Dec 152016


Today is International Tea Day which, on the surface, sounds like a day to celebrate tea drinking. We can, of course, and I will talk about tea consumption in a minute. But the day was originally created as a way to raise awareness about the problems surrounding tea production and how tea plantations, small tea growers, and consumers are impacted by the global tea trade. Simply put, global tea prices are too low to be able to provide workers worldwide with living wages and to prevent child labor without significant global regulation and monitoring. Potentially, therefore, if you drink tea and are not mindful of the source of your product, you may be contributing to world poverty. I have a very simple solution – I don’t drink tea (or coffee, which suffers from the same problems). If you do drink tea, one step forward is to ensure that your tea is produced in an ethical and sustainable way. The Fairtrade Foundation is one organization that can help you. What follows is largely drawn from their website.

Since 2005, International Tea Day has officially been observed on 15 December, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the impact of an industry that millions of farmers and workers across the globe depend on for their livelihood.


The tea sector faces many challenges: unsustainably low prices and wages, the undervaluing of tea as a commodity and changing climate patterns that impact yields, to name just a few. Simply put, tea is too cheap and not enough value goes back to the farmers and workers who depend on it for their living. It’s an issue that the whole industry needs to tackle together, and one that Fairtrade, and the Ethical Tea Partnership, which brings together tea producers, tea companies, certification schemes including Fairtrade, NGOs, and others in the tea industry, are working to address, so that the long-term future of the tea industry can be more sustainable.

Fairtrade’s work in the tea sector aims to enable producers to have more control over their livelihoods. Certified producers receive the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their tea sales as well as the Fairtrade Premium, an extra sum to invest in their communities and businesses as they choose. For smallholder tea farmers, Fairtrade can also open up opportunities to develop knowledge in good agricultural practices, income diversification and climate change adaptation. For workers on tea plantations, Fairtrade Standards aim to ensure decent working conditions and the protection of workers’ rights.


There are an estimated 285,000 people involved in Fairtrade tea production as smallholder farmers or as workers on Fairtrade certified tea plantations. Kenya, one of the largest exporters of tea to the UK, has 117,000 of these producers alone. Sireet Outgrowers Empowerment Project Company (Sireet OEP), a small producer organization in the Nandi Hills region of Kenya, is an example. Sireet has been Fairtrade certified since 2006 and has been able to implement changes that have brought wide-reaching benefits for its members and their communities.

Sireet OEP considers issues in production such as gender equality, fair business investments, and adapting to climate change. Since Fairtrade certification, the membership of women farmers has gone up from 2.7% to 24%. Investing the Fairtrade Premium on its certified products to support the purchase of transport trucks and its own processing factory has enabled the organization to move up the value chain and created a sustainable model of investment. The dividends from the 12.8% share of the factory purchased by the premium are reallocated into the premium fund each year, to be continually invested in social and environmental projects.

These social projects are chosen by their communities and include a range of initiatives, from school bursaries to health care facilities and water tanks. These community investments not only relieve the immediate burdens but can also have a positive impact on household income of farmers. Workers on Fairtrade certified estates also benefit from Fairtrade Premium. Workers choose themselves how the premium money is spent, through a committee of elected worker representatives, putting the control in their hands to invest in projects that they feel will improve their lives.

We have to face certain harsh realities, however. Certified tea estates are a small percentage of the total of tea producers, and the largest producer of tea by far – China – is not involved in fair trade at all. My way of solving the ethical dilemma – not drinking tea at all – is not really much of a solution. Tea workers need to live, and therefore need consumers. Better to buy only fair trade tea if you drink tea.


If I get started on the history of tea drinking and tea culture worldwide, this post will never end. Let me confine myself to one simple but important fact. Tea comes from the leaves of one plant: Camellia sinensis. The multitudinous varieties of teas result, not from genetic variety in the plants themselves, but in the modes of growing, picking, and processing. Everything from the fine green powders used in the Japanese tea ceremony to the hard black bricks of Yunnan ultimately come from the same plant. Weather and soil conditions have an impact, so do the quality of leaves picked, and the methods of processing. There are six basic types of tea based on how it is processed:

White: wilted and unoxidized;

Yellow: unwilted and unoxidized but allowed to yellow;

Green: unwilted and unoxidized;

Oolong: wilted, bruised, and partially oxidized;

Black: wilted, sometimes crushed, and fully oxidized; called (called 紅茶 [hóngchá], “red tea” in Chinese tea culture);

Post-fermented: green tea that has been allowed to ferment/compost (called 黑茶 [hēichá] “black tea” in Chinese tea culture).


One of the great linguistic mysteries of the world is the incredible simplicity of the words used for tea in a range of languages. Cognates of “cha” or “te” are virtually universal and ultimately derive from Chinese. The Chinese character for tea is 茶, originally written with an extra stroke as 荼 (pronounced tú), and acquired its current form during the Tang Dynasty. The word is pronounced differently in the different varieties of Chinese, such as chá in Mandarin, zo and dzo in Wu Chinese, and ta and te in Min Chinese. One suggestion is that the different pronunciations may have arisen from the different words for tea in ancient China, for example tú (荼) may have given rise to tê. Historical phonologists however argue that cha, te and dzo all arose from the same root with a reconstructed pronunciation dra, which changed due to sound shift through the centuries. There were other ancient words for tea, though ming (茗) is the only other one still in common use.

When I drank tea, lapsang souchong was my favorite. Lapsang souchong (立山小种lìshān xiǎo zhǒng) is a black tea originally from the Wuyi region of the Chinese province of Fujian. It is more commonly named 正山小种 – in Simplified Chinese characters, (zhèng shān xiǎo zhǒng) and 正山小種 in traditional Chinese characters. It is sometimes referred to as smoked tea (熏茶). Lapsang is distinct from all other types of tea because lapsang leaves are traditionally smoke-dried over pinewood fires, taking on a distinctive smoky flavor, that is an acquired taste for many.


Cooking with tea covers the waterfront. You can use your favorite tea as a simmering liquid in place of stock, or you can use tea as an ingredient. Japanese matcha is a favorite for recipes from meat rubs to ice cream. For example:

Matcha and White Chocolate Biscuits


¾ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon plus 2 Tbsp. matcha
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
1½ tbsp honey
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3 oz white chocolate, chopped


Whisk ½ cup granulated sugar and ½ tsp matcha in a small bowl. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons of matcha in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter, brown sugar, honey, and remaining ¼ cup of granulated sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add egg, egg yolk, and lemon zest and mix until very pale, about 4 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and, with the motor running, add the flour mixture. Mix thoroughly until no dry spots remain. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, mix in the white chocolate.

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Scoop the dough by the scant tablespoonful on to 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them about 1” apart. Or, portion the same amount of dough into the cups of a mini muffin pan coated with nonstick vegetable oil spray.

Bake, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until the bottoms and edges are barely golden and cooked (top will no longer look wet), 8–10 minutes.

Immediately—but gently—toss the biscuits in the reserved matcha sugar and place on wire racks to cool.

Jun 122015


Today is the birthday(1819) of Charles Kingsley, an evangelical priest of the Church of England, an Oxford professor, historian, and novelist. He was a friend and correspondent with Charles Darwin. His children’s “fairy tale,” The Water Babies was once very popular, but fell into disfavor because of its occasional strident bigotry.

Kingsley was born in Holne, Devon, the first of two sons of the Reverend Charles Kingsley and his wife Mary Lucas Kingsley. His brother, Henry Kingsley, also became a novelist. He spent his childhood in Clovelly, Devon, where his father was Curate 1826-1832 and Rector 1832-1836, and at Barnack, Northamptonshire and was educated at Bristol Grammar School and Helston Grammar School before studying at King’s College London, and Cambridge University. Kingsley entered Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1838, and graduated in 1842. He chose to pursue a ministry in the church. From 1844, he was rector of Eversley in Hampshire. In 1859 he was appointed chaplain to Queen Victoria. In 1860, he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge. In 1861 he became a private tutor to the Prince of Wales.


In 1869 Kingsley resigned his Cambridge chair and, from 1870 to 1873, was a canon of Chester Cathedral. While in Chester he founded the Chester Society for Natural Science, Literature and Art, which played an important part in the establishment of the Grosvenor Museum. In 1872 he accepted the Presidency of the Birmingham and Midland Institute and became its 19th President. In 1873 he was made the canon of Westminster Abbey. Kingsley died in 1875 and was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard in Eversley.

Kingsley was sympathetic to the idea of evolution and was one of the first to welcome Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. He had been sent an advance review copy and in his response of 18 November 1859 (four days before the book went on sale) stated that he had “long since, from watching the crossing of domesticated animals and plants, learnt to disbelieve the dogma of the permanence of species.” Darwin added an edited version of Kingsley’s closing remarks to the next edition of his book, stating that “A celebrated author and divine has written to me that ‘he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws’.” When a heated dispute lasting three years developed over human evolution, Kingsley gently satirized the debate, known as the Great Hippocampus Question, as the “Great Hippopotamus Test.”


Kingsley’s concern for social reform is illustrated in his classic, The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby, a tale about a young chimney sweep, which retained its popularity well into the 20th century. The Water-Babies, was written in 1862–63 as a serial for Macmillan’s Magazine, and first published in its entirety in 1863. The protagonist is Tom, a young chimney sweep, who falls into a river after encountering an upper-class girl named Ellie and being chased out of her house. There he drowns and is transformed into a “water-baby”and begins his moral education under a number of underwater tutors. The story is thematically concerned with Christian redemption, though Kingsley also uses the book to argue that England treats its poor badly, and to question child labor, among other themes.


Tom embarks on a series of adventures and lessons, and enjoys the community of other water-babies once he proves himself a moral creature. The major spiritual leaders in his new world are the fairies Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby, Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, and Mother Carey. Weekly, Tom is allowed the company of Ellie, who became a water-baby after he did.


Grimes, his old master, drowns as well, and in his final adventure, Tom travels to the end of the world to attempt to help the man where he is being punished for his misdeeds. Tom helps Grimes to find repentance, and Grimes will be given a second chance if he can successfully perform a final penance. By proving his willingness to do things he does not like, if they are the right things to do, Tom earns himself a return to human form, and becomes “a great man of science” who “can plan railways, and steam-engines, and electric telegraphs, and rifled guns, and so forth”. He and Ellie are united, although the book states that they never marry (claiming that in fairy tales, no one beneath the rank of prince and princess ever marries).


In the style of Victorian-era novels, The Water-Babies is a didactic moral fable. In it, Kingsley expresses many of the common prejudices of that time period, and the book includes dismissive or insulting references to Americans, Jews, blacks, and Catholics, particularly the Irish. These views, though sparse, are harsh to a modern reader and undoubtedly played a role in the book’s gradual fall from popularity.


In his Origin of Species, Darwin mentions that, like many others at the time, he thought that changed habits produce an inherited effect, a concept now known as Lamarckism. In The Water Babies, Kingsley tells of a group of humans called the Doasyoulikes who are allowed to do “whatever they like” so gradually lose the power of speech, degenerate into gorillas, and are shot by the African explorer Paul Du Chaillu. He also (controversially, nowadays) likens the Doasyoulikes to enslaved Africans, by mentioning that one of the gorillas shot by Du Chaillu remembered that his ancestors had once been men, and tried to say, ‘Am I Not A Man And A Brother?’, but had forgotten how to use his tongue.”

The Water Babies alludes to debates among biologists of its day, satirizing what Kingsley had previously dubbed the Great Hippocampus Question as the “Great Hippopotamus Test.” At various times the text refers to naturalists “Sir Roderick Murchison, Professor (Richard) Owen, Professor (Thomas Henry) Huxley, (and) Mr. Darwin”, and thus they become explicitly part of the story. In the accompanying illustrations by Linley Sambourne, Huxley and Owen are caricatured, studying a captured water baby. In 1892 Thomas Henry Huxley’s five-year-old grandson Julian (later a famed evolutionary biologist) saw this engraving and wrote his grandfather a letter asking:

Dear Grandpater – Have you seen a Waterbaby? Did you put it in a bottle? Did it wonder if it could get out? Could I see it some day? – Your loving Julian.

Huxley wrote back:

My dear Julian – I could never make sure about that Water Baby.

I have seen Babies in water and Babies in bottles; the Baby in the water was not in a bottle and the Baby in the bottle was not in water. My friend who wrote the story of the Water Baby was a very kind man and very clever. Perhaps he thought I could see as much in the water as he did – There are some people who see a great deal and some who see very little in the same things.

When you grow up I dare say you will be one of the great-deal seers, and see things more wonderful than the Water Babies where other folks can see nothing.

Despite his rather ghastly views on certain peoples, which were common in Victorian England, Kingsley was, on balance, a humanist. These quotes make my point, I believe:

All we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth.

There are two freedoms – the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.


Naturally I have to focus on English river fish for Kingsley. Mrs Beeton supplies recipe and commentary. This dish is lifted from the ordinary by the addition of anchovy sauce. Nothing, I mean nothing, beats anchovy sauce on buttered toast at tea time on a wintry day.

THE PERCH.—This is one of the best, as it is one of the most common, of our fresh-water fishes, and is found in nearly all the lakes and rivers in Britain and Ireland, as well as through the whole of Europe within the temperate zone. It is extremely voracious, and it has the peculiarity of being gregarious, which is contrary to the nature of all fresh-water fishes of prey. The best season to angle for it is from the beginning of May to the middle of July. Large numbers of this fish are bred in the Hampton Court and Bushy Park ponds, all of which are well supplied with running water and with plenty of food; yet they rarely attain a large size. In the Regent’s Park they are also very numerous; but are seldom heavier than three quarters of a pound.


 INGREDIENTS.—Egg and bread crumbs, hot lard.

 Mode.—Scale and clean the fish, brush it over with egg, and cover with bread crumbs. Have ready some boiling lard; put the fish in, and fry a nice brown. Serve with plain melted butter or anchovy sauce.

Time.—10 minutes.

Seasonable from September to November.

Note.—Fry tench in the same way.


INGREDIENTS.—4 anchovies, 1 oz. of butter, 1/2 pint of melted butter, cayenne to taste.

Mode.—Bone the anchovies, and pound them in a mortar to a paste, with 1 oz. of butter. Make the melted butter hot, stir in the pounded anchovies and cayenne; simmer for 3 or 4 minutes; and if liked, add a squeeze of lemon-juice. A more general and expeditious way of making this sauce is to stir in 1-1/2 tablespoonfuls of anchovy essence to 1/2 pint of melted butter, and to add seasoning to taste. Boil the whole up for 1 minute, and serve hot.

Time.—5 minutes. Average cost, 5d. for 1/2 pint.

Sufficient, this quantity, for a brill, small turbot, 3 or 4 soles, &c.