Tea and the Kiwi with Philippa Ballantine ~ Victorian Research (Special Extra)

Today, Gentle Reader, in the Grand tradition of Intellectual Salons and Lady’s Societies, we are honored with a guest blog from the indomitable Philippa Ballantine. She will be speaking on a subject of New Zealand and tea. In a recent blog I made not of how wonderful the tea was in this part of the world. Pip is here to tell you why.

While the British Empire was in its heyday they did many things; some good, some for their own amusement, and some downright nasty. However, one of the things they did get right, was to spread tea drinking all over the globe. Wherever the British people landed, slashed down some forest, and started a farm ~ you can be sure that immediately after, and possibly right in the middle of it all, they stopped to boil some water and have a spot of tea.

This is as sure for New Zealand, as for any other part of the Empire.

In my mother’s and Nana’s household every time there was a moment of importance, a decision to be made, or bad news to be handed out, it had to be dealt with over a cup of tea. Usually tea was accompanied by a biscuit of some kind (by biscuit I mean the British biscuit, most often called a cookie in the Americas). Regularly this would be a gingernut. These rock hard creations could (and sometimes did) crack teeth, so dunking was pretty much a requirement.

On the point of dunking, my Nana would be torn. Obviously it is a very common gesture, displaying a kind of disrespect that no proper lady would ever tolerate in her house. On the other, she really didn’t want her grandchildren losing a tooth. So while dunking was allowed, it would never be done at a proper afternoon tea with the decent china cups out, and company present. The dunking of the biscuit was only ever acceptable when with family, in the kitchen, drinking tea out of mugs.

Afternoon tea was an entirely different affair, taken with guests and always involved the best china teacups (covered in pink roses from memory). The gingernut were never present at such rituals, and instead a selection of finger food would be offered.

I think because of this tea ritual New Zealand was forced to become a baking nation—just so that the tins would always be full if anyone popped round for a spot of tea. The shame of having nothing in the house should such an unexpected guest appear was quite severe. So the doyenne of late twentieth century hospitality in New Zealand Aunt Daisy devoted well over a third of her book to keeping the tins full.

But such polite rituals were certainly not the only way tea was and is enjoyed in New Zealand. It is still drunk at ‘smoko’ by manual labourers. No matter if they are road workers, plumbers or builders, smoko is usually tea drunk out of a thermos and a biccie (kiwis do love to shorten words) perched anywhere they can find it.

Since the earliest colonial days tea has been important and valuable to the country. So much so, that the odd immoral entrepreneur was known to doctor the tea he sold in order to make more of a profit. Such an affront to the nation would not stand, and in 1882 the Tea Examination Act was passed. New Zealanders could now be sure that their tea was unadulterated by sawdust or other things nefarious people would put in to pad their own pockets.

Tea saw New Zealand soldiers through two World Wars, and whatever other little skirmishes the Empire was involved in. Sometimes tea was all that held body and soul together.

It had been raining for two and a half days and was still pouring. The walk up the hill was just about the finish for most of us. We were drenched to the bone, utterly fagged after sixty hours of almost continuous work, and it required a series of supreme efforts to keep from flopping into the mud – anywhere – and letting things rip. Just on the ridge, before we reached our site, we were greeted by the Y.M.C.A canteen, a cup of tea and two packets of biscuits ready for every man.
– Jock Phillips, Nicholas Boyack and E.P. Malone (eds), The Great Adventure: New Zealand Soldiers Describe the First World War

It was during the Second World War that Bell Tea became an institution in New Zealand. The company had been formed in 1898 by the sartorially elegant Norman Harper Bell, but became a lifeline to kiwi service personal overseas. As home comfort packages were sent winging to the other side of the world by worried family members, it was said that trench protection was improved by the shear number of one pound tins of tea the men received. So not only was tea keeping the troops morale up, it was also fending off enemy fire.

During the war, however, there were a lot of American service men stationed in New Zealand, and they bought with them not only a fondness for jazz music, but a love of coffee. Tough times lay ahead for the traditional cuppa. While coffee has in the last fifty years made inroads into New Zealand’s love of tea—in recent times tea has been come back swinging (if such a civilised beverage can be imagined to do such a thing).

Now there are plenty of boutique tea shops popping up all over the country. You can have wonderful High Teas at any number of hotels and cafes in New Zealand. (My favourite is Martha’s Pantry in Wellington) And more than that—for the first time ever New Zealand has its very own tea producer!

It seems after a brief crazy period, the country is coming back to its senses and enjoying the taste and delight of a good cup of tea again. The ritual of the civilised cuppa is enjoying a resurgence, and I am very much sure that my Nana would breathe a lady-like sigh of relief. Then she would go and put the kettle on.

Philippa Ballantine is a fantasy writer hailing from Wellington, New Zealand. In the coming year she will have three books hitting the real and virtual shelves. The first of which a supernatural fantasy, Geist from Ace Books will available in late October 2010—just in time for Halloween. Find out more at booksoftheorder.com and pjballantine.com While this book is entirely tea free, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences; Phoenix Rising she co-wrote with Tee Morris is coming in May 2011, and is literally swimming in tea—though the gingernut is regretfully absent.

I would be most remiss, Gentle Reader, if I did not mention that Pip is also the mistress of the podcast Erotica a la Carte which includes at least two excellent steampunk episodes. A Heart of Hammered Brass by Susan Z which is possibly one of my favorite short sexy steampunk stories ever written. If you like the romance/Madame Lefoux aspects of my books, you will defiantly like this piece. Warning, it IS erotica. “Olivia’s life of gentile middle-class existence is challenged by a face from her past. Steamy goodness ensues.” I should warn you that there is an add for Steampunk Spectacular an excellent podcast which has, so far as I can tell, gone dark. So don’t get your hopes up. And there is also Dreams of Steam and Sparks by Pip herself, which is a little more in the futuristic Windup Girl vein of steampunk. “Past and future collide in a inventors laboratory. Steam and sparks ensue.”

Your moment of parasol . . .

Gail’s Daily Dose
Your Infusion of Cute:

Your Tisane of Smart:
According to Things a Lady Would Like to Know (1876). “To prevent the Hair form falling off, sponge the head lightly every day with cold tea.”
Your Writerly Tinctures:
The Great Prologue Debate

Brizmus Blogs Books says, “So while this wasn’t my first foray into steampunk, it was my first foray into the genre known as steampunk romance, and let me just say: thank goodness I didn’t let that little word “romance” scare me. THIS BOOK WAS AMAZING! Seriously.”
Even bigger SPOILER ALERT! Really, DON’T READ THE BLURB ON AMAZON if you haven’t read the other books first. Jessica says, “This is definitely one of the best series I’ve read this year. It is entirely different than my normal genre reading. It’s a historical paranormal romance–usually both two things I don’t read all that much–but it is just incredible.”

Quote of the Day:
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”
~ Thich Nat Hahn

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