Road Trip

Mint Mix

Minties have been around for 95 years. We’ll come back to this.

Many years ago, when I was young, my family piled into a red BMW and drove from Brisbane to Sydney. My brother was about 2, which was a good age, because he was still in his car seat. Sleeping in the back seat of a car was so much easier while my little bother was still in a car seat, because you could lean against his seat and fall asleep. Once he outgrew car seats he also saw me as the next weakest link in the back seat food chain and would argue that I should have to sit in the middle instead of him. Still, this particular road trip was in the blissful car seat years, so it’s a happier memory.

For some reason, my parents decided that Manly Beach was an unbelievably attractive prospect in the middle of June. So that was where we headed. Manly Beach is not an attractive prospect in the middle of June, just in case you’re thinking we had a delightful, off-peak holiday.

Driving holidays are the only kind of holiday my family ever really took, and now that I’m grown up, I appreciate how much of the country I have seen because we drove everywhere. That being said, spending many hours confined to a small metal box with 4 of your relations can breed a certain degree of tension and boredom. The consumption of lollies was a must on long car rides, but having 3 children bouncing around the back seat of the car loaded up on sugar is a recipe for disaster.

Thus, the Good Fairy was born. The Good Fairy was my mother, and there were never any illusions about this. Every half hour, one of my siblings or I would point at the car clock on the dashboard and yell, “It’s Good Fairy time!” My mother would reach into the glove box and produce a lolly for everyone, close the glove box with a snap and there would be no asking for any lollies for another half hour. If you fell asleep, the Good Fairy was in debt to you. So after 2 hours you could wake up to a 4 sweet deposit. If you fell asleep for too long, the Good Fairy ran out of sweets because she didn’t reserve your share while you were sleeping. The Good Fairy would not have had a long career as an investment banker.

This particular family trip, the Good Fairy was stocked up with Minties, and something better than Minties. Spearmint Minties.

For the 75th anniversary of Minties, Allens released a limited edition spearmint flavour, which was superior to the regular Minties, because spearmint is better than peppermint. Anyone who disagrees with this has broken and inferior tastebuds. It’s a consumables fact that spearmint it better. We all expected that at the end of the year Spearmint Minties would go off the market. But they didn’t, they hung around for another couple of years before fading into obscurity. And there are days I miss the spearmint sweets like you miss an old friend you haven’t seen in a while.

This driving holiday took place 20 years ago. Thus Minties have been around for 95 years. In 5 years time, it will once again be time to release the Spearmint Mintie again. To be certain I won’t be disappointed, I have penned the following letter (that I emailed) to the Allen’s Confectionary Company, to inform them of the upcoming expectation that Spearmint Minties are expected on the market:

Dear King of Minties,

I am writing to inform you that Minties have been around for 95 years this year. I’m certain you are already aware of this fact, but I wanted to make you aware that I was aware. Now that our levels of awareness are comparable, I shall continue with my correspondence.

In 1997, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of arguably, Australia’s most iconic sweet, limited edition Spearmint Minties were released for the public to purchase and consume. And purchase and consume my family did. So much so, we were thrilled that the limits of the spearmint edition were extended until around 1999, when we stopped being able to purchase and consume.

As it is only 5 years until the 100th anniversary of the sweet for which you are King, I am writing to inform you that you have roughly 5 years to put Spearmint Minites back into production, so they will be ready for release by the 100th anniversary. You may even want to make those bizarre choc-mint and vanilla mint ones again. Hey, it’s the 100th anniversary, why not take a crazy trip down memory lane?

One major oversight of the previous Spearmint Mintie release was that they were not called (as they obviously should have been) ‘Spearminties’. Thankfully, my family had the presence of mind to give the sweets their rightful name, and I now generously allow you to use that name (with no need to compensate me) when you re-release the sweets in 5 years time.

I must warn you, that should the 100th anniversary of Minties arrive and depart without a hint of spearmint in its wake, there will be consequences. I will be very upset, and your being King does not intimidate me in the slightest. Retaliation will be swift, and largely online.

Yours sincerely,
Mintie Peasant.

I shall let you know if I receive a response.

And so, tea. T2’s Mint Mix was an absolute delight. It contains both peppermint AND spearmint, which thrilled me no end. My Main Main being a mint muggle (say that 5 times fast), has always preferred peppermint flavoured anything to spearmint flavoured anything. This is how we have maintained a steady supply of Just Peppermint for so long. Mint Mix brings the refreshing, herbacious cup of peppermint to new levels. The spearmint varies the flavour profile and a hint of citrus makes the whole cup more refreshing. Thankfully, MM agrees, and I can see Mint Mix rotating with Just Peppermint as a late evening cup. Now to begin the rest of his spearmint conversion. I might just wait 5 years until Minties do the job for me.

Mint Mix: 5/5

Enjoy with: Road trip memories.

Better than Sydney

Melbourne Breakfast

Ah, Melbourne. The city voted ‘Better than Sydney’ by 100% of people raised in Melbourne. The San Francisco/New York/Paris/London/Prague/Milan of Australia. A place so good, you definitely will never be good enough for it. The home of snootiness, because apparently, it’s, “So liveable!”

That said, I love Melbourne. And I like it better than Sydney.  Maybe I could learn to hate it, but for now, I think it’s fantastic. Melbourne speaks to my interests: the arts, especially theatre, good food, TEA CULTURE, excellent public transport, live comedy, and a CBD in a grid. But, for all my enjoyment of Melbourne, I haven’t spent all that much time there.

I remember visiting when I was about 4 years old. I have family in Melbourne and this was our first visit I can remember, also my first time on a plane. I was 4 and I had such a barking cough, I threw up my dinner on the plane. The flight attendant took our trays away before we could save our small packets of M&Ms. It was the first time I’d seen M&Ms too. I’ve spent a large portion of my adulthood making up for that lack. Anyway, it was winter when we visited Melbourne, and the days were so much colder than they were up north. I remember freezing at the back of the church hall during the Sunday service, and then roasting in the central heating at someone’s house afterwards. I remember very little else.

We visited the family again, for Christmas, when I was about 11. I got a discman for Christmas that year. I was excited to have a gadget before all my other friends, and disappointed to discover how much those stupid things skipped. We went to Sovereign Hill during this trip and spent a lot of time sitting quietly in people’s living rooms. I don’t know who these people were, but my parents must have. I hope. We did go into the CBD, but we spent a lot of time looking for the RACV for some reason. I do remember seeing a good number of the sights though.

My most recent, and indeed, only grown-up visit to Melbourne was not long after MM and I got married. That’s getting to be a few years ago now. My grandparents had decided not to make the trip to our wedding, so I decided introductions were in order. We had a short getaway to Melbourne and loved it.

This time, we sat politely in only one living room, that of my grandparents. They’re very accommodating people, and were pleased to meet my new husband. After spending a day with them, we had 2 days to do the city. We ate black fungus at a Korean restaurant. We ate at Lord of the Fries before it had more than 1 location. We found amazing cups of tea (and MM drank some decent coffee, apparently). We went to a Chronicles of Narnia exhibit and saw a letter C.S. Lewis penned himself. We lost ourselves in cozy bookshops. We laughed ourselves almost sick at a comedy bar, and didn’t realise how fortunate we were to be seeing Celia Pacquola live for the cost of a donation at the door. She only had a short set, among many others, but it stands out in my mind as one of the wittiest pieces of stand up I’ve ever seen. And as time wore on and she started doing more and more, I’ve been able to retain a small, smug feeling that I knew her work and liked her long before most. I have never been on the front end of any trend before, so I’m a happy camper just to have this. For a short break, it invokes so many happy memories, I wonder how long before I can book another little getaway.

In lieu of a visit, I have Melbourne Breakfast. The blend is perfect for the first cup of the day, and equally as perfect in the afternoon. It is sweet and vanilla while being boldly and unapologetically black. This is the tea for pick me ups and for contemplation. It can be appreciated as a treat to sip mindfully, or a workhorse to see you meet a deadline. Beret or Business suit, Melbourne breakfast has your back. It’s perfect on its own, but a splash of milk can give it a full-bodied, creamy richness. For a perfect cup, use vanilla soy.

Melbourne Breakfast: 5/5

Enjoy with: everyone. Everyone likes this tea.

Remarkable

Orange Pekoe

Standing at the top of the world, bracing against the roaring gale, witnessing the whole sky dance and unable to take it all in at once, I had never felt so tiny and so human. And it all began with a cup of tea.

Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland, the most northern capital city in the world. But for a country with ‘ice’ in its name, it is surprisingly warm, even in the depths of winter. The Gulf Stream from Mexico empties out right above Iceland, so winter temperatures are reasonably stable within a few degrees of zero. Sure, that’s cold, but it’s not deathly cold just to walk outside. And it is winter after all.

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Iceland is a magical country. It’s so untouched by the rest of the world, but also familiarly European enough not be alien. The snow clings to the ground like a dusting of wonder, and the long winter nights lend themselves to cozy fires, warm drinks, and reading. Storytelling is in the fabric of the culture. Arriving just after Christmas gave me an insight into some of the holiday traditions. The Yule Lads complement Santa. One of 14 troll-like creatures come in the windows of children’s bedrooms each night in the lead up to Christmas. Children leave out a shoe where the trolls deposit a chocolate for well behaved children, and a potato for the naughty ones. Reading that the majority of Icelanders still believe in the elves (Huldufólk) of their ancient folklore sounded absurd to me, until I arrived. I’d believe in elves too if I’d grown up in that country. It has an indescribable mystical quality in the atmosphere and the dark winter is friend to the imagination.

My main ambition while in Iceland was to witness the Aurora Borealis. I’d read and heard about this phenomenon for many years, and could hardly believe I would be in the right part of the world at the right time of year to behold the Lights for myself. I booked a tour with remarkable optimism. The evening came, the tour bus arrived, we eagerly hopped on board. The conditions were perfect. Clear sky, high solar wind activity. We waited, we watched, and we waited some more. Alas, there was no sighting that night. The tour company offered a complimentary tour due to the lack of sighting.

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The next night, the tour was cancelled. It was overcast and the atmospheric conditions were not ideal. We would have to wait one more night. As the evening wore on, the sky cleared and a strong wind picked up from the harbour. Deciding to brave the wind, we went in search of a hot drink, and found ourselves at a basement tea bar on the main street. The room was heaving with people and hot drink orders were about to close (the booze was only just starting to flow though). I jostled for a table and my Main Man was left to make drink orders. He returned with an Orange Pekoe for me. The warm tea was heavenly on the cold night. Patrons playing the piano in the corner provided a lively atmosphere amongst the cozy candlelight. We toasted our decision to travel to the other side of the world once again. Aurora or not, this was a trip worth taking and a country worth visiting. When we were walking home, hearts and stomachs warmed, for no reason, MM looked up at the sky.

“What colour do you think that is?” he asked.

We stared for a minute.

“Wait! That’s Aurora!”

We dashed up the hill, the wind fighting us the entire way, until we were standing in the square outside the cathedral. We could see the entire sky from our vantage point, but could scarcely take it all in. Band after band of colour rippled across the sky, twisting, turning, teasing us. It didn’t need our existence, nor did it dance for our benefit, it simply glowed because it was supposed to. The sky becomes so much larger when you try to survey the whole thing at once. It highlights how small you are, how incapable you are of conjuring something this spectacular because you’re just a human. It made think just how much easier it is to believe something else, something bigger or more magical, exists in moments just like these.

In the middle of the city, where we were told the light pollution would destroy all chance of seeing the Lights, on a night when we were told there was no chance of a sighting, we stood, open-mouthed and marvelling. And all because a little earlier in the evening we’d gone in search of a cup of tea.

In a necessary twist of irony, one of the most remarkable events in my life was preceded by one of the most unremarkable teas. Every Orange Pekoe I’ve tried is an unremarkable black, and T2’s offering is no different. It’s a straight black tea, without much depth, and a bit temperamental to brew. It’s not difficult to get a cardboard flavour out of this tea, and milk doesn’t do much for the flavour. My personal recommendation is a squeeze of lemon to lift the cup somewhat. My other recommendation is to see the Northern Lights to lift the experience immensely.

Orange Pekoe: 3/5
Enjoy with: a squeeze of lemon and a celestial marvel.

Bad Haircuts

Good Evening

I’m going to jump right in here and start with the tea, because the moment I drank it I knew there was only one way to describe it: the mullet tea.

Anyone who has grown up with even the slightest hint of bogan understanding knows that the 80’s hairstyle ‘the mullet’ was consistently referred to as ‘business up front and party at the back’. What ensued was the one of the most ocularly offensive hairstyle fashions in living memory. But it is distinct and it is memorable. It even enjoyed a brief resurgence about 12 years ago. I couldn’t believe it.

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Anyway, Good Evening relates to this iconic hairstyle because it is a blend of green and black teas and it is so well blended you get a wonderful mouthful of both teas without any competition. It is green on the front and black on the back. You’ll swear you’ve taken a draught of green and by the time the last drop has trickled from your tongue you’ll be certain it was only ever black. It will draw you back for sip after sip until you too have the misfortune of discovering an empty cup.

Rarely have I lived in the total absence of bogans or some kind of equivalent. I can’t say never, because there was one time in my life when I lived in a place that saw virtually everything as beneath them.

When I was 19 I lived in Connecticut for 3 months. I did so voluntarily, but without doubt, naively. The place I lived had no neon signs, no stragglers or homeless people, no bars or nightclubs, and no idea that the big, wide world existed out there as a real place occupied by real people.

As an idealistic youngster, I decided to spend a year overseas as a nanny. I know people think the term ‘au pair’ sounds fancier, but the main distinction between an au pair and a nanny is that nannies have formal training, which I had, and au pairs are largely untrained. I never really got to make that distinction during my time nannying, because I found my work through an au pair agency. So I got lumped in with all the other au pairs who had come to the USA with varying degrees of nobility in their intentions.

I accepted a placement with a family in Connecticut with 3 children. Children is a generous term, they were aged 15, 14, and 11. Once the youngest reached their 12th birthday, the family would no longer be eligible for another au pair through this agency. This is the usual overseas worker nightmare story, where the family was unkind and the terms of my employment were constantly shifting, and never in my favour. Rather than relay the whole sordid affair in narrative terms, I’ll present you with an accurate job description of my brief time with this family.

Would you like to work with children? Have you invested time and funds in growing your understanding of child development and would now like to apply your knowledge and skills in a personalised setting? Do you crave the adventure of working abroad in an exciting, new location?

Great!

Here in the Black family, we have 3 precocious brats that have been handed everything they have ever wanted their entire lives. Mr Black works on Wall Street and is almost never home, though when he is, he will treat you like the working class citizen he assumes you are. Mrs Black is a stay at home mother who never has time to stay at home. She is insistent that she volunteers constantly with both snooty schools that the children attend, but you will never see any evidence of this. Her nails are always done though. She can make snide remarks about people’s weight (including yours) at half a moment’s notice.

We will grossly overstate the amount of time off you have, and generously understate precisely what is expected of you. We will communicate in vague terms like, “Can you do me a favour?” Meaning you are not on the clock, you aren’t obligated to do what we’re asking you to do, but we are exploiting your young age and willingness to please the people that keep you housed and employed.

When a point of difference occurs between us, we will lean heavily on our religious and ethnic background that is almost useless to us at any other time, potentially insinuating that you have some kind of prejudice against us.

We teach our children solid values. Like making money and getting into college, even at the expense of other people’s very lives.

You will look after our dogs while we go on vacations, even though it’s a violation of your employment terms.

Furthermore, where we live is in the middle of absolutely no where. You will drive in excess of 1000 kilometres per week between school drop offs and the 13 after-school activities our precious snots are involved in, in the hopes of getting some kind of college scholarship.

We expect you to pick up the phone IMMEDIATELY when we call. Bear in mind you spend the majority of your time driving, so what we are asking you to do is blatantly illegal. We don’t care. Do as we say. No, we will not purchase you a hands-free device.

Enjoy the endless sprawl of McMansions, and have no viable form of entertainment within an hour’s drive of our snowy, soulless home.

We can’t wait for you to join our family (payroll).

Never in my life have I so desperately longed for Tim-Tams to greet me in the mail and remind me that life exists outside the frozen wasteland I found myself in.

It wasn’t all bad. I spectacularly totalled their car before being transferred to another family. That worked out much better.

Good Evening: 5/5

Enjoy with: a decent haircut and a perusal of the classifieds.

Bye Bye Bye

Caramel Brownie

Travel mugs are a brilliant invention. It’s a comforting thought that a person can make a hot beverage without enough time to drink it at home, and take it with them wherever they have to head off to. It prevents people purchasing disposable cups of drinks that can be made at home. Personally, I think if you’re purchasing a cup of tea from a coffee shop in anything less than dire circumstances, you need your head checked. Also, if you have found a respectable place to get takeaway tea at a decent price, please share your wisdom. But no one needs to pay $3.50 for a teabag dropped in hot water. Furthermore, the environment is important, it’s the only one we have, and needlessly dumping millions of disposable cups into landfill every year is beyond ridiculous. If drinking coffee is more important that owning a house (because apparently 3 lattes and an avocado toast is all that’s standing between you and a mortgage), that’s your business. But really, get a keep cup. It’s not that hard.

Hopping off my soapbox now.

So, travel mugs and road trips are a match made in heaven. Especially if you have the ultra insulated, perfect for semi-arctic conditions travel mug like I do. I also have a thermos designed for Antarctic exploration teams. Not exactly, but I have consumed a just below magma temperature beverage from it 24 hours after making it. I don’t use that thermos a whole lot.

The beauty of my travel mug is that I can have a tea before leaving home in addition to making one in my travel mug. That means after driving for a few hours, I have a nice hot cup of tea without the hassle of trying to make one while travelling down a freeway at speed. It’s a good deal.

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Recently, my Main Man, Little Lad and I loaded up the car and headed off on a car trip for a couple of hours for an overnight away. Time for travel mugs full of glorious, warming nectar to step up to the plate, insofar as travel mugs can both step and fulfil baseball metaphors. We chose Caramel Brownie for the road because it was a bit of a cool day, and that little orange box of promise was unopened and begging to be used.

Caramel Brownie is a black tea containing chocolate chips and caramel pieces offering the chocolatey, caramel blend the name implies. A black tea with a solid flavour is almost always a sure sign the tea should be consumed straight. But Caramel Brownie is a bit of a dark horse in this arena. The chocolate flavour comes from both cocoa husk and actual chocolate, so milk easily befriends the brew. Normally, this isn’t a problem, you either add or exclude milk according to your own preference. This cannot be the case when the travel mug is in play. Nor when you’re making tea and trying to leave the house at the same time. I don’t know how many of you have tried to leave the house for a night away with a small person, but they seem to require an extraordinary amount of stuff just to survive 24 hours away from your primary dwelling. And if an adult in my house is making tea in travel mugs and the two cups are not identical, something is going to go horribly wrong. That’s the type of brain overload that would have us strapping the stuffed elephant into the car seat and leaving LL behind. You can pity us, we’re parents.

So we had the milk, no milk discussion. I say discussion, it was more disjointed proclamations projected at one another from opposite ends of the house peppered with, “Have you put sunscreen in?” and similar enquiries. Milk means the tea could potentially taste better, but also meant the travel mugs could get a bit gross since we wouldn’t clean them until arriving home the next day. No milk meant sacrificing the flavour to save the travel mugs the fate of a potentially irreversible funk. We went with no milk (long term gains), finally piled ourselves into the car and we were off.

Caramel Brownie came and went from the T2 menu, mostly unnoticed by me. I sampled it in store when it was first released and then it faded into the background of my memory. It disappeared with little more than an acknowledgement from me. Several months (maybe years? I don’t know, I wasn’t paying attention) later it resurfaced to the cheers of many. So much so, I came into a store one day to a handwritten sign informing me:

Guess who’s back
Back again
Caramel Brownie’s back
Tell a friend

As I sat staring down highway, finally able to drink my Caramel Brownie from my travel mug, I recalled these events and also recalled why Caramel Brownie had dissolved into obscurity for me before.

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I just wasn’t a huge fan. Kind of like boy bands. I lived through the hype of the 90’s boy band, desperately hoping that the next one would be the band I liked the most. And maybe I could have a crush on one of them and know all the lyrics to every song. But they all came and went, and not one of them held my attention for more than a single. So the Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, 5ive, Westlife, 98 Degrees, Hanson and Caramel Brownie all have the same thing in common: everyone else seems to like them more than I do. The difference is that Caramel Brownie can be improved slightly by adding some milk.

I guess the moral of the story is: Girl Power!

Caramel Brownie: 3/5 (or a different score, you’re free to decide)

Enjoy with: a little nostalgia and your favourite boy band’s hit single.

Inspiration has a lot to answer for

Red Green and Dreamy

A couple of weeks ago MM had a significant birthday. So we decided to do an overnight stay at the zoo. It included behind the scenes tours, overnight accommodation in an ensuite ‘tent’ facing the Savannah exhibit, and African-inspiried meal buffets. We were properly excited.

In case you haven’t been to the zoo in a while, it’s still fun even after you’ve grown up. That being said, many zoos are completely depressing and the enclosures look cramped and sad. But the zoo we went to has long been a leader in the field of conservation, so the animals are treated with dignity and respect.

Our accommodation was glamping beyond glamping. The ‘tent’ was essentially a hotel room with canvas walls. It was even sheltered under a corrugated iron roof and completed by an expansive deck. It was air-conditioned! The bath was the type you would travel to a luxury resort in a secluded pacific island to bathe in. And the view pretty much speaks for itself:

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We could have happily ditched the tour for an afternoon in front of these good looking creatures, but we joined the tour anyway and it did not disappoint one bit. One of the black rhinos had a baby a few weeks before and neither of them were on exhibit, but we drove past their living space and saw them both. Baby rhinos have an imposing sweetness about them when glimpsed rapidly from afar. We met a sassy elephant who was in her 50s. Her attitude was enviable. It’s possible I want to be a sassy elephant in my middle age.

The highlight of the afternoon was the lions. We were within a metre of 2 year old lion cubs. Apparently Little Lad is the right size for them to think about making a meal out of him, so the cubs tended to crowd in our direction. Completely oblivious to any potential danger, LL confidently pointed at one and said, “Cat! Meow!”
“That’s a lion, little man.”
“Meow!”
“What does a lion say?”
“Roar.” Motions towards the lion, “Meow.”

We got a laugh out of it. We also got it on camera so one day he can laugh at it or be embarrassed by it. Either way is fine by me at this point.

After the tour and a personal appreciation of the bathtub, dinner was served. The African-inspired banquet. Dish after dish of expertly prepared meals slowly collected on the table and we ate until we were satisfied. Then it was time for the after dinner hot beverages. There was Kenyan coffee and alcohols from other African nations. But the tea! Well! 

The tea was just a standard brand from a supermarket. That’s because labelling the meal ‘African-inspired’ defers responsibility in case something isn’t strictly African. ‘Inspired’ is a tip off for a rip off. Like vintage-inspired. It’s not actually vintage, it’s something made cheaply and mass produced to look like it’s old and not cheaply made or mass produced.

The reason I was disappointed with the tea offerings after our meal, was that I was hoping for a hot cup of rooibos tea. Rooibos grows in the Southern part of the African continent and is possibly the best herbal tea you can buy for versatility. It has no caffeine, happily placing it in the after-4 friendly camp, and a completely inoffensive flavour, unlike most other herbals. When the tea is oxidised it turns red. Actually red, not ‘red-inspired’. This is why rooibos is sometimes referred to as red tea or red bush tea. There is also another means of processing the leaves where they are not oxidised leaving them ‘green’, malty and more expensive.

Without any rooibos on offer at the zoo stay, I came home the next day to my own stash. T2 offers a blend of the red and green rooibos in two flavours and this particular night called for Red Green and Dreamy. I like nearly all tea straight, and this tea sparkles when had on its own. It’s complex flavour is immediately fruity, but it has subtle undertones. It’s also woody, tangy and has a hint of honey and reminds you of a wild adventure in a cup.

Just don’t expect any at and African ‘inspired’ event.

Red Green and Dreamy: 4/5
Enjoy with: wild inspiration.