service.

The soundtrack was a bit unusual. It’s Ramadan, and the mosque up the road features hours of chanting every night. Not to the faithful who are at the mosque, but shared with everyone, whether you like it or not, via loudspeakers. If you are of that faith, I’m sure it’s great. I can’t help feeling that, despite it being a successful multicultural society, it’s really to remind the Buddhists, Hindus and other large groups here who is actually in charge. The night before we had classics on the PA over dinner, and I’d have to say, the local mullah doesn’t really stack up to Michael Jackson.

Anyway, hours later and quite full of food, we staggered a few kilometres along the road, which is entirely taken over at night by roadside stalls selling, for the most part, fake designer clothing and bags. Lady D bought some nice Indian textiles, but no teapots were on offer.

I’d like to say that when we returned, I made cups of the special tea, but in reality, as we got back, I realised I was rapidly becoming unwell with a migraine.

The next twelve hours were messy, and it was not until the next afternoon that I dragged myself out of bed, unwilling to lose any more precious holiday time. We journeyed to Penang Hill, which was part awesome, part ordinary, but the awesomeness won, We found a new exhibit, basically a path through the jungle, and we were the only ones on the guided tour. It was blissful.

A quiet evening meal at the hotel, and about 9.30 we wandered up to the local mini mart to purchase soft-drinks at non-mini bar prices. When we came out, I noticed a gift shop that was open next door. Very Chinese, very good quality porcelain and the like.

We went in.

And there it was, the anniversary present. A ceremonial tea set that we fell in love with.

So many times, I think, you can’t find what you are looking for, because you don’t really know what it is. I know Bono had a lot to say on the subject, but I think if you are open to everything and take a few chances in life, you will find the people, places and things you need to make you complete.

So it was 32 years ago for me, and so it will continue to be.


Note: the tea set is boxed for transit. I’ll post a picture or two in a few day’s time

Synopsis Of Stuff

Yesterday, I did not blog. This is because for about 14 hours between the very end of Lady Devotea and I’s 30th anniversary day and dragging myself up yesterday afternoon, I was quite unwell.

This also led to a large backlog of work emails and other nonsense, which means that I can’t really share a lot of really interesting things that happened. So instead, here’s some photos I’ll post quickly to give you the gist of it all, before getting to work on my next blog, which I assure you will be tea-filled and meaningful.

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Robusta coffee beans. At the Penang Tropical Fruit Farm, which is brilliant.

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Electric Yixing Teapot. Old meets new.

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A frog designed to confuse our tea friend Gary D. Robson, Grand Master of Poop.

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Just so you know, please don’t take a shower in this room, which contains three urinals. And if you do, we will have  the video evidence.

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Dinner Setting, on the beach, for 30th Anniversary candlelight dinner

A swing at the top of the hill, on the new Habitat walk, which is incomparable.

A swing at the top of the hill, on the new Habitat walk, which is incomparable.

 

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