New Favourites and Old Friends

No German translation needed today as the tea in that Advent Calendar haled from New Zealand. The company, called Ti Ora, is big on environmental conservation and we half wonder how we haven’t run across it before since the last friend we sent out the way of the Kiwis was big on both tea and environmentalism and should surely have loved this stuff.

Never mind. This might be our favourite so far of the German selection – and no, not because we don’t need crib notes! (This whole thing has done wonders for our working vocab, honest. We can now point out words like ‘almonds’ and ‘cinnamon’ which means next time we’re in Germany we might be able to order cake as well as tea!) Anyway, the blend is called Forrest Fruits and New Zealand Black Currants. It features strawberries, blueberries, and the eponymous currants.

We were unorthodox and kept the teapig (this was the St Andrews local name for reusable triangular teabags) in the mug so were able to track the way the strawberry went from sweet to tart, becoming steadily more subsumed by the other flavours. We liked the tea in all stages.

DavidsTea gave us Snow Day, which was a chocolate and mint affair. We’ve had it before and it’s always a hit. It was our first foray into tea with chocolate, so we’re probably a bit nostalgic that way. It was also our first or second Advent Tea full stop. There’s definitely nostalgia on that score. But it’s a good tea if you like chocolate and mint. We happen to. It’s more mint than chocolate, and that’s probably the right balance when drinking tea, because honestly, if we wanted something really chocolatey we’d make cocoa.

The name of this tea always makes us think of school, and specifically how few snow days we got growing up where we did. The rule was that if the principal could get to school, so could we, and she lived on site. So over 14 years we accrued a whopping 2 snow days. Once the doors had quite literally frozen shut. Such is life in Canada. Or, in the fabulously immortal words of Sunday’s sermon, ‘We have our own equivalent desert…Canadian Winter.’

Not that it’s been particularly snowy. It’s snowing now, aptly enough, and we’ve had two or three other bouts of snow, but it hasn’t stuck. All our ravine runs are full of leaves and muds as much as snow. The Dachshunds of Dawlish are not amused. In the spirit of this winter then, here’s a poem about just that kind of weather. It probably won’t amuse dachshunds either, but only because it’s not edible. But maybe non-dachshunds will approve.

Falling Leaves and Early Snow
Kenneth Rexroth

In the years to come they will say,
“They fell like the leaves
In the autumn of nineteen thirty-nine.”
November has come to the forest,
To the meadows where we picked the cyclamen.
The year fades with the white frost
On the brown sedge in the hazy meadows,
Where the deer tracks were black in the morning.
Ice forms in the shadows;
Disheveled maples hang over the water;
Deep gold sunlight glistens on the shrunken stream.
Somnolent trout move through pillars of brown and gold.
The yellow maple leaves eddy above them,
The glittering leaves of the cottonwood,
The olive, velvety alder leaves,
The scarlet dogwood leaves,
Most poignant of all.
In the afternoon thin blades of cloud
Move over the mountains;
The storm clouds follow them;
Fine rain falls without wind.
The forest is filled with wet resonant silence.
When the rain pauses the clouds
Cling to the cliffs and the waterfalls.
In the evening the wind changes;
Snow falls in the sunset.
We stand in the snowy twilight
And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud.
Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight,
Glimmering with floating snow.
An owl cries in the sifting darkness.
The moon has a sheen like a glacier.

Judy Plum on Cooking

We mentioned a few days ago that one of our St Nicholas Day traditions was baking bishop’s bread and that we hadn’t got round to it. In the great tradition of better late than never we got round to it today. We met up with a friend, and having previously agreed her cookbook had the wrong recipe (Bishop’s Bread is not, as per our mutual experience a light sponge affair)  we eked out ours.

Ours comes from this website or that documenting the recipes of L. M. Montgomery, since, as also previously mentioned, Judy Plum of Pat of Silver Bush  fame was the first person we encountered, fictive or otherwise, to bake Bishop’s bread. We wish we remembered the source for the sake of citing it, but alas, it was long ago and we have failed to rediscover it. Suffice to say Judy Plum’s recipe, so far as we could parse from the description, is also not a sponge.

So why, when fed into Google, was the internet insisting six ways from Sunday that it was? Well, it turns out the crucial part of the description of Judy Plum’s famous Bishop’s Bread – and we know this was keeping lots of you up at night wondering – is that it’s Australian. And once we started asking for Aussie Bishop’s Bread recipes, suddenly they got a lot less spongey and a lot more like the fruitcake-adjacent loaf we ritually bake.

So, what tea does one put with Bishop’s Bread? Well, in the event it was Red Rose, and no one’s contesting the origin of that. Only in Canada, eh? Pity.  But there go facts trying to spoil a perfectly good segue. We actually began the day with Springtime Darjeeling from Germany. It was heartier than the previous darjeeling, and less delicate, but still good. Darjeelings always are. Some black teas give you gradations but as a rule of thumb it’s hard to find a bad darjeeling.

Likewise Oolongs. We’ve never met one we didn’t like and tonight’s Salted Caramel Oolong was no exception. It’s not exactly sweet – we wouldn’t call it a desert tea in the way of some of the flavoured teas we’ve sampled. The caramel gives it a smoothness and creaminess that works excellently with the fermented flavour of the oolong. It’s lovely, dark, and rich. Perfect for another round of that mystery series our father continues to mistake for the zombie apocalypse. (This is mostly made funny by the fact he’d be the last person to watch anything about a zombie apocalypse.)

Here’s a poem by L. M. Montgomery to go with the recipe her book inspired us to track down. You’ll notice no one quibbles about Bishop’s Bread and it’s culinary particulars. We did look, but some things are just too specific even for Google.

L. M. Montgomery
A pale enchanted moon is sinking low
Behind the dunes that fringe the shadowy lea,
And there is haunted starlight on the flow
Of immemorial sea.

I am alone and need no more pretend
Laughter or smile to hide a hungry heart;
I walk with solitude as with a friend
Enfolded and apart.

We tread an eerie road across the moor
Where shadows weave upon their ghostly looms,
And winds sing an old lyric that might lure
Sad queens from ancient tombs.

I am a sister to the loveliness
Of cool far hill and long-remembered shore,
Finding in it a sweet forgetfulness
Of all that hurt before.

The world of day, its bitterness and cark,
No longer have the power to make me weep;
I welcome this communion of the dark
As toilers welcome sleep.

Feline Serenade

To say we spent most of the day reading for Monday’s book club, it’s been a busy sort of day. Though we did spend most of it reading for Monday’s book club. And actually, we were going to try and pull a poem relevant to the book, since a handful of poets get a mention. Remind us Monday.

We broke up the reading a bit with tea from Germany. Today it was coconut green tea, which smelled powerfully of coconut but didn’t really taste of it. Maybe we cheated on the steeping a bit. Coconut is a rare flavour we’re not wild about. But it works really well with this tea. It’s a Sencha, which can brew quite strong quickly and the coconut is the perfect compliment. It keeps it sweet but doesn’t taste of sunblock. (Cue our horror-filled memories of the imposter Coconut Custard Creme.) It was a pleasant surprise and one we’ll definitely be going back to.

So anyway, we went out to stream an opera and promptly forgot what poems were in the book. We were too busy trying to play Spot That Aria as we watched Something Rich and Strange. Which was an experience; we’d missed opera and it was an interesting reimagining of what opera might look like as artists wove together all this different music. We’ve missed opera, and singing, and generally all things musical.

Well, so, no book club adjacent poetry. By this point it was late and we were drinking DavidsTea’s Peach Parfait – another green tea – while watching Waking the Dead (addled family touchingly misname it The Walking Dead no matter how often we explain why this is a very different show) as part of the Dachshund Cuddle.

We’ve been pretty good this year about using up a full sample every day. We have finally found the perfectly sized infuser for this. But that wasn’t the case today. Peach Parfait is one of the returning teas and it’s easily our favourite ever turned out by this calendar. (This will probably shock those keeping score at home of our preference for black tea, any black tea, any time of day.) But green tea pairs beautifully with fruit. The peach makes it sweet, and fruity and almost like an oolong in flavour. It’s a bit tropical, a bit golden, and it tastes gloriously of summer. So when it cropped up today you can bet we rationed it. And maybe we’ll stock up on a full tin in the New Year the way we always mean to.

It was at this point the cat joined the TV Cuddle and brought to our attention that today is, in popular culture Caturday, and not only that, but somehow we’re halfway (halfway!) through Advent without ever dedicating a poem to Miss Marschallin. It won’t do, we tell you. Well, she tells us.

And as it happens, Opera Atelier has given us the perfect opportunity. If it hasn’t already been mentioned, Miss Marschallin takes her name from the popular Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier. She’s Field-Marschallin Marie-Therese in full. Resi for everyday, Miss Marschallin on the blog. Not only that, but we were singing when we met her.

You could do that pre-Covid, you see. We often did. We wandered to the grocery store singing hymns from choir rehearsal. We walked home singing Rusalka’s Moon Song. We walked to singing lessons practicing the piece of the hour and home ditto. We used to sing A Saint-Malo Beau Port de Mer and La Volette. There were others. We were singing Vilja-Leid when we met Miss Marschallin. Whereas previous cats used to run screaming from our soprano, she bunted our hands in response. Indeed, when we had family staying it wasn’t until she sat down at the piano and began singing that Miss Marschallin deigned to warm up to her.

To honour Miss Marschallin then, and to observe Caturday, here’s a poem about another singing cat. Turns out there’s a long history of them.


The Singing Cat
Stevie Smith

It was a little captive cat
Upon a crowded train
His mistress takes him from his box
To ease his fretful pain.

She holds him tight upon her knee
The graceful animal
And all the people look at him
He is so beautiful.

But oh he pricks and oh he prods
And turns upon her knee
Then lifteth up his innocent voice
In plaintive melody.

He lifteth up his innocent voice
He lifteth up, he singeth
And to each human countenance
A smile of grace he bringeth.

He lifteth up his innocent paw
Upon her breast he clingeth
And everybody cries, Behold
The cat, the cat that singeth.

He lifteth up his innocent voice
He lifteth up, he singeth
And all the people warm themselves
In the love his beauty bringeth.

Note though; when we travel with Miss Marschallin be it by train, plane or bus, everyone, bar everyone comments on how beautifully mannered and quiet she is. It’s only when we haul her to the dread V-E-T or stay too long in bed that we get serenaded with the saddest, most plaintive meow in the world.

Return to Headington

Two really lovely teas today. I began with DavidsTea, because it was a black tea and when we can double up an Advent tea for breakfast we like to try. This one’s an old standby called Candy Cane Crush. It’s full of candy cane pieces and something about these make the tea cloud over when it pours out, so that it’s always a bit opaque. It’s a good tea though. The sweetness of it, which is almost minty but not quite in the way of candy canes, goes nicely with black tea. It’s not so sweet as to be unbalanced but it’s not pure mint, either. We had it with maple brown sugar oatmeal and it was a surprisingly good combination. It woke us up enough to land a bingo in Scrabble, so that was a definite bonus.

After that we decorated the tree; it’s up in it’s full splendour now and looking good, though we say it ourselves. We’re that much closer to Christmas. Tomorrow we’ll be halfway through the calendar countdown and we’re unclear how that happened as fast as it did.

Candy Canes, Apples and Christmas Trees

Still later, though we tapped into the tea from Germany, which was a Rooibos Apple Strudel. We love a good apple tea, as we’ve said many times and this one has a real apple cider taste to it. Canadian, non-alcoholic cider, incidentally. It makes for a pleasantly tart rooibos, which was just the thing after walking the dogs through a lot of wet, melting Narnia snow.

And speaking of Narnia, here’s a poetry treat for you. Joy Davidian, wife, friend and partner to C.S. Lewis.  She was a lot else besides that but her writing struggled to get published and now she’s been relegated to a footnote in someone else’s life. She writes a beautiful sonnet and we only wish we’d found these years ago.

Joy Davidman

If I ever go back to Headington
I’ll go on foot, some breezy day in spring,
With new leaves winking at the yellow sun
and subtle sounds of water murmuring

A silver word. If I ever go back
I shall come lightly as a flower or leaf
Dancing on the April wind – and bring you, Jack
Something a little sweeter than my grief.

There was a day I brought a load of pain
and dumped the lot upon your willing shoulder
and dried my tears: but if I come again
I will be wiser, merrier, and older

O may the rooks caw with the rising sun,
For joy, when I come back to Headington.

Oxford poems always seem to come out a little wistful whoever’s writing them. Have you noticed?

Further Technological Gremlins

First it was the blocks system. Have we told you about the blocks system? No? Well the WordPress Blogger now forces you to type everything in blocks that need to be re-added whenever you want a new paragraph. Or something. We haven’t cracked this one mostly by dint of bullying our unsuspecting blog into reverting to whatever was there before.

Then the option to align anything went off of the app for mobile. Which is broadly negligible until we wanted to align the poems for ease of reading. So off we relocated to the website. Only the website can’t align images, so back we went to the app. Now we entertain the Marschallin Cat endlessly by pingponging between the two while she waltzes around the keyboard. And anything we do manage to align centre refuses to appear for reference in the app. And the app would make it easier, they said! They lied, say we. They lied.

And all of this has nothing – absolutely nothing! – on the Becket-worthy sketch dubbed Waiting for Zoom that was our morning. But we digress…

In-between technological wrangles we stop for cups of tea. Today’s were both lovely. Probably the cosmos is compensating us for the mulishness of technology. DavidsTea issued an Organic Silk Dragon Jasmine, which is the kind of expensive tea we would never normally buy. It’s got big leaves, and is deeply aromatic. It steeps quickly, and goes bitter even faster if you aren’t careful. We were careful and got a beautiful, golden, floral tea for our trouble.

The other selection was a Summer Darjeeling. We liked this one so much we made multiple pots. It also goes strong quickly, but after missing the caffeine of a black tea midway through yesterday that was nothing to grouse about. It was just what we needed after the midmorning Zoom debacle.

And after all that, here’s a poem for you by Ted Hughes, who knows what it is to want to slaughter technology.

Do Not Pick Up The Telephone
Ted Hughes

That plastic Buddha jars out a Karate screech

Before the soft words with their spores
The cosmetic breath of the gravestone

Death invented the phone it looks like the altar of death
Do not worship the telephone
It drags its worshippers into actual graves
With a variety of devices, through a variety of disguised voices

Sit godless when you hear the religious wail of the telephone

Do not think your house is a hide-out it is a telephone
Do not think you walk your own road, you walk down a telephone
Do not think you sleep in the hand of God you sleep in the mouthpiece of a telephone
Do not think your future is yours it waits upon a telephone
Do not think your thoughts are your own thoughts they are the toys of the telephone
Do not think these days are days they are the sacrificial priests of the telephone

The secret police of the telephone

0 phone get out of my house
You are a bad god
Go and whisper on some other pillow
Do not lift your snake head in my house
Do not bite any more beautiful people

You plastic crab
Why is your oracle always the same in the end?
What rake off for you from the cemeteries?

Your silences are as bad
When you are needed, dumb with the malice of the clairvoyant insane
The stars whisper together in your breathing
World’s emptiness oceans in your mouthpiece
Stupidly your string dangles into the abysses
Plastic you are then stone a broken box of letters
And you cannot utter
Lies or truth, only the evil one
Makes you tremble with sudden appetite to see somebody undone

Blackening electrical connections
To where death bleaches its crystals
You swell and you writhe
You open your Buddha gape
You screech at the root of the house

Do not pick up the detonator of the telephone
A flame from the last day will come lashing out of the telephone
A dead body will fall out of the telephone

Do not pick up the telephone


Bizarrely, even though this was a staple of the Poetry and Cake Society, and we took it in turns to do dramatic readings, the same is not true of the internet. Indeed, a previous Tea and Poetry Advent series by us is the first search to crop up in our browser. Next to The Moon and Little Freida this is our favourite Hughes. Even though we know it’s probably more about how the telephone used to ring to let you know when a telegram had come announcing the death of loved ones (or that was always our read) something about it resonates with us and our everlasting battle with technology. Just us? Thoughts as ever welcome!

Tea and Technological Gremlins

This evening’s post is brought to you by the final straw in technological demons. But more on that later.

We got a lovely Rooibos from Germany today. This one was supposed to taste like plum cake, so had lots of plum, apple and cinnamon in it. In practice it’s more like hot plum crumble, but no complaints here. It had snowed again today so the warmth and spice of it was perfect for late afternoon, especially after lugging reluctant dachshunds around the ravine. We happen to think the snow is pretty. They feel differently.

DavidsTea, probably fearing what we’d do faced with another black tea, yielded another herbal blend. This one was called Merry Mistletoe. We poked about for the ingredients, and apparently cranberry and cloves are in there, but we couldn’t taste either. It pours out pink, so clearly the cranberry was in there. It probably needed longer to steep. That’s always our downfall with herbal teas. Anyway, we liked it well enough; it’s a bit sweet, a bit tart, and it smells lovely.

Inspired by the name on the Merry Mistletoe, here’s some Walter Scott for you today.

Christmas in the Olden Time
Walter Scott

Heap on more wood! — the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We’ll keep our Christmas merry still.
Each age has deemed the new born year
The fittest time for festal cheer.
And well our Christian sires of old.
Loved when the year its course had rolled,
And brought blithe Christmas back again,
With all his hospitable train.
Domestic and religious rite
Gave honour to the holy night:
On Christmas eve the bells were rung;
On Christmas eve the mass was sung;
That only night, in all the year,
Saw the stoled priest the chalice rear.
The damsel donned her kirtle sheen;
The hail was dressed with holly green;
Forth to the wood did merry men go,
To gather in the mistletoe,
Then open wide the baron’s hail
To vassal, tenant, serf, and all;
Power laid his rod of rule aside,
And ceremony doff’d his pride.
The heir, with roses in his shoes,
That night might village partner choose.
The lord, underogating, share
The vulgar game of “post and pair!”
All hailed with uncontroll’d delight
And general voice, the happy night
That to the cottage, as the crown,
Brought tidings of salvation down.
The fire with well dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide;
The huge hail table’s oaken face,
Scrubb’d till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon: its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old, blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garbed ranger tell,
How, when, and where, the monster fell;
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassail round in good brown bowls,
Garnished with ribbon, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reeked: hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie;
Nor failed old Scotland to produce
At such high tide her savoury goose.
Then came the merry masquers in,
And carols roar’d with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.
Who lists may in their mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery;
White shirts supplied the masquerade,
And smutted cheeks the visor made
But oh! what masquers, richly dight,
Can boast of bosoms half so light!
England was merry England when
Old Christmas brought his sports again.
’Twas Christmas broached the mightiest ale,
’Twas Christmas told the merriest tale;
A Christmas gambol oft would cheer
A poor man’s heart through half the year.

Apologies for the lack of stanzas. The internet threw a fit, and frankly we just couldn’t face it. From what we can tell the stanza breaks for this excerpt of Marmion are pretty arbitrary anyway. But since it’s always something with this blog we can just about guarantee tomorrow’s poem will be Ted Hughes famous disavowal of technology! Stay tuned…

Loveliest of Trees

A much better offering from DavidsTea today. It’s a herbal blend we’ve had before called Caramel Shortbread. Appropriately it’s sweet and creamy, and tasted best if taken with a chocolate biscuit or two because we think what it’s really trying to mimic is the British Millionaire’s Shortbread. Luckily we had some on hand and a very pleasant elevenses was the result.

The German offering was similarly lovely. It was an orange blossom oolong, and while we hadn’t had this blend before, we had had versions of it. The nice thing about orange blossom oolong is that rather than go bitter it becomes increasingly citrusy. This one was subtler than other blends and more oolong than orange, so we didn’t complicate it with biscuits. But it’s still a lovely tea.

To go with it, here’s an equally lovely poem about the loveliest of trees. Today’s interesting fact is that the writer is beloved of fictional detective Inspector Morse.

A Shropshire Lad 2: Lovliest of trees the cherry now
A. E. Houseman.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look  at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Everyone remembers that Butterworth set this to music, but for an equally lively arrangement by John Duke, have a listen here.

For a more whimsical, reworked version about Miss Marschallin, ‘Loveliest of Cats, the Tortoiseshell’, get in touch. We’ll even sing it for you!

Coffee in Tea – Heresy!

Yet again missing the memo that coffee is evil, of the devil, and that probably if we liked it we’d drink it over tea, today’s DavidsTea offering is dubiously labelled Vanilla Cappuccino.

Once more with feeling, because apparently it has yet to sink in for the tea sommeliers involved, tea should not be combined with coffee! Sorry about that. We were moved to italics. The thing about coffee is that aside from tasting appalling, it drowns out whatever else is in the tea. Here, for instance, there’s supposed to be vanilla. Can’t taste the vanilla. There’s supposed to be tea in the mix too, not that you’d know it.

There’s a chance the German Rock Sugar could have salvaged this one. On the other hand, we refuse to commit that kind of heresy. Never mind we don’t like milky and sweet coffee Andy more than umilked, unsweetened coffee. It’s all so differently demonic!

(Sorry, sorry . But honestly, extreme punctuation feels warranted!!)

That’s two undrinkable black teas this month, which is a point of great sadness because we love discovering new ones. Mind you, we almost managed to swallow a mouthful, but almost is the operative word here. So take note. Nix the coffee and give us a nice, creamy earl grey or something , okay David? We have faith in you. Don’t disappoint. Anyway, this is supposed to be a TEA calendar!!!

The German calendar wasn’t this confused. The selection is Kaminfeuer, which we approximated into English as ‘campfire’ but the Internet says it’s more like a fireplace, but our German friend says is the fire inside the fireplace. She’s the native speaker so she wins this one, not least because her version makes more sense than naming tea after a piece of furniture. But we want it on record we were close. This whole German Tea thing is doing wonders for our working German vocab.

This is how to do tea. It’s a Rooibos base, but a very subtle one. There’s hibiscus blossoms in the blend, and when left to steep it turns the most glorious pink. There’s also cinnamon,apple pieces and almond. It’s a beautifully balanced tea. Funnily, no one was moved to include any coffee. Can’t think why…

As is tradition when the advent calendar bitches tea, we’re trotting our an old favourite about how to make tea. It’s a great how-to manual that – and we can’t stress this enough – never once mentions coffee. Got that?

Lessons in Tea Making

Kenny Knight

When I first learnt to
Pour tea in Honicknowle

In those dark old days
Before central heating

Closed down open fireplaces
And lights went out in coal mines

And chimpanzees hadn’t yet
Made their debuts on television

And two sugars
Was the national average

And the teapot was the centre
Of the known universe

And the solar system
Wasn’t much on anyone’s mind

And the sun was this yellow
Thing that just warmed the air

And anthropology’s study
Of domestic history hadn’t

Quite reached the evolutionary
Breakthrough of the tea-bag

And the kettle was on
In the kitchen of number

Thirty two Chatsworth Gardens
Where my father after slurping

Another saucer dry would ask
In a smoke-frog voice for

Another cup of microcosm
While outside the universe blazed

Like a hundred towns
On a sky of smooth black lino

And my father with tobacco
Stained fingers would dunk biscuits

And in the process spill tiny drops
Of Ceylon and India

Bishops and Britten

It’s Advent II, and St Nicholas Day. It’s the time of year when traditionally we bake Judy Plum’s (her of Pat of Silver Bush fame) Bishop’s Bread. Think fruitcake but loaf shaped and without the brandy or cherries. We put a marzipan mitre and crozier on ours to make it obvious it’s for St Nicholas, but that’s our touch.

Anyway, this auspicious liturgical combo was off to a tremendous start with the dual Advent offering of black tea Friesische Sonntags-mischung and rock sugar. As per traditional observation for this kind of Assam we poured it from a height worthy of a Muriel Spark character over the sugar and it crackled like ice. It’s a very satisfying sound, and the sugar lumps are a good size for counterbalancing the strength of the Assam. We opted for one lump per 8oz cup, and that worked perfectly.

Even better, the sugar dish that has sat unused as a dresser ornament has found functionality.

The tea itself is Assam blend with a hefty amount of vanilla, which is exactly the kind of combination that appeals to us with black teas. Anything more complicated (cf the chocolate)can get complicated quickly. This one smells gorgeous, tastes just as good and was a suitably vestal start to the day.

DavidsTea swung completely the other way, with caffeine-free Gingerbread Blondie. An oldie but goodie, this tea is equal parts ginger and creamy vanilla. There’s a vanilla theme going here. But we like this one because it really does taste like gingerbread in a cup. The creaminess keeps it from being cloying and the ginger gives it zing. It’s a lovely tea for after dinner or in lieu of a sweet.

Here is where we’d usually leave you with a poem. But as previously mentioned, we miss singing, and today’s other tradition is to play Britten’s Saint Nicolas Mass. So here’s a selection from that. The men work harder than the women, but what the women do is terrific fun , especially for the sopranos. Listen and see if they don’t sound exactly like lightning!



Christmas Trees

Today’s first tea has the dubious distinction of being the first not to land with me. It was a Chocolate Chilli Chai from DavidsTea. And just as there are people out there who will like North African Mint less than us, we feel confidant most people will rate this black tea higher than we do. We’ve never liked chocolate and chilli as a combo. Not in chocolate, not in hot chocolate, and not in this unsuspecting chai.

Chai usually has a lovely, natural spice that benefits from lots of milk and sugar. But the chilli here drowns everything else out. Even the chocolate gets a bit lost in proportion to the chilli.

Our other sample was WinterZauber, a Rooibos from Germany. And this, folks, is where a musical vocabulary comes in handy, because anyone who has ever attended a performance of Die Zauberflöte can tell you that zauber is magic. And they said Mozart would never prove practical!

So it’s called Winter Magic and is full of cinnamon, almonds (we learned that sued the other day) and cardamom, which looked so like its English self we knew it when we saw it. It’s also vastly preferable to Chocolate Chilli Chai.

The almonds give it a taste almost of liquorice root, and the cardamom helps bring that out. It could be overwhelming but the cinnamon and Rooibos counterbalance this nicely, making for a tea with zing go it. Perfect for a quite, fireside evening.

In-between cups of tea we put up the Christmas tree. It’s all of nine feet and a significant amount of Tetris went into positioning it somewhere where it would fit.

We’re quite proud of the end result, though. So here’s a poem about Christmas trees foe you to read over your tea. We are well and truly into Advent now.

Christmas Trees
Robert Frost

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”
                                                     “You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”

“A thousand Christmas trees —at what apiece?”

He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.