Octeaber: Sheffield Tea Crawl – The Search for Brewtopia

All of the best things in life come in pairs: DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith, Christina Hendricks and her famous pair, Sado and masochism. The meeting of tea souls yesterday for the Octeaber tea crawl was no exception; Hashtag Teaclub and The Tea Witch (tha’s me by the way, no idea why I am being an avante garde poet by referring to myself in the third person) are now part of this exclusive club of cracking pairs…like the Two Ronnies but marginally taller and better looking.
Here begins then our brew by brew, post coi-tea-l account of our day on the lash, as experienced from each participants’ point of view. I give you the inspiring, the epiphanic and the at times sexually sensual, OCTEABER TEA CRAWL: THE SEARCH FOR BREWTOPIA

Prelude: The Romantic Mee-tea-ing

TW: I felt like I was in Scarlett from gone with the wind meeting Michael (the real name of one half of #TC-disappointed it wasn’t 007, or Gerald) at the station for the first time. He made an interesting Rhett Butler – without the greasy hair and paedo tache – in his one man’s attempt to make the flat cap with wrap around sunglasses fashion combo work. Loitering with intent in front of a substandard train platform cafe, I was relieved to find that he wasn’t wielding an axe, wearing a flasher Mac or worse…brandishing a chain coffee house paper cup. As was Steph – Tetley McTwat Testicles – who was my dyke in shining armour as my chaperone for the first meeting to make sure I wasn’t bundled into the back of a van and made to teabag in front of Arabic sultans. After a pre-agreed hug greeting (we are British after all, have to get written consent prior to these ostentatious PDAs), a comment on each other’s polar opposite accents and the obligatory comment on the weather, we dropped Steph off at a crèche & began our search of tea-intoxication.

#TC: Laura has asked me to write a first impressions piece so here goes. Well at first I was a bit dubious. Should I enter a different world or should I play it safe? I mean, bus replacements are never easy. I’m just so used to getting on the t… ohhh first impressions of the person we were each meeting? Oh that was no bother at all. I did the noble thing of getting permission to meet a female tea blogger from my own girlfriend, which was kindly granted. When I found our Laura preferred letterboxes and not mail, as it were, I could feel at ease. And that’s exactly how the day went. Steph came to the station to make sure I wasn’t crackers and off me head before heading to work and then we were left to it. Laura is someone who has a lot of stories to tell, many through the use of innuendos, and is passionate about tea drinking. We have plenty in common but also respect each other’s difference of opinion. The company was great with few, if any, awkward silences and the chosen locations were spot on. #Octeaber is a wonderful event raising money for a good cause in South Yorkshire Eating Disorders Association (SYEDA) and I wish Laura all the best for the rest of the month.

Traitor- Steph Tetley McTwat Testicles at the creche for the frazzled late twenties
Traitor- Steph Tetley McTwat Testicles at the creche for the frazzled late twenties

Stop One: Mugen Tea House & a Nepal Maloom

TW: We had to begin our pilgrimage at the Mecca of brews, the Taj Mahal of tea and…the cafe with comfier sofas than my Steph’s lady pillows – Mugen Tea House. Sarah & Michael had been cyberspace compadres for years but had never actually met; it seemed that Michael entering the door gave Sarah as much joy as Halle Berry emerging from the sea in a peach coloured bikini in Casino Royale gave me as a closeted adolescent. Spectacular. Post first meeting pleasantries, I cajoled #TC into trying The Tea Experience’s Nepal Maloom – which will feature in our next tea-tasting event on 24 October, 2-4pm at Mugen in aid of SYEDA – and indulged in Mugen’s now world famous crack-like addictive cake; a flapjack and apple and ginger cake no less. This tea was a perfect start to our day. A light, sweet and fruity black number (like Michael’s favourite Saturday night in Leeds pulling outfit), it chased our travel weary cobwebs away and set us up for our Christopher Columbus style expedition of caffeine discovery. We ended our pit stop with some ceremonial gif-tea-ing, like Stevie Gerrard and Wayne Rooney swapping tea-m colours and ‘your mom’ jibes before a match. In all seriousness though, #TC gifts were everything a brew whore like me could wish for – good selection of black and fruity teas, some loose leaf AND even some dinosaur biccies all the way from Spain. I got a bit dewy eyed…that #TC is a good egg, even if he is a Derby County fan.

#TC: What a fitting start to the day. Hiking boots come in handy for a place like Sheffield when on a tea tour and we began with a brisk walk up (and then down) to Mugen Tea House. Why is it fitting? Because long term follower of the #teaclub, Sarah, runs the place! It’s a quirky cafe with a selection box of seating. I’ve no doubt Laura has told you what we ordered but for those seeking confirmation, we did indeed order the apple cake, flapjack and pot of Nepalese tea. I went for the red leather couch, which reminded me of the time I temporarily stole a 3 piece suite whilst working in America (hope my former bosses aren’t reading this!). The tea was gorgeously mellow. The cake was as moist…. no, I’m not even gonna go there! Sarah joined us for a chinwag as we exchanged gifts across the table. Across my way came a handmade gift box, with a ‘teaclub’ sticker on it, an emotional note, and a selection of different teas ranging from The Tea House’s Wild Cherries black tea to Jolly Brew’s Mint Chocolate Royale. We posed for photographs with the fans who recognised us and signed autographs too. Not only that but I managed to pull a knob! This was the toilet door knob which fell off.

Mugen - with sofas comfier than lady pillows
Mugen – with sofas comfier than lady pillows

STOP TWO: WAITROSE TEA AISLE

TW: After dragging Michael through the Moor Market fish aisle in search of a non-existent loose leaf stall (no, not a euphemism and ironically I hate the smell of wet trout), we fought past the OAPs, middle class yummy mummies and lost Chinese students to the rather impressive tea aisle of Waitrose on Eccy Road. Desperate to get arms, legs and balls deep into his teabagging, Michael led the way with some excellent new recommendations for my burgeoning tea collection –Taylor’s Rose Lemonade Infusions and Brew Tea Company Loose Leaf English Breakfast Tea. (Both of which I have now tried and spaffed my pants with endless Sunday morning #teagasms). I had to turn a blind eye to #TC gratuitous teabagging of Dorset and Yorkshire Tea in a very busy supermarket aisle; after all, it was the first time we had met and I didn’t want to seem a prude.

#TC: Is it sad when a visit to a supermarket’s tea aisle is one of the highlights of your day? Don’t be daft! Course it isn’t. Waitrose is one of the tea-kings when it comes to tea aisles. Waitrose of Sheffield was bob on. We grabbed a basket and headed straight for what we wanted. When Laura asked if I wanted to look at the coffee I says “no!”. I needed to take a step back from the tea aisle just to admire its beauty. There’s much to choose from. Rare Tea Co, Williamson Tea, Brew Tea Co… There’s something for everyone. With Yorkshire Gold on offer, the need for Dorset Tea to return to my tea stash & the undiscovered Rose Lemonade from Taylor’s Tea x Kew Gardens, I filled up the basket! In fact, I didn’t even pay for this tea! No I didn’t steal it. Laura purchased it after I’d paid for tea and cake at Mugen. We are clearly now buying each other ’rounds’ like folk do in the boozer. #MARMITEONTOAST (TW: Thank you Michael, for immortalising the diversion tactics I used to avoid losing my heterosexual virginity in a hashtag)

Waitrose tea aisle-where sommeliers' wet dreams are made
Waitrose tea aisle-where sommeliers’ wet dreams are made

STOP THREE: PIZZA ON ECCY ROAD

TW: Only one tea down, we were ravenous. Also a tad peckish too. We agreed on the food of kings to fill our brew-less bellies – no, not Hobnobs double dipped in peanut butter, but a weighty, meaty and cheesy…pizza. We foolishly walked past Papa Johns due to its lack of seating – we are not ANIMALS after all – and went on to a hipster pizza emporium which I will give the imaginative, completely fabricated and absolutely unheard of name of ‘Raft & Faux’. Y’know, for a fictional context. What ensued was an eating experience that was perhaps a greater let down than discovering Christina Hendricks is a hermaphrodite with a body odour problem. NEVER, EVER make an ex-anorexic wait over 40 minutes for her ‘unhealthy’ food order to arrive. Then completely f**k up the order by bringing a margherita not an Nduja. Then charge an extra THREE WHOLE ENGLISH POUNDS for three dollops of allegedly ‘meaty’ sauce that looks more like a 13 year old girl’s experience with having the painters and decorators in for the first time (if you understand me) than bloody sausage. There wasn’t even a proper door on the lav’. Travesty. I was angry. Very angry. So angry that I didn’t leave a tip, loudly complained about the whole experience to the whole restaurant much to #TC’s dismay (and paralysing him with fear), and simply had to post a passive aggressive tweet about it, as the final nail in the British complaint coffin. That’ll teach them folk at ‘Aft and Bow’. Pizza Pansies.

#TC: Things that happen sooner than being served at Craft & Dough? A football game… hell why not even make it an American Football game! I’m pretty sure that my bus ride to Leeds in the morning, clocking in at 55 minutes, was quicker than the time we were served pizza here. The food was just ok. I’d be very disappointed if I’d ordered a pizza here with meat on it. The only thing that was good here were the fries with herbs on them. A brew was much-needed after this. Avoid! You would much rather have a Maccy D’s. Trust me. #WAITRESS

Spaffed & Crow-at least the chips were alright
Spaffed & Crow-at least the chips were alright

STOP FOUR: Cocoa Wonderland

TW: After having  a little stroll, breathing into a paper bag and chain eating Kalms’ tablets, I chilled my unsa-tea-sfied-pizza-tit-teas down. Our next stop was the ever welcoming – and charmingly Stepford Wives-esque – Cocoa Wonderland. Like any woman worth her stripes I wanted to forget about my awful dough disaster with chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. So what did I do? I had a Black Forest Gateaux flavoured tea. The chocolate choice was just too much that I couldn’t make a good, unclouded, pre-emptive #cocoagasm decision. (I am planning a Chocolate Lock-in though so I can stuff my face like…well a fat kid in a sweet shop). Nevertheless, my black tea with coconut truffle oil and chocolate was #earthshatteringteagasm inducing – a deep malty Assam, cocoa-ey flavour and silky smooth coconut aftertaste, this brew really did taste like a Black Forest Gateaux after a Nutri-Bullet accident. I washed it down with two delicious samplers of Violet and Raspberry Chocolate birds (one word, FIIIITTTT!), watched Michael embarrass himself by wandering around the shop in an attempt to break his tea-seal in an appropriate (and legal) place, and drunk in the smell of intoxicating chocolate fumes and fifties gender roles, before we were on our way.

#TC: Now that’s more like it. Back to a sense of normality. A stones throw away but far enough to help recover from what was a truly awful lunch time experience. Entering Cocoa Wonderland is like entering the sweet shop after school when you were young. Your eyes light up like a Christmas tree, even in Octeaber! Make your way to the back, like a bar in New York during prohibition, and you’ll find a couple of tables to sit and take tea. The teas on offer will take care of anyone. Plenty of fruity teas here on offer, not to mention the chocolate inspired ones. Yes, they’re famous for their hot chocolates, but this is a #teaclub and a Tea Witch here. Should have done the gentlemanly thing and said Tea Witch and #teaclub but oh well; YOLO! Oh and you get a piece of chocolate with your teas. Or two if you’re well-known. We had two chocolates with our tea. Yes we like to blow trumpets! I couldn’t get a tune out of my trumpet to begin with but the Witch soon got the right sounds out of it. #TWOCHOCS

Cocoa Wonderland #twochocs
Cocoa Wonderland #twochocs

STOP FIVE: POLLARDS

TW: Now, I have been trying to get in to Pollards for longer than I have been trying to get into Christina Hendricks’ beautifully filled pants. Whenever I have been before, it has always been busier than a ‘new’, cultishly hyped and totally over-priced Apple product launch. However, the brew dei-teas shined on us – it was gloriously empty. #TC and I burst in like virgins to a strip club on their eighteenth birthdays, and marvelled at the 80 strong tea collection that Pollards had on offer. It was seriously impressive. As Michael lost himself to the song of the tea-sirens (i.e was acting like a hormonal woman with the inability to make a decision), I spoke for both of us and asked for a Mugen Tea House recommendation; two 100g bags of Blue Lady. Alas, not a damsel in distress who is a bit nippy after losing all her clothes in a drunken game of Strip Jack Naked, but an Earl Grey-like blend with the addition of rose and grapefruit. Sounded like a definite future #teagasm to me! Once I had peeled Michael away from his coveting of the African tea blends, we were on our way to our penultimate stop of the day.

#TC: Pollards is a bit of an institution in Sheffield. When Benn, co-founder of the #teaclub, and myself first came to the city for a day out on the tea we went to Pollards. It’s the equivalent of a wine connoisseur visiting a vineyard; A chocolate lover enjoying a tour of Cadbury World; A train lover visiting the National Railway Museum in York; A … ok you get the point I’m trying to make. Pollards stocks loads of loose leaf tea. 80-something I believe is what the shop assistant (possibly owner) said. That’s a lot of blends! Laura asked for a recommendation whilst I perved over the tea canisters. We were recommended to Blue Lady, which having now tried a mug of the stuff, tastes like Earl Grey with citrus, possibly grapefruit. My tea knowledge was below par when I questioned the origins of a particular black tea (note to self: don’t go up against a tea expert because you’ll lose. Yes I am not a tea expert. I can admit that). The only drawback here is that they’ve got loads of coffee too, but we can’t all be perfect now can we? Armed with our treats, we made time for a quick selfie before heading to Never-ever-Edge. #TEAGASM

Pollards Pimpin'
Pollards Pimpin’

STOP SIX: BIRDHOUSE TEA COMPANY

TW: We had a romantic walk up through Nether Edge, discussing matters of great importance – NFL, shite teas and boobs – and ended up at my favourite Sheffield haunt: Birdhouse Tea Company *swoons*. Michael exhibited signs of premature tea-jaculation (sweating, redness  and awkward wet patches) when faced with Birdhouse’s exceptional selection of Sheffield inspired blends and unrivalled novelty cushion collection, but managed to calm himself enough to go for a Rhubarb tea (and politely ask for no less than FIVE samples of all the other teas he couldn’t decide on). I went for the flirty, vivacious and probably village bicycle of blends – Duchess Georgiana – or a cheeky black tea with grapefruit flavouring, rose petals, mallow petals, marigold petals AND ALL THE PETALS. The Botanical Gardens might need to employ some heavies to keep Becky out of their bushes at night. It was a refreshingly fruity, delicately citrusy and bold black tea that was an excellent end to our caffeine fuelled day. I’m glad I saved this #uncontrollableteagasm until last…thank god I had my bum on a biscuit cushion to steady me.

#TC: After a pleasant stroll up a Yorkshire hill and back down again, whilst discussing the merits of our respective girlfriends, we came across what can only be said as the perfect tea shop for the people of Sheffield and South Yorkshire. We’ve known Birdhouse Tea (not to be confused with Bluebird Tea as I recently found out with an epic Twitter fail moment). We pushed open the front door, set foo… actually was it pulled the front door? Can’t remember now. Wish i’d made a note of this now as I can’t remember if I pushed the door or open it. Don’t want to get crucial facts wrong. I’ll stick with push. I was introduced to Becky, who runs this family business, and just feasted on all the tea available. There’s a few tables and chairs to enjoy a pot of tea, so we sat down with a pot each. I opted for a Rhubarb blend. A staple diet for us Yorkshire folk. It were champion too. Becky was telling us of her experiences with teaware, tea companies and what goes on some Sundays in the flat upstairs. What I like about Birdhouse is that many tea blends have Sheffield references, such as Full Monty and Kelham Island. Becky kindly sent me on my way with 5 samples, including one called Strawberry Lace, all of which I will do a write up of soon for our #teaclub blog. #SUNDAYMORNINGACTIVITIES

Birdhouse & Becky's Botanical Bushes
Birdhouse & Becky’s Botanical Bushes

STOP SEVEN: SHOWROOM CINEMA BAR

TW: Our final pitstop to round off the day was an ‘adult tea time’ beverage in the Showroom bar. In true Cocoa Wonderland regimented fifties gender roles style, Michael had a big manly cider, and I had an elegant and refined rum and coke – you wouldn’t even notice my lumberjack shirt and biker boots. Michael then whipped out his sizeable, thick and girthy…notebook, to make notes as I answered his ‘Getting to know you’ questions for the #TC blog series. After sharing my favourite teas, writers and sexual positions, we hugged it out in a teary goodbye against the fountain spray backdrop of Sheffield station. I grabbed a taxi home, marked Michael incredibly highly on my ‘first date’ scorecard and thought how fortunate I was to have spent the last eight hours with such a top fella. Even if he did insist on wearing my grandad’s flat cap for most of it.

#TC: No we didn’t go on a movie date. We simply called in for a beer before we went our separate ways for the evening. We took a long way from Birdhouse to the centre of Sheffield, passing the many wonders of Abbeydale Road (many new cafes to explore here!), to look for a place to sit down and conduct my interview with the Witch. For those that don’t know, it’s a series (called Getting to Know You) we do on the #teaclub blog to get to know more about our favourite followers. With a bottle of cider and a rum n’ coke, we got down to business. The notebook came out and Laura bared all. What were the questions? Well you’ll have to wait and see. It was a well-earned drink to a day that’s been full of walking (christ I almost spelt that wrong and that could have been disastrous), good tea and below-par pizza. Would I meet up with the Witch again? Send me a box of tea and I’ll tell you the answer. After that it was a stroll down the fountain to the station for one final farewell, almost an awkward handshake before realising it was meant to be a hug, and then it was done. We did it! We totally owned the Tea Crawl! I need a brew. #CUDDLEMONKEY

#CUDDLEMONKEY
#CUDDLEMONKEY

REMEMBER WHY WE ARE DOING THIS…

CONTINUE TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT BY DONATING ONLINE AT THE JUSTGIVING PAGE, ATTENDING SOME OF THE MUGEN TEA HOUSE FUNDRAISING TEA TASTING EVENINGS, AND GET INVOLVED WITH THE TWITTER HYPE!

Check back tomorrow for the next Octeaber blogging challenge instalment!

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