Tag Archives: tea

Melbourne Tea

I am currently drinking a special blend of tea that is intended to represent Melbourne. Most people in Melbourne are into coffee but I prefer tea but if Melbourne was a tea blend what would it taste like? Aside from the synesthesia implied in the question and ignoring the obvious Melbourne coffee connection.

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Philippa Thacker explaining the ingredients for the Melbourne tea blend as Stephen Twining watches.

At a media call at Little Mule Cafe, in Somerset Place, Melbourne to promote a new tea blend created for Australian palates to be launched next year. In attendance is Stephen Twining of Twinings Tea, a descendant from the company founder, Thomas Twining who established a tea and coffee shop in London in 1717, almost 300 years ago. And master tea blender, Philippa Thacker who is blending some tea that she thinks will suit Melbourne. There are no plans to market the Melbourne blend of tea, and the team from Twinings will be repeating this event, creating a blend for Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane.

How to represent Melbourne? Obviously, it has to be a black tea.

There has been some debate about the colour of Melbourne; not the football colours of a particular sporting team, but the symbolic colour of the city. Is it yellow or is it black? Yellow is the colour of Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault, that is repeated in the architecture of Denton Corker and Marshall and the 2013 Melbourne Now exhibition. Black is the colour of Inge King’s sculptures and the fashion of many of Melbourne’s inhabitants, including myself. Perhaps it is both, yellow and black, nature’s warning sign for a venomous animal, a warning that this city is poisonous to some extent.

In the 1980s Barry Humphries proposed that Melbourne be called “the big Orange” like New York is called the ‘the big Apple’. To be fair to Humphries orange was all the rage at the time, Melbourne’s trams were painted orange, and Humphries did have a taste for the kitsch elements of Australian culture. And there is some orange in the tea as “orange pekeo” is a term that refers to the highest grade of tea leaf.

Back at the Little Mule Cafe, Philippa Thacker is gentling blending the various teas together, for the tea leaf can break down easily. In the mix there is a Darjeeling, the champagne of teas with its muscatel, floral notes and two different Ceylon teas. One is of the Ceylon teas is gown at low at low altitude and has a thick liquor whereas the high grown has a dry taste with citrus notes. Added to this is added rose petals and strawberry pieces, a fruity note to compliment the Darjeeling, like strawberries and champagne at the Australia Open.

I’m not sure if Melbourne can or should be summed up with tennis but the result is an enjoyable tea. The floral and fruity notes from the rose petals and strawberry pieces are hardly noticeable but do create a full and wide flavour. “Refreshment” is a key word, identified through some arcane market research. Beer is also refreshing; but it does suggest the psychological question why does Melbourne need to become fresh again? Do we feel regularly feel stale, wilted and faded?

The tea blend is not the same as Twinings Australian Afternoon with an orange and brown outback design complete with a kangaroo on the box. Australian Afternoon is a stronger flavoured tea than English Breakfast but not dramatically different. Outside, in Sommerset Place it is grey and raining with no kangaroos or sweeping plains in sight. The dead end laneway, off Lt Burke Street has a bit of street art, along with new bollards and squares of concrete seating and gardens is typically Melbourne and a hostile environment for any kangaroo.


My Cup of Tea

This week cups of tea have featured in many of the public discussions about art in the media. Painter, Juan Ford advised the public to have “a nice cup of tea” and calm down about the Sam Leach painting that won the Wynne Prize for landscapes (Gabriella Coslovich “Genius of Copycat?” The Age 15/4/10). And Melbourne Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle described Carl Mitchael von Hausswolff’s Red Fragments as “not my cup of tea” (MX 15/4/10). So what is it with all this talk of tea and art?

I like a good cup of tea, black; I consider myself a connoisseur of tea. No milk, no sugar (except with chai), preferably a Ceylon tea in the morning and Chinese teas later in the day. No Earl Grey tea, please but I am particularly partial to the smoke flavour of Lapsang Souchong. Tea is both relaxing and mildly stimulating drink – a good metaphor for art.

Art doesn’t do much really, very mild effects on the body, like a laugh or cry, is about the most that you can expect from it. Tea doesn’t do that much either; there isn’t that much caffeine in it. But both are pleasant catalysts for social interaction.

The controversy approach of the mainstream media is shallow winner and loser approach whereas a good conversation about art can have a win win situation. If the person who noticed the resemblance between Sam Leech’s Proposal for Landscaped Cosmos and the 17th Century Adam Pynacker’s Boatmen Moored on a Lake Shore had simply pointed this out, rather than trying to generate a controversy, I would have thought that they were at least as clever and knowledgeable about art history as Sam Leech. Trying to make this a controversy makes the person look like an idiot with an agenda.

A better approach was Lord Mayor Robert Doyle smoothly handled the media’s attempt at controversy over Carl Michael von Hausswolff’s Red Fragments. He opened up the discussion and acknowledged that art can be challenging, creating a win win outcome. I assume from his statement that Mayor Doyle does find some art his “a cup tea”.

I do not think that art is controversial not compared to the serious crimes committed by institutions, church and state, held sacred in our society – don’t get me started on what I regard as real controversies. Controversies are a debate about winners and losers, heroes and villains, and they reduce interest in the subtle qualities of the topic. And this is a serious deficit when discussing art.

To imagine that art is controversial and shocking is so 20th Century. From Marcel Duchamp to Tracey Emin, artists have been systematically breaking imaginary rules, making rude jokes and turning things upside down – shocking! This approach perceives a controversy as the validation of the quality of the art; to do this Mark Kostabi sold the idea of his controversy to 60 Minutes. Art as controversy plays to the most grandiose and paranoid of fantasies of both artists and public. They all need a good cup of tea, even if they will insist on drinking it from Méret Oppenheim’s fur lined teacup just to be controversial.

Would anyone like another cup of tea? I’m going to put the jug on.


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