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’.

Tea and Life, Tea History, Tea Stories

The Godson: An Offer I Wouldn’t Refuse

Even though I am proudly Australian, I’m also reasonably English. My ancestry was all English not that far back.

On my mother’s side, it goes back to a bunch of Methodist brothers – actual brothers, not in a monkish sense -who left England in the mid to late 1800s because Victorian England wasn’t uptight enough for them. This side of the family has been exhaustively traced back to what appears to be homo erectus days and I could give you the whole story if I didn’t habitually tune out when my Mother talks of this.

On my father’s side they are less forthcoming, basically as my great grandfather was called up to the British Army just before WWI. He was being shipped to India to perform  his duty when he suddenly developed a great enthusiasm for sports: he dived over the side of the ship in Sydney harbour, swam for shore and then ran quite a distance. If he’d stolen a bicycle he could have invented the triathlon.

So, I have an English pedigree, I grew up in a country town full of English, Scottish and Irish shipworkers and I married the English-born Lady Devotea.

Much of Australia is quite English and in particular our national broadcaster, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, previously Commission) has a fair whack of English TV on it.

And then there’s Australian  history: the squalid convict era, the “national hero” who was a police-murdering thug, the greed- and misery-driven gold rush and the wiping out of the Tasmanian Aborigines- it’s  a short and grubby history we have here. Certainly we have invented a massive amount of stuff and have Nobel prizes etc. coming out of our ears; our military history consists of brilliance under our own leadership and dismal failure under others  and our sporting history is ridiculously impressive for such a lowly-populated place, but overall, if we want history, best to stick to world history in general and English in particular.

One of the most interesting forms of history is the history of dwellings; and when in the UK last year, Lady Devotea and I spent much time in neolithic camps, prehistoric fenlands, Roman ruins, Anglo-Saxon embankments, mediaeval houses and grand Georgian/Victorian and Edwardian mansions.

And so, when it comes to TV, there is a group of three programmes that the ABC shows at 6pm weekdays in rotation. We find it unmissable.

There’s Restoration Man, where architect George Clarke gets stuck in to helping people who have bought neglected architectural treasures and want to bring them back to life, despite bureaucracy, lack of funds and the sheer stupidity of doing so. It is my favourite of the three.

There’s Restoration House, which is virtually the same show except that it is hosted by actress Caroline Quentin and is a lesser quality show. Ms. Quentin has less to offer, although the show features an engaging architectural historian as well as a less engaging lisping historian of the most condescending sort.

And finally, there’s Country House Rescue. This is different to the others in that often the houses are much, much grander and have often been in the family for hundreds and hundreds of years. They tend to be falling apart and going broke, but they are often quite tremendous estates with lakes and woods and tenant farmers and incredible outbuildings. The hosts of the show (there have been two) have extensive experience in business and the idea is that they help these ‘poor’ individuals to save the house for (their) future generations.

This nearly always involves building a tea room, though often the quality of tea is lacking. It seems obvious to me that tracking down and using the various teaware used on Downton Abbey would be a sure-fire recipe for success.

Anyway, the people concerned are often chinless wonders who are approaching their dotage whilst the house crumbles, or the next generation who have moved back in with their new young family as Mater and Pater retire to a cottage on the premises, only to find the bank manager is due tomorrow with his hand out and the drawing room roof has just collapsed.

Sometimes they are people that have bought a grand house with a vision of rescuing it, using every penny they have. Good on them.

But what do you do if there are no buyers; and the next generation does not want it or does not exist? The answer on at least three occasions is to leave it to your godson.

Yes, the old tradition of appointing someone as some sort of in loco parentis reserve in the case of a precipitous parental departure from the field of play can have a significant effect on the baby concerned a few decades down the track.

So, where parents have been smart enough to ask the local land-owing confirmed bachelor to be the godparent of their bundle of joy, big rewards can be forthcoming.

Now, I know nothing about the whole godparents/godson relationship. It’s an old tradition, I was raised by parents to whom religion was unimportant at best and I never had godparents. If I had they might have been the local greengrocer, which is hardly compares to some bloke getting  94-room mansion on 1200 acres in Lancashire, just because his parents asked the right person to sprinkle a bit of holy water or whatever it is they do.

So here’s the offer: if you are childless, well into old age and have a huge country house somewhere nice,  I will consider being your godson. Please apply via this blog. Send a photo of the house and your medical and financial records.

After all, you know your future tea room will be in good hands when you shuffle off this mortal coil.


Tea and Life, Tea History, Tea Stories

The 500

500 cups of tea – at least – have been consumed.

The evidence is overwhelming.


In front of me is a package that once contained a kilogram of tea. It now contains nothing.

I do not remember ever spilling any, I never gave any loose tea away.

Lady Devotea does not like this tea, so none of the drinking of it was done by her. Furthermore, as we tend to share a pot, it was mostly consumed at times when Lady D did not have a cup of tea with me: perhaps she was out, or having some other beverage. Perhaps I was drinking tea in my office.

I did once share a flask with a friend of ours; so that’s just one cup that was not consumed by me.

I tend to put two grams in a tea tumbler when making tea for one. That works out to 500 cups, of which only one was drunk by someone else. I resteeped the last two grams this morning, as I often do, and I’m estimating it would be more like 550. But we cannot deny the 500.

I remember how I ended up with this kilo, and when: it was just over a year ago.

So where did those 500 cups go? Why do I not have a memory?

How many cups of tea do that, I wonder? Slip by, unheralded. Sustaining and essential, they hydrate and energise, and yet there is scarcely a nod in their direction.

Incidentally, this tea has a bit of a history. It was a popular tea a while back here in Australia, then it vanished, then it came back.

I first came across the name of it on a fairly average black blend, and then I was surprised to find out that my supplier of that was doing so in a manner than seemed entirely suspect. Here’s how it goes:

  • Person A’s family company invents and owns the blend and brand, then gets into some difficulty.
  • Person A sells the name and formula to Person B’s family company.
  • Person A sells their family company to Person C’s family company.
  • Person C believe that as this tea was created by a company he now owns, he’s entitled to use the name that was previously sold.
  • Person D (that’s me) buys some from person C. And it’s OK.
  • Person B sends some polite letters, then some solicitors letters asking Person C to desist.  Person D (still me) meets Person B and hears the story. Then Person D (still me) gets a sample and realises that it’s far better tea.
  • Person D’s family company (which consists of myself & Lady Devotea) entirely switch tea suppliers for our tea shop. Person C continues to sell the stuff, and everyone else in the story moves on, because Person C is actually the worst person Person D has ever met.

And there you have it.

So, I ended up with a kilo. If I had to describe the taste, I would compare it to Persian Princess (AU or US), but with less up front kick and more residual. It’s not the same taste, but it’s in the ball park. Strong, somewhat complex, beefy black. It has a quality that I describe as “greeness” that I only seem to find in black teas, never green ones.

Never mind, I know what I like. And who to avoid.

If only I could remember each cup of tea. I’m sure I enjoyed them all. It seems disrespectful to forget. Perhaps I should order another kilo at some point.

If I do, I suspect it will meet the same fate as the first.

Tea History, Tea Retail, Tea Stories

The Fourth Of July

The Fourth of July is special to many of my American friends. Sure, it maybe should have been the 2nd of July, sometimes it’s called Independence Day and the declaration of Independence was probably actually signed in August according to Wikipedia, but it’s quite specific when you refer to it as “The Fourth of July”.

In Australia, we’ll be calling it ‘Thursday’. If we listen out to the media, the stock market reports will mention that the NYSE is closed for a holiday and we will probably see Mr Obama on the news on Friday giving it a mention.

Also in Australia, when an immovable public holiday is on a Thursday, the Friday is a free-for-all in terms of the Australian sport known as “chucking a sickie”: that is, phoning work to say you have dysentery, the Black Death or an alien succubus growing in your abdomen, and so you can’t possibly come into work and spread those germs and/or aliens. Instead, you’ll have to suffer at home in bed, or perhaps out in your boat.

Given the events in Boston in 1773 tragically linking tea to American Independence; and the rise of the self styled “Tea Party”, then The Fourth of July is clearly a great opportunity for Americans to drink some tea and forget all that nonsense about not doing so.

Iced, I suppose. The whole country is brimming with iced tea. If your water is cut off at home and you need to visit the drinks fridge at your local Walgreens to get liquid to bathe in, you’d save money buying iced tea over water.

Strangely, there is a tradition of eating hot dogs on that date. Why? To celebrate one’s freedom to wrap the worst possible sausage in cheap white bread?

But celebration is important.

So, America, I’d like to tell you how you should be doing it. Here’s what I suggest you create your feast from:

(1) Berries.

Good Lord, the quality, quantity and low price of berries in the USA is OUTSTANDING. You guys don’t know how lucky you are. Blueberries are twice the quality and 1/8 the price they are here.

Eat them fresh or bake them into something: just not scones, as somewhere along the way, you guys lost any ability to make a scone.

(2) Salad

I hate salad. Wilting lettuce and insipid tomatoes. But not in the US! Every salad I was served in the US was crisp and actually worth eating. Bear in mind I eat mine without any dressing, so I demand perfection.

(3) Peanut Butter

You guys are magicians with this stuff. You’ve correctly called that it’s pretty boring in a jar, and so you’ve taken to stuffing it inside chocolate, into ice cream, in muffins and cookies and in cakes. Keep up the good work

(4) Hospitality

Never have we experienced hospitality like in the USA. Walk into any restaurant, any home, any office, and it’s there. Museum guards. Subway Ticket Office attendants. 95% of Taxi Drivers. Piranha apologists*. Virtually everyone. If you extend this hospitality to each other on this holiday, it will go a long way toward making a special occasion.

SSC2 Edit 700

(5) Tea

Have plenty of tea.

Of course our own Star Spangled Chai is virtually made for this occasion, but across the USA there are scores of great tea companies.

Drink it hot. Drink it iced. Just drink plenty of it.

(6) Enthusiasm

All across America, we found unbridled enthusiasm, and self-belief. Apply that to your celebrations and it will be infectious.

(7) Friendship

In amongst the tall buildings and giant statues and open plains and mountain ranges, the most outstanding thing we found in the USA was friendship. Not just the people I’ve ‘known” on line for years, but pretty well everyone we met.

Break that out on the Fourth of July and celebrate it.

It’s very special. Any day.

*Technically we only met one piranha apologist, but he was so spirited in his defence of the little guys that I assumed they are all like that.
Tea and Food, Tea and Life, Tea History, Tea Stories

A Great Day to Chai (Devotea Origins Part VII)

  Series Note: At long last, the final installment in my self-indulgent series that covers all our blends and what inspired them. If you’ve got this far, your torment is almost over. This is Part VII.

Who doesn’t love a good chai. Well, a few people , but we can dismiss them out of hand.

In our own amiable way, we are committed to eradicating every last refuge of the powders, syrups and other abominations that are sold as “chai”.

To me, chai is short for ‘masala chai’ and it literally is real tea with spices.

End of discussion.


Aussie Ginger Chai

Kali 2

Kali Chai

We have two, or three, or four masala chais depending on whom you ask.

I’ll start by linking out a previously published explanation of Kali Chai as a guest post on another blog.

Our flagship product is Aussie Ginger Chai. It came about because Daintree tea is a favourite of ours. This Australian-grown tea has a natural warm, spicy earthiness, and so it seemed obvious to make it into chai.

Aussie Ginger Chai is really popular. People love it. We offer free tastings, and before they know it, they are hooked.With Kali Chai already holding the ‘black’ position, we blended this to be as milkily indulgent as possible. We recommend making it with all milk, no water, and way too much sugar or honey.

Both of the above are only available from our Australian store.

The main reason for this as they are created with ingredients readily available in Australia, but not easily or economically sources elsewhere.

BP5 700

Bread Pudding Chai

For overseas, we created two more.

First, there’s Bread Pudding Chai. Redolent of nutmeg and cinnamon, it has a lovely warn fruity spice hit and is perfect as  a dessert.

You won’t find it available on line anywhere yet.

It was created for the British Market, but has not been released there yet. But in a bit of a twist, it’s available from one outlet in Australia – a place that imports good only available in Britain.

That leaves Star-Spangled Chai, not surprisingly created exclusively for the US market. It’s closer to Kali Chai – it’s incredible black – and features a massive hit of star anise. You need a while after this tea to try any others.

SSC2 Edit 700

Star Spangled Chai

That’s all of our chais, all of our teas. Leaving out a few we do for other brands and three that we once had but eliminated over time, there are no more.

So far.

Lady Devotea has already put another concept on the table. We’ve started experimenting to get the flavour component right.

We’re excited.

It never ends, and we’d be disappointed if it did!