Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mr. Hamilton's Tea Room at Painshill Park, Surrey - A Tea Place Review

As far as tea rooms go, there really is nothing special about Mr. Hamilton's. It will never win any awards for cuteness and you wont find meticulous hand decorated delicacies; in fact it's really not a tea room at all. I'd call it a cafe or even maybe a kiosk. So why am I bothering to write about this place?
It's simple, read on...

Mr. Hamilton's Tea Room is located within the grounds of what we in Australia would call a Botanic Garden or Botanic Park. Painshill Park in Cobham, Surrey is a giant landscaped park that was built in the mid 1700's. This park was built before the First Fleet landed in Australia, just to give you some perspective on its age. Built by nobleman Charles Hamilton, Painshill's landscape architecture was said to be inspired by Renaissance artworks. This park contains man made lakes, wooded areas and 'follies'. Now I'm not expert on the 'folly' but I'd say it's just that, a bit of a novelty. For example there is a recreated ruined abbey and a man made grotto. Sadly we didn't get to see the grotto, it was closed for Santa Claus! This park was for the gentry, the noble people. It was where they walked and socialised, away from the rest of the 'normal' people. Oddly enough the parks Royal Patron is Prince Charles. What is it with me and Charles lately? You can read about my encounters with the prince here and here.

We ended up at Painshill as we were visiting this lovely old church in the next village over, Stoke D'Abernon. What an adventure that was. Little did we know that the church and graveyard have been engulfed into the grounds of a posh private school and we just happened to time our visit at the end of the school day. It was chaos! Now it's a bit random to just visit a little old church because lets face it, there are tens of thousands of little old churches in England. What makes this church special was the fact that it is the last recorded, or should that be first recorded, place that my ancestors can be traced back to. A christening record from the very early 1800's states that my 6x Great Grandfather Henry was christened here. He later went on to migrate to Australia and he and his family were responsible for the early establishment of Melbourne's suburb of Brighton. There is even a plaque dedicated to them. They owned the land around where Chadstone Shopping Centre is now located. I knew there was some other reason that I felt so connected to that shopping centre! I scoured the graves but sadly there were no graves with my family's surname that I could find. Some headstones were so old you could no longer read them.

St. Mary's Church, Stoke D'Abernon

When it was decided we were going to England the decision was made that this time I wanted to get out of London and do a little of my own 'Who Do You Think You Are'. For all my research this church and that Christening was as far back as I could go. It would appear that prior to this record keeping was scant. I found it rather difficult finding a marriage record for his parents and couldn't find any record of his mother. On the other hand, there appeared to be a rather well to do big shot with my 7x Great Grandfather's name living in Guildford, a larger town about a 30 minute car drive away, however considering they didn't have cars it would have made it a longer journey. He however had a wife that was accounted for and some children. It did cross my mind that maybe Henry was born from an illegitimate relationship, however with no evidence I couldn't do more than speculate. Perhaps if I had a team of historians I might have had a different story to tell.

So, that brings me back to Painshill. I wanted to visit the area and this park particularly as it would have been there when my ancestors were. They would likely never have visited Painshill as my ancestors were just normal everyday run of the mill people. If only they had known that for a tidy sum they could purchased a piece of Scotland on the internet and then been called Lord or Lady. Oh well, you win some, you lose some!

Driving through the area and looking at the houses and buildings, especially along the main street was really a funny feeling as I knew that Henry had been here. He might have walked past that house or that shop a hundred times and here I was 200 years later having travelled to the other side of the world standing there too. I felt strangely connected in a eerie kind of way.

Back to Painshill and Mr. Hamilton's Tea Room. We arrived at the park a little early, about half an hour before opening time and struck up a conversation with one of the volunteers as we were waiting. She asked if we had come far for our visit today and I said 'yes, Australia'. She was shocked so I explained the story. She was so kind as to let us enter the park early. We were very thankful. It's hard to describe to a British person just how an incredible experience walking through this park was. Parts of the lake were frozen and there were squirrels running everywhere. I guess to a non Australian a good comparison of feeling might be seeing wild kangaroos on a pristine white sandy beach. I only wish we'd had more time to wander and that we'd been able to access more. Lots of the paths were terribly muddy and I wasn't exactly shod for that. If I'd had some wellies we'd have been set.

We popped into the well situated tea room and thankfully amongst their range of nibbles they had some pre-packaged gluten free biscuits. I ordered some chamomile tea and was surprised to get a tea pot. The cafe would be lovely in warmer weather with the doors open onto the courtyard and the park. So whilst the tea room on its own was nothing too special the park and what this area meant to me was. For this reason I would gladly return.

For more information on Painshill please visit their website

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tea and Human Rights: A Blog Action Day Blog

Today is Blog Action Day, a day where bloggers unite to highlight important issues. This year's issue is 'human rights'. Ok, ok, don't stop reading, it's not some hippy dippy grab your signs and protest kind of blog, after all I'm not that kind of person! There is something however that I think is important for tea drinkers to know, it's something we can all do to make life a little brighter for people who may not have the same opportunities as we do.

Human rights means a variety of different things to different people. Straight forward, human rights can be considered as every human being treated with dignity and having equal rights. This is seen as the foundations for freedom, justice and peace in our world. You can read The Universal Declaration of Human Rights here.

So, what does this have to do with tea you ask? A few years ago I didn't think at all about where my tea came from, I actually had no real idea what Fair Trade was. I just thought it was some Oxfam thing where poor people got jobs, which is pretty ignorant. It wasn't until I watched the BBC series Blood, Sweat and Luxuries that I realised what Fair Trade really meant and could see how it would seriously change peoples lives. This series sent half a dozen young Brits to third world producers of goods we readily consume such as gold, gemstones and coffee. It was a real eye opener. I believe that we take a lot for granted living in the first world, like a minimum wage, safe workplace and access to education. We have opportunities that so many others simply don't have access to. 

For example, a boy works in a gem mine, which is just a hole in the floor of someones house. He's lowered down the narrow hole on a makeshift pulley. There is no safety. His air is pumped through some plastic bags that have been joined together by a man waving a bag in the wind outside. At the end of the day his employer will take the gems to the local buyer. He might receive $20 for them and the boy who found them might receive $2. The buyer, who generally has some education, will then sell the gems on to be cut and polished. He might receive $100. The corporation that cuts and polishes the gems then sells them to jewellery manufacturers for say $3000. The finished products are then sold to consumers for around $10,000. It is a similar story in industries such as gold, leather, coffee, electronics and tea. When we want a cheaper product it's not usually the large corporations where money is lost from, it's those lower down the chain.

Initially I thought, well that's the person down the bottoms problem. They should go to school and get a better job. The thing is, this simply is not possible. These people do not have the chance to further themselves. The small amount of money they receive is spent on housing and food and they have no time to attend classes as that would result in a loss of income, which they simply can't afford. Essentially they are trapped and that's the way many manufactures would like to keep it to ensure a steady supply of cheap product. What really hit me was when the young Brits asked one of the workers what he would like to do with his life. His reply was that he would like to finish school and study to become a journalist. The interesting thing was that nearly every worker they spoke to wanted to go to school, they wanted to be better than what they were. The sad reality is that the majority will be stuck in that position, so will their children and most likely their grandchildren.

So what does this have to do with human rights? Article 26 of the declaration relates to education:

Article 26.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  • (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  • (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
The fact is these people who produce our favourite product -tea- don't have equal access to higher education, regardless of merit however as they generally don't have an opportunity to attend high school this would rule out higher education opportunities. In addition, many parents are unable to offer their children education let alone choose their education.

What does this have to do with Fair Trade and tea? Fair Trade sees the workers having an equal share in the business. Instead of paraphrasing I'll just let Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand explain it:

 Fairtrade provides farmers and workers in developing countries with a fair price (the Fairtrade Price) for their produce, helping protect them from damaging fluctuations in world market prices. They also receive an additional sum of money (The Fairtrade Premium) for investment in social, economic and environmental development in their community, such as educational and medical facilities. Fairtrade Certification standards also prohibit the use of forced and abusive child labour.
Fairtrade delivers a better deal for farmers and producers in the developing world through:
  • A fair and stable price for their produce
  • Security of long-term contracts
  • Investment in local community development
  • Improved working conditions
  • Environmentally sustainable farming methods
  • Support in gaining the knowledge and skills needed to operate successfully in the global economy
So, when you see this logo you know that what you are buying is certified Fair Trade and you are supporting the people who help to make your beautiful cup of tea possible. This means that they can send their children school, their communities have better access to education and healthcare and they are able to be treated equally and with dignity. Some tea companies claim to be 'ethical' tea producers however unless they have this logo they are not certified.

So where can you get Fair Trade tea? It's actually not that prevalent in most supermarkets. There is more unethically produced tea in our supermarket isles than Fair Trade product. I think that's a real shame. Some of our largest tea manufacturers, who could and should be running Fair Trade operations aren't.

Some great products to try include Qi Tea. They have a full operation in remote China where the villagers are able to be educated within the industry and have secure and fair employment. They recently opened a new building where 40 more people now have jobs in processing and packing. You can buy their tea in most supermarkets or from their online store.

You could also try loose leaf tea from Tielka. They are on my list of teas to try as the blends sound delicious.

I've said it before and I'll gladly say it again. Ethical tea just tastes better.

You can find out more about Fair Trade here. So buy Fair Trade and support peoples basic human rights. It's a no brainer!

Back to Blood Sweat and Luxuries. The girls on the show stayed with a young girl in India who worked in a clothing factory. She didn't want to work there but had no choice. She lived in a house consisting of one room no bigger than my bathroom. The girls asked her what she would do if she had the opportunity? She couldn't financially afford night classes. She wanted to be a chef. The girls banded together and for a few of their own dollars they paid for her to attend night classes to train as a chef. Unfortunately we can't do that for everyone but we can help them by supporting Fair Trade organisations.

Happy tea drinking and happy Blog Action Day

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Twinings Butter Mint Sensation: A Tea Review

As previously discussed, whilst I was pregnant I lost any interest in drinking tea. On my first trip to the supermarket post delivery I was keen to check out the tea isle (I know, I know, supermarket tea! Plenty of us buy it though!) and see what was new. Aside from the myriad of teas now being sold in pyramid infusers I noticed a new range from Twinings.

The thing about this range that first caught my eyes were the colourful boxes covered in bright swirly patterns and then I noticed the interesting flavour pairings; Double Mint, Raspberry and Dragon Fruit and Butter Mint. According to Twinings' Australian website this range doesn't even exist. That might explain why I can't find the Camomile and Maple that is cross promoted on the back of my Butter Mint box.

There are a few things that worry me about this tea; firstly the ingredients list. The last item listed is 'Other Natural Flavourings'. Now, I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who actually likes to know what they are putting into their bodies. Secondly, I really can't decide if I like this tea or not. It has such a strange flavour. It's basically vanilla and mint, like a blend of sweet and savoury in a cup. It is however slightly sweet. It really is strange, not completely unpleasant but not something I would buy again. Having said that, whilst it's not my cup of tea it may well be right up someone else's alley! Perhaps I had too high expectations of this tea with its Wonka style flavourings and crazy colourful box which is why I was disappointed.

The Verdict

Tea: Twinings Butter Mint Sensation
Store: Most supermarkets
Rating: 2/5
Comment: Vanilla mint makes for a different flavour 'sensation'. It's not my cup of tea but it might well be yours!