Hot Chocolate and Houseman

Saving everyone a lot of headaches, today’s tea was Hot Chocolate.

So, there’s no need for the auxiliary tab detailing what’s in the tea this time or how to brew it. This one’s an old favourite and a calendar staple.

We always enjoy a black tea in the calendar, because we can drink it over breakfast instead of remembering to schedule something atypical into the day, like an oolong or rooibos. And this is a lovely decadent black tea designed to taste like hot chocolate. It always feels extravagant as a breakfast tea, but it’s too caffeinated to be an evening drink.

Because it’s chocolate-flavoured, it’s also the rare flavoured black tea we add milk too. It’s lovely without it, but a bit of milk makes it creamier and brings out the chocolate flavour.

Because it’s been in the calendar so long, it’s a tea that is inherently nostalgic, especially of late nights at Kinness Place. We’d sit on the most orange sofa in creation, juggle the lap desk awkwardly with our tea for one and rattle off the blog, often after a train journey somewhere. Usually it was Stirling.

Since that’s the case we thought we’d give you a similarly nostalgic poem. This one is shot through with a bit of the grey and sere, too, but that’s appropriate for Advent.

Tell Me Not Here It Needs Not Saying
A.E. Houseman

Tell me not here, it needs not saying,
What tune the enchantress plays
In aftermaths of soft September
Or under blanching mays,
For she and I were long acquainted
And I knew all her ways.

On russet floors, by waters idle,
The pine lets fall its cone;
The cuckoo shouts all day at nothing
In leafy dells alone;
And traveller’s joy beguiles in autumn
Hearts that have lost their own.

On acres of the seeded grasses
The changing burnish heaves;
Or marshalled under moons of harvest
Stand still all night the sheaves;
Or beeches strip in storms for winter
And stain the wind with leaves.

Possess, as I possessed a season,
The countries I resign,
Where over elmy plains the highway
Would mount the hills and shine,
And full of shade the pillared forest
Would murmur and be mine.

For nature, heartless, witless nature,
Will neither care nor know
What stranger’s feet may find the meadow
And trespass there and go,
Nor ask amid the dews of morning
If they are mine or no.

In Which Time May Or May Not Run Backwards

Today’s tea is called Headache Halo. This is accidentally apt, not that you’d know. So please allow us a minute to tell you about the ridiculous rigamarole involved in this Advent exercise.

Somewhere between the death of Augie Doggie and December 2022, our normal browser, Firefox (fast, reliable, does what it’s told) was deemed unable to run WordPress. So is the browser we long since rejected, Safari. That one made sense; Safari had become unusable at our end for anything except propelling time backwards.

But there’s a rumour we can run WordPress off of Chrome. Please picture us, late on Dec. 1, frantically downloading Chrome on the perfectly usable Firefox browser.

But why the fuss says you. We’re here, so it obviously worked. Well, sort of. The thing is, Chrome is Very Offended it’s not our Default Browser. It’s also slower than a very slow thing. There is treacle being poured into vats of molasses moving on snowbound trains to the frozen tundra that go faster than Chrome.

And while we could probably write the blog on the app, we’re not wild about trying to mcgyver poetry into cogency on there. So here we are, on this ridiculous browser that makes time slip backwards, wth one tab on the blog, one on the poem of the week, and another on the tea of the day.

Why?

Oh, didn’t we mention? This year David and Co have so thoroughly streamlined the enterprise that they have taken all relevant info off the smart gold tins. Steeping times, teaspoon amount, ingredients…Can’t be had without looking at the back of the box and risking discovering what else is in the calendar. Next year it will be so streamlined it won’t even be on the box. There won’t be a box. They’re going to put the ready-steeped tea in one communal teapot that pours a different tea each day. You heard it here first.

So three days in, Headache Halo sounds about right. Sorry, that was only supposed to take a minute, wasn’t it?

Luckily, this is a really lovely tea. It’s a rooibos blend that uses a combination of lavender, mint and willow to help with headaches. Does it work? We aren’t headache prone, so who knows. Alack, alas, we can tell you it will not speed up recalcitrant internet browser. But it may stop you defenestrating your laptop, so it has that going for it.

In all seriousness, we appreciate the blend. Neither mint or lavender on their own are tea flavours we’re wild about, though we’ll take lavender over camomile any day for a sleeping tonic. But the rooibos stops them being overwhelming. The result is a slightly-minty tea with no caffeine that may or may not cure headaches. Feel free to update us on that one. But we definitely recommend it for Mrs. Bennet’s nerves.

Here’s a poem to read over your headache cure-all of choice takes effect.

all nearness pauses, while a star can grow
e. e. cummings

all nearness pauses, while a star can grow

all distance breathes a final dream of bells;
perfectly outlined against afterglow
are all amazing and the peaceful hills

(not where not here but neither’s blue most both)

and history immeasurably is
wealthier by a single sweet day’s death:
as not imagined secrecies comprise

goldenly huge whole the upfloating moon.

Times a strange fellow;
more he gives than takes
(and he takes all)nor any marvel finds
quite disappearance but some keener makes
losing, gaining
—love! if a world ends

more than all worlds begin to(see?) begin

In Which We All Need Levity

Forgive us if today’s blog runs short. We finished rattling off 4500 words for work approximately half an hour ago. A cup of tea later and the sensation is still the way we imagining walking into a brick wall feels.

We did manage to stop for elevenses and try today’s tea, though. We were anxious about it because it was called Sweet Potato Pie and we aren’t wild about sweet potatoes. A good rule of thumb is that if it’s orange and gourd-like, we probably don’t like it. The absolute worst offender on this front is sweed, which we used to think Mrs. Read was over-egging when she condemned it. But then we moved to a British hall of residence. Turns out Miss Read undersold how dire sweed is.

Luckily, Sweet Potato Pie tastes nothing like sweet potato. If it tastes of anything, it’s chestnut. We’re a bit sorry we didn’t ration this black tea out, because we would drink it again. But if you will name your teas after hideous orange gloop…

It’s also a highly restorative tea. It’s probably too caffeinated for anyone who doesn’t want much caffeine past mid-morning, but it suited us fine. It got us through the 4500 obligatory words for work.

Even so, after all of that, we need some levity. Here’s a textbook example of light verse to get you through your evening.

Some Rules
Wendy Cope


Stop, if the car is going “clunk”
Or if the sun has made you blind.
Don’t answer e-mails when you’re drunk.

You fire off something fierce. You’re sunk.
It’s irretrievable. It’s signed.
You feel your spirits going “clunk.”

Don’t hide your face with too much gunk,
Especially if it’s old and lined.
Don’t answer e-mails when you’re drunk.

Don’t live with thirty years of junk—
Those precious things you’ll never find.
Stop, if the car is going “clunk.”

Don’t fall for an amusing hunk,
However rich, unless he’s kind.
Don’t answer e-mails when you’re drunk.

In this respect, I’m like a monk:
I need some rules to bear in mind.
Stop, if the car is going “clunk.”
Don’t answer e-mails when you’re drunk.

We would add ‘Do not take on eleventh-hour projects of over three thousand words to be done by mid-morning Monday on a Thursday.’ But it doesn’t scan.

Twelve of the Clock

As ever we’re sneaking this last post in closer to Christmas Day than Christmas Eve.

But we were working this morning, baking n the afternoon, and the late-night service was at ten this year, not eleven. We can sing, but only, and this made us smile, ‘gently, maybe humming, the way you might sing along with the radio.’

We have news for our little Anglo-Catholic church…when we sing along with the radio, we go as operatic as we can get away with. We sing choruses we know with gusto, and we leap gleefully for high notes. Not sure that’s really what they want at the moment. So, we were very good. We sang very, very quietly indeed. Our best mezza-voce.

Okay, we were mostly good. We still sang the descants from the congregation. Look, you have to understand that at this point it’s harder to sing melody on Hark the Herald and Adeste Fidelis. Our muscle memory on certain verses isn’t for the melody line. And anyway, we sang them really, really quietly. Okay? Just because it’s been years since a conductor insisted we hit Top A pianissimo doesn’t mean we’ve lost the skill.

We’re also late because having people at home all day means they want to be included in the tea-making. WHich is lovely and all, but they aren’t really ambitious tea people. They are to tea the way we are about cheese. We stick to nice orange things like cheddars and double Glousceter, and they stick to Yorkshire Brew. Perfectly good as breakfast tea goes. Not much to blog about. A very tea-like tea.

So, we are only now drinking David’s Tea. It’s the last one in the calendar and it’s called Jingle Bells. It’s also a black tea, because whoever organized the calendar this year stuck all the black teas in the same frantic Christmas week.

Generously, they were probably trying to ensure we all had the energy to get through to Christmas Eve. Jingle Bells is a chai, and you notice that immediately. It’s got the same warm blend of spices you’d expect from a chai, and a few extra for luck. Cardamom, which we always like in tea, and cinnamo, ditto. Supposedly there’s chocolate in it, but we can’t taste it over the cardamom, and that’s okay. We like spicier teas, anyway.

It’s a bit of a day for chocolate teas. We snuck our German Calendar tea in over dinner while the others were having coffee, and it was a mint chocolate combination. Curiously, we couldn’t taste chocolate there either over the mint, though the black tea came through. Though in the case of mint chocolate tea, we think that a bit of milk might have brought out the chocolate. Sometimes you need the creaminess of the milk to do that. We never got a chance to find out, because dishwashing intervened.

It might work with the chai too. After all, you’re supposed to milk and sweeten it well. We just prefer not to. Drinking flavoured black tea as-is is tradition. And you know that old saw about Anglicans and traditions and how they never change….

On that note, here’s another Christmas tradition for you. Until we find a Christmas poem we like better, you’re stuck everlastingly with Thomas Hardy’s oxen. And that’s quite the challenge, because we love Oxen Kneeling. So enjoy – but do feel free to offer alternatives! We just don’t promise to be moved.

The Oxen
Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

We Are Getting to the End…

We broke into the Santa’s Secret tea this morning. It’s not worlds apart from Candy Cane Crunch except it’s less sweet and for whatever reason, the candy cane pieces don’t coat everything in residue. As predicted, we enjoyed it as much as always. It was definitely worth the wait.

Now we’re drinking Alpine Punch, another David’s Tea offering that is one of our winter staples. It’s a rooibos with lots of warmth and spice. It tastes of winter days to us, and of cool Scottish autumns too, because that’s when we used to drink most of it.

We first found it trying to replace the then-discontinued Apple Crumble Tea and the two aren’t that alike, except that Alpine Punch has apple somewhere in the ingredients jumble. But it’s also got almonds, which give it a significantly different sweetness to Apple Crumble Tea. And the rooibos base means there’s more spice than crumble tea’s green tea base. It’s also much harder to over-steep.

But it tastes warm, and after an afternoon of last-minute errands out in the cold, it’s perfect.

We’re still playing tea catch-up with the calendar. Yesterday threw us off by a day. So, there’s a lovely black tea/rooibos blend waiting for us at breakfast, and we’ll try and write about that tomorrow. But at least tomorrow’s poem is predetermined.

Oh, go on. Everyone knows what’s behind door 24 at this point. We delude ourselves you’d be dismayed if we changed now. And honestly, we’re far too Anglican to do anything that exotic. But day 23 is flexible. So, here’s more Larkin for you to keep you guessing one more day.

First Sight
Phillip Larkin

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.

As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasureable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.


Turns out he can be optimistic. Who knew? No, we’ve always had a soft spot for Larkin, and was one of our staples back when Poetry and Cake met live. They had an odd allergy to the really old stuff, and this was a good compromise.

Winter Spices

Full disclosure: we haven’t had the David’s Tea sample today. It’s a deliberate choice. The tea is Santa’s Secret, and it’s an Advent staple and also a black tea we thoroughly enjoy. But we have cramp. Over the years we’ve learned all sorts of bizarre things trying to combat the pain that comes with cramp. Bananas are our friends. Chocolate, the cure-all our friends swear by, is not. Neither is milk. And neither for the first 48 hours is anything caffeinated. So, black tea was a non-starter.

As first days go, this wasn’t a terrible one. We got 1600 words done for work and – be stunned and amazed – they Flying Geese Quilt is finished! With days to go! Well, okay, we need to find a suitable green ribbon to turn it into a wall hanging, but the thing is quilted and bound off.

All that to say, we could probably have risked Santa’s Secret, but not even for you lovely people did we feel like jeopardising our state of bearable discomfort and turning it into acute pain. Also, because it’s a tea we enjoy, we’d rather hold off on it until we can enjoy it. And since we are a black tea for breakfast kind of person, chances are we’ll still get to it before Christmas.

But the German tea is not. It’s a herbal chai blend called Space Cookie, and it smells divine. There’s lots of spices mixed in; fennel, ginger, cinnamon….Even pouring out early it’s a warm, fiery drink and we love it. It’s particularly lovely after a day of no tea.

The fennel is particularly pronounced, even this early in the steeping. We’re sipping and thinking that left too long this could go bitter quickly, but the cup hasn’t yet.

As we sip this we’re sifting through poem categories and thinking how strange some of these are. Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening is filed under ‘The Blizard of the Self.’ We hate to quibble with the Poetry Foundation, but that sounds much more dramatic than the still-small-voice-of-calm epiphany we read in that poem.

But here’s a poem we think you’ll like, however it’s catagorized.

A Winter Bluejay
Sara Teasedale

Crisply the bright snow whispered,
Crunching beneath our feet;
Behind us as we walked along the parkway,
Our shadows danced,
Fantastic shapes in vivid blue.
Across the lake the skaters
Flew to and fro,
With sharp turns weaving
A frail invisible net.
In ecstasy the earth
Drank the silver sunlight;
In ecstasy the skaters
Drank the wine of speed;
In ecstasy we laughed
Drinking the wine of love.
Had not the music of our joy
Sounded its highest note?
But no,
For suddenly, with lifted eyes you said,
“Oh look!”
There, on the black bough of a snow flecked maple,
Fearless and gay as our love,
A bluejay cocked his crest!
Oh who can tell the range of joy
Or set the bounds of beauty?

Whenever we think of bluejays we think of Old Mother Westwind and how they got their distinctive cry. But we also love spotting that bit of overwintering blue against the snow.

Oh, and that second cup of Space Cookie balances perfectly. We recant. Nothing too-strong about it. Now if you’ll forgive us, we’re going to finish off the cup, and make a date with a hot water bottle. See you tomorrow.

Tea Conversion

Two lovely teas today. The first was an East Friesen black tea, and we had that as per custom with milk and a bit of cracking sugar over breakfast. We drank it while trying to parse tomorrow’s Advent Calendar door. (They aren’t marked and there are all sorts of puzzles to work out where you go next. We aren’t terrible clever about it, but it’s fun.)

Later we made David’s Tea’s Hazelnut chocolate. We put a bit of milk in the first half-cup, because sometimes black tea with chocolate tastes better that way. But this isn’t one of those teas. The milk mutes the hazelnut flavour and even some of the chocolate. Drunk black, it’s a much richer, complex black tea. We enjoyed it lots.

We can’t say we’ve always loved teas with chocolate, but over the years we’ve come round, especially for ones this nice. And on that theme, here’s a poem by G. K. Chesterton.

The Convert
G. K. Chesterton

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

Incidentally, we always used to say that if we were going to convert anyone to our particular brand of High Anglicanism we’d do it with cups of tea. It seems much more civilized than trying to explain scripture with minimum qualification. And anyway, tea is the eighth sacrament.

But mostly we thought that bit of optimism about right for the shortest day of the year. See you tomorrow, when the days will be drawing out again. Not that we’ll notice.

Sleigh Rides and Rice Pudding

We got through today powered by the German Advent Calendar’s tea, which we think is called Milchreis or Rice Pudding.

It was a lovely, creamy black tea that we suspect came from the same place as Bee Hoppy. The leaves have a distinctive texture and some of the flavours seemed similar. Either way, we were grateful for it. Turning out 3000 words across multiple articles takes effort.

When it was all tapped out and the dachshunds had had their walk (reluctantly, they’re still lobbying for that sleep-in until we bring the sun back) we made David’s Tea’s offering of Sleigh Ride.

Sleigh Ride is always billed as the inheritor of Crumble Tea. But this year the Crumble Tea was back, so we could properly taste-test for comparison, and they’re nothing alike. For one thing, Sleigh Ride is herbal. This isn’t a criticism, but one of the things that keeps Crumble Tea balanced is the tannins in the green tea. It can go quite bitter past the five minute mark but if you remove the strainer in time it’s a lovely cup.

Sleigh Ride has no green tea, so it gets sweeter and sweeter the longer it sits. Curiously, there’s supposed to be cinnamon in there but we never taste it over the hibiscus and beetroot. And as you’d imagine, that combination turns it spectacularly pink.

One thing we did notice the website suggesting was that you drink Sleigh Ride with honey. We would never have thought to do this because we aren’t in the habit of sweetening tea, but we can see how that might help with the taste and texture, which veers in both cases towards Overwhelmingly Pink.

That said, Sleigh Ride is a lovely herbal tea. It’s excellent for unwinding after long days working, especially if you want to let your brain switch off. By four o’clock this afternoon, that was us.

Funnily enough, one of the things we got writing about was poets and authors. As we compiled our lists, we stumbled over some that were new and a few old ones we’d forgot. Here’s a Langston Hughes poem from today’s writing exercise that we confess we’d forgot was on our radar.

Harlem
Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

One of the things the research we waded through was quick to point out was how refreshingly understandable Hughes was compared to poets like Eliot, whose poetry needed footnotes. And while there’s Eliot out there we enjoy, we’re also unconvinced his footnotes add much in the way of clarity.

We’ll stick with Hughes. We’re not convinced being dense and abstruse is a virtue.

Tea and Music

We’re behind on the two-calendar system today. We’ve been running around non-stop since the morning. It was Advent IV, so we had church at 11, and that took a decent chunk of time. We can’t seem to remember how long the commute takes now we’re attending in person again, and keep showing up half an hour before the service starts. Mind you, it does mean we get our pick of pews in the days of partial capacity.

We got home in time to gobble lunch before disappearing to The Messiah. It was the last performance and we were lucky to go. It was the most condensed Messiah we’ve ever seen, but there’s still a bit of a thrill that comes with live music. We’ve missed it.

Despite the shortened run time we weren’t home again until five, and then everyone was so exhausted we had plain Yorkshire tea. So, now we’re having Caramel Shortbread from David’s Tea, and while we have what promises to be a lovely rooibos also waiting, having two tea samples consecutively at nigh on eleven at night is a bit much, even for us.

Caramel Shortbread is an old favourite. We never stock up on it, because we don’t drink enough herbal tea to justify the purchase, but we’re always delighted to see it in a David’s Tea calendar. Millionaire’s Shortbread, the thing this purports to imitate is one of our favourite sweets, and we’ve got to tell you, the tea does a pretty good impression.

The website encourages you to pair it with biscuits but it’s sweet enough on it’s own, we think. A combination of apple, brown sugar, and stevia. The last is almost certainly unnecessary, but as we say, we’ve liked this tea for years, we’re not going to start telling anyone to muck with the formula.

The brown sugar gives it a lovely caramel sweetness, and the fruits give it enough sharpness to balance it out.

All told, it’s a lovely, sweet way to end the day. We’ll get to that rooibos tomorrow, and the other teas too. We always need generous quantities of tea on workdays.

But first, a poem about music.

Ghost Music
Robert Graves

Gloomy and bare the organ-loft,
Bent-backed and blind the organist.
From rafters looming shadowy,
From the pipes’ tuneful company,
Drifted together drowsily,
Innumerable, formless, dim,
The ghosts of long-dead melodies,
Of anthems, stately, thunderous,
Of Kyries shrill and tremulous:
In melancholy drowsy-sweet
They huddled there in harmony.
Like bats at noontide rafter-hung.

We love this image. Whether you’ve sung from a choir-loft or not, it beautifully captures the feeling of stepping into a well-sung choir stall. It’s especially true of the Advent Prose, which makes it perfect for today, because Advent IV is always when our church features that anthem.

They’re wrong, by the way. You should sing the Advent Prose at the beginning of Advent. We were trained that way as a chorister and whatever you first learn is always right. But seriously, the Advent Prose pairs exquisitely with the Great Litany as a penitential rite. The only reason you wouldn’t put them together is if you wanted to get to the sermon the right side of lunch, and you can still do that if you cut out the sermon 😉

And if you have no idea what we’re wittering on about, have a listen. As Advent music goes, this is hard to outclass.

Larkin at Last

Well, we’ll see how this goes. Currently the other human in the house is watching Morse and the streaming of it is mucking the internet about. It took 15 minutes and ten percent of the battery from The Little Laptop That Could to get here. Not how we want to spend Saturday evening.

But anyway, we’re here. And we have two lovely teas for today. The first one the sender says she wasn’t sure about. It’s called Bee Hoppy and it reminds us of last year’s Manuka honey black tea.

It’s not as strong – we couldn’t drink that one without milk and this is lovely all on it’s own. Still quite a strong honey flavour, but it’s a black tea/rooibos blend and the spice of the rooibos balances out the honey lots.

Now we’re drinking Zest Wishes. This one is from David’s tea, and it’s got so much spice that at first we thought it was a rooibos, too. Turns out it’s an oolong with lots of cardemom and cinnamon. It’s kosher, a declaration which always makes us wonder just what David does to tea to make it not kosher. But it’s gorgeous. Our only complaint is that we’ve run out of the sample. We should have rationed it.

Here’s an excellent poem to go along with two excellent teas. After talking about Larkin the other day, we thought we owed you the real thing before the season was out.

Mr. Bleaney
Phillip Larkin

‘This was Mr Bleaney’s room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him.’ Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,
Fall to within five inches of the sill,

Whose window shows a strip of building land,
Tussocky, littered. ‘Mr Bleaney took
My bit of garden properly in hand.’
Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook

Behind the door, no room for books or bags —
‘I’ll take it.’ So it happens that I lie
Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fags
On the same saucer-souvenir, and try

Stuffing my ears with cotton-wool, to drown
The jabbering set he egged her on to buy.
I know his habits — what time he came down,
His preference for sauce to gravy, why

He kept on plugging at the four aways —
Likewise their yearly frame: the Frinton folk
Who put him up for summer holidays,
And Christmas at his sister’s house in Stoke.

But if he stood and watched the frigid wind
Tousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed
Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,
And shivered, without shaking off the dread

That how we live measures our own nature,
And at his age having no more to show
Than one hired box should make him pretty sure
He warranted no better, I don’t know.