Tea and Life, Tea History

Tea Service

“I know the nicest thing I ever had on the Kokoda Trail was a cup of tea given to me by the Salvation Army. And I hated tea that never had milk or sugar in it; this didn’t have any in it and I loved it, I wanted more. I had half a cup, that’s all they had. I never forgot that one.”

-Interview with Syd Heylen, 39th Battalion, June 1989, from the Keith Murdoch Sound Archive, Australian War Memorial

I’ve just come back from a Dawn Service to mark ANZAC Day, and, to be honest, it didn’t go well. Whilst the gardens are lovely, the West Torrens War Memorial is really good and there were hundreds of people, the ceremony was very sadly lacking.

Firstly, the Council had clearly bought their sound amplification gear via eBay, second-hand, from a shoe shop spruiker. It would have been enough for about 6 people to hear. It had one little speaker facing forwards, which is of course particularly ineffective in a 360-degree event. At least the local dignitaries could hear the sound of their own voices. Unless, of course, a plane was going overhead, but how likely was that one kilometre from the airport, on the flight path, during an event that occurred at exactly the time the airport curfew ends? Still, the airport was only commissioned in 1955, possibly the council haven’t noticed yet.

So, to start with hundreds of people silently streaming through darkened, cold streets is very eerie and moving. Then to score half an hour of vaguely heard mumbling is really disrespectful for the occasion. The bugler was first rate, the only other thing I heard was a few of the more religious types voicing the Lord’s Prayer at the appropriate juncture.

The minute’s silence, sandwiched by the bugler, made it all worth it.

 Anyway, as I made my way back through the 6 weeks’ worth of roadworks that has just entered its seventh month (don’t get me started) I was thinking about all of the people who had been disrespected by this pretty poor service. The boys as young as 14 and men as old as 60 who had given up civilian lives in 1914/15 to sail around the world and take part in a conflict not of our making, just over a dozen years since the birth of our nation. The thousands who perished in France in both World Wars. Members of my own family who were Rats of Tobruk.The brave women and men who tended the wounded whilst shells fell about them in all conflicts. World War I, World War II, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, East Timor, Rwanda, Somalia, The Solomons, Kuwait, Iraq, East Timor, Afganistan, barely a conflict where Australians, usually with our great ally New Zealand have gone to lend a hand, at times when “lending a hand’ often meant paying with your life.

And then I remembered a story I had heard many years ago, and I realised, that instead of a good old rant on Facebook, I should write this post.

I had some dealings with the Salvation Army many years ago, as I worked for a company that was selling stuff to them. I’m not much of  fan of theirs, to be honest, as they have a dismal track record in child exploitation. On a better note, my late Grandmother loved them, and they did pop round under her window with a brass band to thank her for her years of service when she was likely to die. For years she sent my Dad as a small child every Sunday to Sunday School at the Salvos with a small donation for the poor, ironically, they were incredibly poor themselves. My Dad’s decision to mostly spend the money on ice cream and go exploring the river can be seen as a sort of Robin Hood manoeuvre in this light.

Anyway, the Salvos have been involved in every major conflict that Australia has turned up for, and always, they’ve bought the tea.

If it takes courage to go to the front lines after a few months training and armed with a rifle, how much more must it take to head there with an urn? Seriously, it’s an incredibly brave move.

So, to return to the thread of story I’ve lost a few times, my boss at the time, Paul, pointed to a picture on the wall on a visit to Salvos HQ, and told me that a story was related to him on his last visit.

“See that guy, he’s a bit of a local hero. He was in Papua New Guinea in WWII, and he was sent to meet Australian and British troops at a jetty. He set up on the end of the jetty, with a little canvas tent and an urn full of tea, all by himself. But instead of the Aussies and Brits, five Japanese motor boats turned up. He’d been sent to the wrong jetty.”

You know the sort part of my story? Paul had not thought to ask the obvious question “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED NEXT?”.

His final thoughts: “Well, he came home. This photo shows him in 1970″.

I love sharing tea, I love making tea for others and I’m often proud of the way I can knock up a decent cuppa under trying circumstances. Would I have the courage to do what that Salvos guy did? I’m lucky I’ve never had to find out.

There are so many untold stories. Australians who were born here, or arrived here from every corner of the globe gave their lives in so many conflicts, and today, our whole country stops to remember them.

We are remembering tens of thousands who never came back, and tens of thousands who came back damaged in mind and body, and in amongst all of that, let’s remember the tea dispensers of all nations whose contribution was to just make the unbearable a little more bearable.

Satire, Tea and Life, Tea History, Tea Stories

Fine Words Butter No Parsnips

A small intro, before the main event.

I’ve always loved the saying “Fine Words Butter No Parsnips.” On a whim I decided to use it as a blog post title, with no idea what to write about. And then, on another whim, decided to challenge a few dozen other tea bloggers to use the same title, this week. I hope that many of them are linked in the comments below.
It also came to my attention that tea blogger @lahikmajoe – Ken McBeth Knowles – has actually used this as a blog title in the distant past. Well done, Ken.

So, I thought of all the clever metaphorical ways to build the saying into a blog post, and in the end, decided to just cheat with a serious of fictional pieces about actual parsnips, left unbuttered. I don’t know if that is necessarily a great idea, but it’s a bit too late in this whole process to be worrying about that.

So, where were we? Buttering parsnips, that’s where we were…

I recall, back in about 1630 or thereabouts, we were gathered in the scullery, it was the maids, the valets and I, and the butler was giving us a right dressing down.
“Her Ladyship is absolutely livid, and I am also inclined to be of that state. And I expressly know who it is that is burdened with the responsibility for this calumny.”
Over the rim of my cup, I saw him swivel his head to stare directly at me. And point.
“You. You are the responsible party, Sir.”
I thought it best not to respond.
“You take to spending all of your time with that cup in your hand, drinking that Chinee muck, and now, we’ve run out of butter. There be enough milk to be churned, but are you churning it? No!”
He narrowed his eyes.
“You speak of churning. You speak of the finest of butters. But when? After your cup of tay, you say, or maybe after another. And the result: Unbuttered Parsnips”.
I stared into my cup, seeking solace.

Do you remember, Clementine, how you slapped my face in 1662 in the Vauxhall Tea Gardens? When you opened the picnic basket and found just empty teacups?
And yet, what was so wrong of my plan? Sure, I had promised a salmagundi, some collops, some bread, some eggs, some buttered parsnips. But then I thought of another plan, to wander arm in arm, sustaining ourselves on the sweet nectar of our love and the vibrant taste of some excellent tea.
And yet, from that moment henceforth, in over 30 years I have never again gazed upon your person, with the memories that press in on me of your hard-set, retreating back as you stalked away, your parasol bolt upright, pointing to the Heavens as though to bring God’s judgement down upon me.

I flicked cigarette ash from the balcony as you confronted me with your anger, your blazing eyes so like the fireworks in the distance. “These men go tomorrow to the Somme. You, of all of us, know the horror that entails. And yet, you refuse to meet with them?”
I knew that speaking would work against me. I chose not to.
“Your fine words, Bertrand? What of them? You write and you write and they hold you up as a hero. As a war correspondent. As the man who tamed whole Boer regiments and now holds the nation spellbound with his typewriter.”
“And yet, when the time comes to meet them in person and bolster their courage, to firm up their mettle, to add your rich, warmth like best butter to the root vegetables of their raw courage, I find you here.”
“Smoking. Leaning. And drinking your damn tea!”

Winnie loomed up through the gloom of the bunker. He was not impressed.
“What sort of man are you, Browne?”.
I blinked. The question seemed rhetorical.
“I have six secret advisors. Not sixty. Not six hundred. Six. I can count them on one hand, er, … when my hand is holding a cigar. You are part of the most privileged group in Britain.”
“You sit down here, deciding how this nation rations its food. If a man is hungry in Kent, it’s your doing. If a farmer has two spare apples in Somerset, it’s your job to make sure there’s not a housewife in Fyfe, waiting for her husband to come back from a raid over Dresden, who is going hungry.”
“And you write such wonderful reports about the splendid job you are doing.”
He paused and I jumped in.
“Winnie, old chap… I…”.
The pause ended, and if anything, he looked more apoplectic.
“Don’t you ‘Winnie’ me, you reprobate, I’m your Prime Minister. And here’s the evidence I am putting to you.”
“This chit is for an entire crop of parsnips that should be in Dorking. They are in Colchester”.
“And this one is for a shipping container of butter, also bound for Dorking. But for some reason, in a barn in Flintshire”.
“Any idea what you were doing whilst these vital supplies where going astray?”
I merely shook my head.
“Well, here’s a clue. It’s a docket for a delivery of 100 pounds of tea.”
“And the delivery address is your house”.

I remember Johnny’s face when we found this place. Hidden away, no-one knew it was there.
He convinced Leslie, who had just inherited it from her grandparents, to drop out of college, to join us. And to sign the the house and gardens over to us.
Johnny’s buddy got all four of us into the Winterland, not to see Chuck Berry, who was headlining, but the opening act: The Grateful Dead.
After the Dead finished, we were buzzing and we walked and walked and walked.
And then we were here. The old house. The stables. The fields. The walled-off garden. And so help me, two cows.
That spring, we worked as we’d never worked before. Heck, most of us had never worked before.
We collected the milk and drank it, we churned some into butter.
We planted vegetables. Johnny had this theory that planting them all together worked best, so we had cabbages and tomatoes and broccoli and carrots and parsnips all in joyously contrived spirals and pentagrams. As the plants came forth, it was less about food and more about art.
But the loving care that Johnny took was part of the charm, and before long, the original four had swelled to a dozen or so.
And then, after a trip down to Ashbury, Johnny bought home Mandy.
Mandy bought a new emphasis. On loving everyone, all the time. All night, all day.
And she also bought with her huge quantities of acid. Her brother was the main man in the Haight-Ashbury area, it seems.
I never took it, I never wanted to be that out of control. And I tired of Mandy in no time.
But Johnny? Johnny seemed to melt. He tripped. He stayed tripped.
And in between, he sat in the garden, staring at the vegetables. Staring at the remaining cow after one perished when a tripper let it out on the road.
Johnny was our guru. When Johnny’s infectious energy had been stilled, all of us lost ours as well. Whilst the others tripped, I drank oolong. Endless cups of ooling, while the vegetables rotted into the ground and the milk remained unchurned.
By the time the Dead returned to play the Carousel a year later, Johnny had faded, the dream was over, and I went back to college to become a teacher.
Oolong remains my only connection to those days so long ago.

I sipped my Lord Petersham as I waited for the others.
Silently they filed in.
“It’s a decade and a half since we formed this company, just before the new millennium kicked off” said Connor, looking around the table.
“And we’ve survived downturns – in fact we’ve thrived as we’ve bought up distressed farmers and agri-businesses. We’ve never let a division go under.”
“But the butter business is no longer sustainable. We have to cut them loose. I’ve found a buyer out of Argentina to take it a good price. And sadly, this means Dennis will be leaving the Board, and the company, as his division folds.”
I wanted to object. I wanted to say that we promised those villagers jobs when we tore down half their village and replaced it with processing plant a few years ago. I wanted to point out that Dennis had dedicated every waking moment to the Company, at a terrible personal cost. But I am a coward, and my own division of vegetable growing would be safe, I hoped.
“This then gives us a problem with our line of roasted, buttered and frozen vegetables. We can’t afford them without the cheap butter.”
He looked at me: “Sorry, Christina, you’re out.”
I looked and listened, but no-one would catch my eye, and no-one uttered any fine words to save me.

I’m now the oldest, and since Boris passed yesterday, the only one on board who saw old Earth.
The children of the Ark gathered at my feet. Their parents and their grandparents, and in some cases great-grandparents, were born out here, in the vastness of space, as we sped toward our new home. A new home still two dozen years’ distant, a new home I doubted I’d see.
It’s my duty now.
I spoke of Earth, and how we had corrupted it. And how we few were all that were left. Of the war of 2115, and how there was nothing left to fight over. And no way to live upon the once green surface.
“But we have hope.”, I finished staring at children ranging from rapt to bored. “We have cargo holds full of hope”.
“We have the DNA of trees and plants and animals. All of them. Well, most of them.”
“And when we arrive, we will bring forth such a paradise, where people learn to love each other and the planet.”
“And we will no longer live off nutrient-dense ship’s rations, but grow things under the sun and in the soil.”
“Whilst we gaze upon the forests and the antelopes, the farms and the horses, the carefully built cities and the endless plain, we will live, and love, and be content.”
“We’ll sip tea, and munch on buttered parsnips, and tell the stories we need to remember.”

Tea and Life, Tea History, Tea Stories, Uncategorized

She and He and Tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This changes with the temperance movement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tea and Life, Tea History

A Trolley Good Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you know what- it worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No! You can do so much better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And perhaps a really nice little cake.


Tea History, Tea Retail

The Hub

I was going to start by saying “regular readers will know”, but as I have published only three short, simple pieces in five weeks, I probably don’t have any left.

The last four months have been the most demanding of our lives, and this Thursday, the catalyst behind it all will come into being.

I’d like to say “burst” into being but I don’t have the energy.

Every waking moment (and there have been hardly any non-waking ones -four hours continuous sleep is  luxury I don’t remember) has led inexorably to Thursday.

It’s hard to see one’s nearest and dearest actually fall over from exhaustion. To have to physically restrain someone from working any longer or virtually force a drink down their dehydrated throat is a highly emotive situation.  All of which leads to Thursday

We’ve overseen the renovation of a pub and renovated living quarters that were so disgraceful I was surprised we didn’t find a documentary crew from “World’s Filthiest Tenants” who had got lost behind the rolls of smelly carpet on the fourth bedroom.  We’ve bought a car and an overly cheerful SatNav so we can make endless trips to the paint and carpet shops.

All to get us to Thursday.

“Is something happening Thursday?”, I hear you ask.

Yes, something is.

On Thursday, The Devotea At The Oaklands will launch.20140710_091330

It’s a tea room / coffee house / family restaurant. It has its own menu and its own hours which are different to the pub, yet you can visit both at the same time as they are under one roof.

Lady Devotea has done an  amazing job selecting fabrics with which to recover a collection of old chairs which have been bought and refurbished.


So, from Thursday The Devotea teas will be available in the UK once more, along with a resurrection of some of our coffee blends, cakes, scones of course, muffins and more.

I’d write more about it, but we’ve got menus to finish, teas and coffees to blend. We’ve got a new logo for The Devotea to unveil, and a new logo for The Devotea At The Oaklands. We’ve got a counter to finish off, some painting, some machinery relocation, some plumbing, some baking. Some training to provide for staff. Some teaware and servingware to purchase.

I’ll probably see you on the other side of Thursday. Either online, or at Notley Green, Great Notley, Essex, UK CM77 7US, The Devotea At The Oaklands.

Tea and Life, Tea History, Tea Stories

The Hypocrisy Continues

I wasn’t sure I should post this. But, here goes.

I spent many hours writing a post recently. And then found one fact that challenged my assumptions.

My basic premise was that the new anti-gay laws in Uganda were a springboard for more or less boycotting African teas.

What I have decided to do is share the post, as it was, up to the moment I discovered a fact I did not like. And then make some commentary around that, and how it actually showed me my own hypocrisy.  The original, unfinished post is below – all the bits in blue.

It’s a heavy post today, folks. Quite a bit of politics, and only a little tea.

The recent history of Africa – the last 1000 years – has been dominated by the actions, not of locals, but by Europeans, and those of European descent.

Significant European interest in Africa started with interest in slavery, and in the centuries that followed, Western countries have looked down on Africans – first as chattels, then as ‘poor savages’ needing civilising, and now as being incapable of running their own affairs.

In particular, the period of colonisation. A time when European countries who couldn’t organise a decent empire – France, Germany, Italy, even pathetic pretend countries such as Belgium – nibbled bits of Africa so they could feel like they were part of the big league, competing with Spain, Portugal, the Dutch and of course, Britain. A time when the big guys hit back and took some of Africa for themselves. A time when brave white men went out to take ownership and shoulder the “white man’s burden” of running these places.

Whether being sadistic, paternalistic or opportunistic, Europeans always knew they were superior on one area: religion. The wonderful term “mumbo-jumbo” is at heart an attack on the spiritual beliefs of various African peoples – an indication of how believing that your ancestor lives in a mountain or that lions have souls is so much less believable than virgin birth and a God who can’t solve famine because he’s too busy checking on what teenage boys are doing under the covers at night.

Colonialism is a mixed legacy at best: the law is one institution that was often pressed upon the unwilling but is now seen as a good thing, whereas other colonial legacies are decidedly bad, such as the genocidal hatred of two basically similar peoples in Rwanda.

Of course, tea is a colonial legacy, and about 12 African countries grow significant amounts of tea. They are the massive tea growing country of Kenya, then a long way back Malawi and Uganda, with Tanzania the only other one of note. The latter three combined grow about 30% of what Kenya grows.

And who grows it? Vast tea companies, like Liptons (Unilever) and Tetleys.

So many people have written so much about the poor practices, lack of workers rights and inhumanity of these sprawling tea estates that I cannot usefully add anything to that commentary at this point.

But Uganda have made the news this week, for passing anti-homosexuality laws. Punitive and primitive, these appalling laws even make it a criminal offence if you know someone is homosexual and don’t report them to the authorities.

Whilst on the face of it it seems absurd to punish a man for having sex with another man by locking him up with hundreds of men for seven years, it is far more than just absurd. It’s an appalling attack on human rights. Led by the teachings of three “Evangelical”  (in the sense of ‘demented’) American preachers, Uganda seems to be determined to cling to the reputation it earned during the reign of Idi Amin for brutality; and the saddest thing about this is, it’s popular.

What is not so readily apparent is that similar laws exists in the other tea growing countries I have listed. It’s not surprising, with South Africa the only significant country in Africa that does not persecute gay people.

The laws in Kenya are virtually identical to the ones in Uganda, one key difference being that they no time or money is being spent on enforcement. However, there is agitation within the Kenyan Parliament for this to happen, with many MPs casting an approving eye on the Ugandan travesty.

In Tanzania, the laws are similar and enforced. In Malawi, the laws are on the books but enforcement was suspended in 2012. It’s great that these vile laws have been suspended, but it is shameful they exist at all.

It’s hard to get tea anywhere without wondering if the provenance means that someone unpleasant somewhere is not getting a benefit. But in this case, the governments who pass these laws get millions on taxes from tea.

And that’s where I stopped, folks.

Because I decided to just check the laws in other tea growing countries, to make sure I was not going to have some unhappy facts pointed out to me via comments. And I did discover just such facts.

China? Check. Japan? Check. India? Er, not so good.

Chapter 16, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is, in essence a slightly milder version of the same law as Uganda has just passed. It was put there in 1860 under the British Raj.

It’s true that there is a popular campaign in India to repeal this appalling travesty; and I doubt that it will be on the law books in another 5 years. Some people say that as only 200 people have ever been charged under Section 377 since 1960, it’s not really enforced.

For me, the discovery that this exists undermined my idea that a boycott would be a good plan. After all, I don’t actually drink African Tea which I find generally quite inferior, but I drink and sell a lot of Indian tea. This is a boycott that might actually affect me!

For years, westerners have pontificated about “What Africa should do” and “What China should do” and “What India Should do” and in many cases, there’s been a healthy dose of self interest.

Me too, it seems.



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!

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

My 12 Best Blog Post Titles What I Wrote*

The Devotea’s List Week. List 4.**

I love a great title.

I find inspiration in titles. Many of my favourite authors go for brilliant, somewhat far-out titles such as Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale”, “Flow my Tears, The Policeman Said” ).

Or the clever puns and references of Terry Pratchett. (“The Last Continent”, “The Fifth Elephant”, “Going Postal”).

And mostly, the greatest booktitleer of them all, Robert Rankin: “Raiders of The Lost Car Park”, “The Antipope”, “Sprout Mask Replica”, “Nostradamus Ate My Hamster” and the greatest book title ever: “The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of The Apocalypse”.

And so, when it comes to my own blog, I like to offer a great title to each post.

I’ve looked through all 209 on this blog and about 40 on some others, and decided to come up with my eleven best. Why eleven? The last list I did was Eleven Golden Permissions , and that was well regarded, so I figure eleven must be a charm. And then I couldn’t decide between two, so I made it an even dozen.

Here they are, as a countdown

12: Context and the Art of Slurping Your Own Tea This post covers one of my constant themes: the conflict between blogging about tea and being a seller of tea. The title is loosely based on the form of the book Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
11: We Might Have Started the Fire Obviously a nod to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”, it talks about how people of all ages are doing their bit for the loose leaf tea revolution!
10: I Sent Scented Sencha to Santa The title is just alliterative, and the post talks about the difference between ‘flavoured’ and ‘scented’.

9. Creeping Like an Effing Squirrel. I read some rubbish that one Alexander Neckham had written about wine in the 1200s, and it sounded remarkably like the rubbish the wine folk still say now. So, over on Beasts of Brewdom, I had some fun with it, constructing a short dialogue between a waiter and a pretentious wine lover.
8: Friends, Romans, Countrymen: listen up you load of bludgers This is quite an odd post. The title comes about as I start by theorising that if Shakespeare had been early Australian, he would have written things differently (for example, “done to death by slanderous tongue” could have been “the big-mouthed arsehole got what was comin’ him” ), before eventually reviewing my friend Katrina’s book Tea Pages. And it’s possibly not a traditional review.

Not a bad list so far. Only mildly self-centred. But that’s unlikely to last.

7: “Arise, Sir Devotea.” Beep. Beep. Beeeep! This is about the premise that I should be knighted for services to tea, and why this will not happen. The title refers to a dream in which it does. I manage to throw bit of tea history into this happily- self-serving rant.

6. Bo-lay! Pu-Eh! YES! NO! MAYBE! :find aged teas damn confusing. I even found the post confusing. The title is a reasonable reflection of this. The post is worth a read for the invented tea title (Oingo-Boingo three-quarter fermented Emperor’s Donkey’s Golden Leg) and its shot at wine drinkers.
5. Brown Owl and The Fortress of Evil . I was going for an Enid Blyton-like title here.The post itself is a gripping exposé of how a shameless organisation that is supposed to be helping children prepare for life teaches them to use teab*gs. It’s a scandal and I’m expecting a Pulitzer prize for this one.
4. My Kettle Just Heard From My Pot’s Lawyers This is a post in which I talk about opinions within tea, about how we all should perhaps be less opinionated. Of course, most people found this hysterical coming from me, which is why the title references an old cliche about hypocrisy.
3. My Own Private Finnvitka A blog about doing it your own way. The entire blog was inspired by the old Norse word “Finnvitka” and the title is pinched from the film “My Own Private Idaho”.
2. An Oglio Of Impertinence This is one of my favourite posts ever. It talks about coffeehouses in the 1600s, the Women’s Petition against Tea and Coffee, and the joys of connecting to other tea lovers on line. The title is a direct quote from contemporary sources about coffeehouses.

And finally, my favourite: I come to praise Tea, Sir, not to bury it . A pun on Shakespeare’s “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” and one I’m damn proud of! The post itself suggests that using teab*gs is clear evidence that cafés and restaurants don’t care, so you might as well go somewhere else.

*For those of you who didn’t get the title of this post, the “what I wrote” bit was a running gag by the pioneering English comedians Morecombe and Wise. Ernie Wise was portrayed as an egotistical, thwarted playwright who always used the phrase “A play what I wrote” . Quite fitting I think.

** This is List Four of “Lord Devotea’s List Week” a spectacular week of lists that will be spread over the Beasts of Brewdom and Lord Devotea’s Tea Spouts blog. 

Tea and Life, Tea History, Tea Stories, Tea Workers

Pop Culture

I’m on record as being unmoved by both Japanese teas and Japanese tea culture and ceremonies.

Taking your shoes off, sitting on a rush mat and admiring a stick in a vase does not in any way cause me to suddenly enjoy tea that is too bitter, and/or too thin, and/or looks like second-hand bile or worst of all, has rice in it.

Luckily, I have a delightful Japanese sister-in-law to whom I can give all the Japanese tea samples that I get sent by people hoping to change my mind. And to be fair, I generally try them before washing my mouth out with 1001 Nights and having a decent cuppa.

Australia’s history with Japan, one of our biggest trading partners, has been checkered to say the least. Partly because Australia grew from the patronising, condescending British Empire belief in the superiority of the white man (except for Frenchmen, obviously) and the Japanese have been committed to their own xenophobia and belief in their own superiority for a very long time. It would be hard to get two more diametrically opposing views. Japanese trade barriers have been an issue here, and whaling is a major (whale)bone of contention – Australia sees the slaughter of whales by the Japanese as exactly that, and Japan sees attempts to stop them spending a fortune slaughtering creatures that no-one actually wants to eat as an attack on their sovereign right to do stupid and cruel things.

But mostly because of the Second World War. That was predictably a low point in Japanese-Australian relations.

One of the controversies that many people have taken an interest in is the whitewashing of Japanese history: prime examples are the complete removal from Japanese approved school textbooks of The Nanking Massacre, forced suicides and the forcing of women into sex slavery during WWII, and downplaying of hideous crimes like the Burma Railway.

One cannot escape comparing post-war Germany, where holocaust denial is see as one of the worst possible crimes, and the Japanese attitude, where effectively the same thing is seen as a public duty. Over the last decade, brave individuals in Japan have set about redressing this, and I doubt many of us Westerners can conceive just how brave that is.

And so this brings me back to tea: it seems to me that tea is often held up as ‘proof of civilisation’ in Japan’s case. As I expressed in a recent post, it doesn’t work for England and neither does it work for Japan.

And here’s where I get to my topic: For a long time I have believed the tea industry has taken it upon itself to whitewash a shameful part of our collective past in order to not offend Japanese sensibilities.

My imperfect memory led me to I believe I first read of the topic I want to outline in Liquid Jade by Beatrice Hoheggener, which remains my favourite book on tea (despite the fact I’ve written two myself).

I assembled my tea books for this project, and three were missing: For All The Tea in China by Sarah Rose, Tea Pages by my good friend Katrina Avilla Munichiello and the aformentioned Liquid Jade. I have a habit of lending books to people and then forgetting about it. Damn.

Since Sarah Rose’s book is specifically about Robert Fortune, China and India and Katrina’s is more a collection of personal essays, I doubt the series of incidents I am considering made it to either, and fair enough. But I felt so sure about Liquid Jade that I wrote to the author to check my facts.

And I was wrong! Beatrice explained that there was no information about this in her book, as she was not across the information. But that she was interested to learn more.

Wow! An author whom I respect and whose book is full of quality research does not know much about this? Does this alter my hypothesis?

Is this information (a) not being reproduced because of attempts to blur history, or (b) just because it is not widely known. Or, does (b) follow (a)?

The facts are fairly simple: let’s list them with no annoying detail, to make it easy to follow.

  1. The Dutch colonised The Dutch East Indies – a huge bunch of islands, based around Batavia (Java) and at some point started growing tea.
  2. At times when Britain was an ally of the Dutch and the Dutch were a bit cash-strapped, British expertise stepped in.
  3. The industry was huge between the World Wars, and a lot of the tea went to Australia. In fact, Australia refused to sign an agreement to buy stuff from the British Empire as a first preference just to keep that lovely and convenient tea from The Dutch East Indies coming in.
  4. The Dutch East Indies did a good job of producing tea via the usual methods: white overseers and horribly mistreated natives.
  5. Poor colonial government led to some unrest across the archipelago.
  6. As part of Japanese aggression during WWII , they invaded. FOUR MILLION people died as a direct result.
  7. The Japanese stoked militancy and racism, particularly as it became clear that they were going to have to retreat. Deflecting blame for much of the past, they helped militant separatists and nationalists into positions of power before they fled.
  8. Holland was shattered after WWII, and just couldn’t afford to keep her colonies.
  9. Indonesia became independent.
  10. Indonesia had no tea industry.

Every point from 4 to 9 impacted the tea industry. The loss of life and tea gardens resulting from the invasion was the most direct and brutal step in removing this industry, but all the other factors contributed.

The fourth largest tea growing country of tea in the world in the 1930s had no tea industry at all from 1945 until a revival started in the mid 80s.

And yet, it’s not that easy to get information on this.

I have on my desk 17 books on tea. And I’m going to have a look at what they say about The Dutch East Indies, now known as Indonesia.

I can dismiss books like Afternoon Tea at The Savoy and Taking Tea at The Ritz. Not really the place for this information. Nor are Alice Parson’s The Magic of Tea or Jane Campsie’s The Perfect Brew, although that lists Indonesia as one of the ‘major producers until the early 19th Century’ which just seems slightly muddled to me.

I’m also going to dismiss ‘Curiosi-tea’ by Camelia Cha from serious contention. Initially I dismissed it because it has a so-called ‘tea  pun’ every second sentence – as in the title, where you change a vague homonym to ‘tea’. (Here’s my tip: if you are over 4 years old, you get to do this once a year, max. Not every paragraph in a book)  It actually has more about Indonesia than most tea books, about ten entries for completeness which I applaud and several pages on the Dutch tea pioneer Jacobbus. But nothing at all on the time in question.

Tea- A Global History by Helen Saberi has just over a page on Indonesia. The events in question are outlined thusly: “…until the Second World War. The war resulted in the destruction of Indonesian tea estates and factories and many tea plants returned to their wild state”. It’s a mention, but given the title of the book, pretty skimpy.

A book that purports to be more in-depth about tea: Tea-History Terroirs Variety by Gascoine et al is actually the book that set me off on this post. Despite covering tea growing countries as Nepal, Vietnam and Malawi, a check of their index reveal Indonesia is not even present. But, hey, Japan is covered pretty extensively. I guess when you write things like “The Japanese have created a unique product, worthy of their refined and demanding culture” then four million deaths is not exactly bolstering your argument, best leave it out entirely. (In fact, I got so mad, I threw this book in the bin after typing that.)

The Story of Tea – A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by ML & RJ Heiss is pretty thick and seems worth a shot. Actually, it’s a pretty good book and  has a reasonable two-page overview of tea history in Indonesia.  But their summation of points 6 and 7 above is “The strategic position of the Indonesian archipelago during World War II had a negative effect on the tea industry” and this compares to a bucketload of pages on Japanese tea culture.

You can see why this is getting up my nose, right? Most of these books give as much wordcount to rush-matting in Chado than they do to an incredibly shameful chapter in tea history.

Now, I come to a couple of books that are definitely in the “Let us tell you the truth about the terrible history of tea” category. I should get some grim satisfaction there, surely.

A & I MacFarlane’s Green Gold – The Empire of Tea makes it really hard to find anything, as neither ‘Dutch East Indies” nor “Indonesia” appear in the index. However, I am nothing if not persistent and managed to find “Java”, as well as a few obviously Dutch names. There’s a few mentions here and there but I couldn’t find anything relevant.

Never mind : Roy Moxham is bound to have a bunch of stuff in A Brief History of Tea – The Extraordinary Story of The World’s Favorite Drink.  But guess again. Mr Moxham’s mention of the hardships in the tea industry during WWII including a mention of “it not being a good time for the industry in India” and that Plantation House in Mincing Lane, London was bombed. “Java” is scattered throughout the book, usually as a passing mention.

All this only leaves Tea- A History of the Drink that Changed the World by John Griffiths. And this is the best of the lot. Whilst best to read it cover to cover and assemble the information as it is presented, a bit of index-skimming finds most of this. It is not overly detailed, but is particularity good at covering the historical sweep. So, whereas some books have pages devoted to Dutch East Indies tea pioneers and half a sentence on WWII, Griffiths covers the narrative a little briefly but with excellent political understanding.

At this point: a quick review. I have an extensive collection of books, and yet the information I want is hard to find. It’s either not well known or being suppressed for as various reasons.

If you search the internet and ignore the pages that tell you that Catherine of Braganza invented tea so that Dr Oz can prescribe Teavana’s Orange Biscuit Coconut Giraffe-testicle Berry Treat to cure cancer, polio and diabetes, you still end up with a whole bunch of not much.

And me? When I wrote The Infusiast, I had to pick seven countries to briefly write the tea growing history of. I had a list of ten to start with, and Indonesia didn’t make the cut. Why? It’s not like I was unaware of this information. I have even covered it previously on this blog, in posts like this one and this one. To be fair, India, China, Sri Lanka and yes, Japan needed to be there. The plight of Kenyan tea workers and the prevalence of Kenyan tea in the bagged industry compelled me to include that country. And I am Australian, one has to be a bit patriotic. That left one spot, and Turkey seemed to offer a better balance to the book. Vietnam, Malawi and Indonesia missed the cut. So I may well be part of the problem.

So, I’m going to have to draw a conclusion: And here it is.

I believe the  history of tea is distorted in such a way as to favour the idea of a superior Japanese culture and incidentally, take a few cheap shots at the ‘inferior’ British one. Any dissenting voices are often dismissed as racism. I think there is a complexity of reasons, but the combination of former colonies who enjoy putting the boot in over England’s sometimes shameful past (or who just enjoy beating them at sport, like us Australians) and the fear of offending the easily-offended Japanese has led to a dearth of knowledge about the events of 1942-1944. This in turn has led to many fine authors such as Beatrice Hoheggener simply not having these events on their radar.

And yet these events changed the world.



Tea and Life, Tea History

Getting My Own House In Order

Ah yes, our words can come back to haunt us.

In my last post, I mentioned that my next post – which should logically be this one – might be a little controversial and upset a few folk.

Not much of a surprise there, really: if I’m not being incredibly funny I usually am offending someone, and I try my best to do both simultaneously.

But I digress.

This is not the post I was intending to write. That’s probably next. If the last one was the preamble, let’s see this one as the post-preamble furtheramble.

The fact I released a book yesterday added a further pressure to write another post, but I covered that by sticking it on The Devotea’s News Feed.

So, after a digression and a further digression, we’ll begin.


Are you seated comfortably? Do you have some tea? Perhaps a nice china cup? I’m sure no-one wants to admit they are drinking a spectacular First Flush Darjeeling out of a chipped “World’s Greatest Dad” mug.

People who don’t drink tea see snobbishness in all aspects of tea.  “What, you have to measure the tea, add hot water using a device made for the purpose, end up with the liquid in the cup and the leftover solids in the bin? Whoa, man, that so totally different to coffee”.


But there is a certain cachet about the whole process.  A teapot from K-Mart is somehow not as good a tea-making contrivance as an 18th century heirloom Royal Albert that your great-grandmother owned (or your aunt bought at a thrift shop and lied about). Delicate china cups, silver sugar bowls with ornate tongs, they all enhance the experience.

And I must say right now, I love all that stuff.

But in order to love it, I think I need to acknowledge that such things were born of wealth and privilege and power. From a time when tea was kept in a locked caddy so the servants couldn’t drink it. From times whilst French aristocrats were sipping tea as their citizens boiled their shoe leather into soup out of desperation. When kings and queens dined on swans and a nice Young Hyson whilst poor mothers buried their children.

If a Victorian* servant spilt some tea whilst serving and was dismissed from service, there was every chance they would starve to death or wind up in a workhouse, literally working themselves to death in exchange for poor food and grim lodgings.

We can make up stories about Duchesses ‘inventing” afternoon tea to add to the snob value. We can celebrate the exploits of pioneers – and we should – but not many of them were born into a family of coal miners or domestic servants.

In short, historically speaking, tea was for the haves, not the have-nots.

Now, things are different for many (although not all) of the people of the world. Tea is so readily available that it is the world’s most popular beverage. It brings work to many very poor people – not always in the best of conditions – and sustenance to many more.

I’m writing this whilst sipping Fleurs de Provence from 600ml mug covered in cartoon dragonflies, but I do have about 100 china cups at my disposal.

‘Civilisation’ is a thin veneer sometimes, and we should not forget that sometimes it’s a veneer over some very uncivilsed situations.

I love the English Tea tradition. That’s where my true tea heart is. But love is not blind in this case, and I think that acknowledging the uncomfortable is part of truly understanding where the traditions I love were born.

*This refers to the Victorian Era in England, not the Australian State of Victoria. With a few exceptions, Australian Victorians drink tepid coffee and this causes their inability to pronounce the letter ‘a’.