Tealicious History: Russian Caravan

Welcome to the second installment of Tealicious History – a post that is dedicated to my Mothership, Michelle. Unlike me, she likes her tea to taste like a cross between a campfire and an ashtray. Delicious.

Traditionally, Russian Caravan is made from a mixture of several Chinese black teas – Oolong, Keemum and Lapsang Souchong. However, all of these varieties are produced from the same plant – Camellia Sinensis. The differentiation in taste is achieved through varying the methods of harvesting, drying, processing and brewing the tea.

Russian Caravan is a medium strength tea that has a hint of malt and a distinctive smokey aroma caused by the Lapsang Souchong. Originally, the latter was only intended as a natural preservative, but it became an important element of the tea itself.

Mmm, delicious camels. Photo Credit – The Tea Caddy website.

After vodka, tea has been the most consumed beverage in Russia throughout history. However, as the Chinese blend suggests, Russian Caravan is not of Russian origin. The name originated in the 18th century when new trade routes opened between China and Russia. The tea was generally transported by camel caravans, which is why many modern varieties of Russia Caravan feature them on the packaging. Each trip via this route took at least six months to complete as the journey was the almost ten thousand kilometres long.

There was an alternate route to the south that passed through Odessa in the Ukraine. The price of this tea was cheaper due to the quicker and far easier journey, however, it also supposedly effected the flavour due to exposure to the sea.

In comparison, the traditional route was harsh due to the cold and dry climate of Mongolia and Siberia, but this is said to have enhanced and improved the flavour of the tea. Some believe that a peculiar delicacy of flavour was imparted to the leaves by the slight moisture it absorbed when it was unloaded onto the snow at night. As such, it sold for a higher price.

Russian Caravan tea remains popular today, being sold anywhere from supermarkets to speciality tea shops and cafes. It’s smokey taste continues to be a pleasure for those who like their tea to taste like it was brewed in the fires of hell. Mmm, tasty brimstone.

It’s okay, I’m allowed to be unjustly biased in my commentary due to preferring Earl Grey, which supposedly tastes like dirty dishwater.

See you all next time.

Death by Chocolate – Hitler’s Camouflaged Bomb Plot

A big thanks to Katie for bringing this story to my attention. I majored in WWII History at uni, and my waist line currently majors in chocolate, so this is the perfect topic for me to discuss.

Newly uncovered WWII documents reveal that the Nazis were plotting to assassinate Winston Churchill with a bomb disguised as a chocolate bar. The plan was to coat the explosives with a thin layer of dark chocolate and then package them as ‘Peter’s’ branded chocolate bars. The idea was to have them smuggled into the War Cabinet’s dining room where Churchill and other important members of parliament would often meet. The device was designed to explode seven seconds after being unwrapped, killing everyone within a few metres of the sweet and sugary impact. The theory behind this plot was to exploit the Prime Minister’s weakness for chocolate.

1920′s Peter’s chocolate bar wrapper. Photo courtesy of The Candy Wrapper Archive.

Unfortunately for the Nazis, it wasn’t just their chocolate that was foiled. British spies discovered the plot and quickly warned one of MI5’s most senior intelligence chiefs – Lord Victor Rothschild. He proceeded to alert the nation and advised them to look out for exploding candy bars. He even had an illustrator friend, Laurence Fish, draw up pictures of the bars so he could distribute them amongst the public. Interestingly, Fish’s wife found the correspondence between her husband and Rothschild in 2009. The letter was dated May 4, 1943 and was marked ‘secret’. It detailed the German plot and supposedly included a rather poor drawing of the device by Rothschild.

Suffice to say, with the plot made public, there were no chocolate bombs exploding in parliament.

A little research on my behalf also revealed that chocolate wasn’t the only item that the Nazis were planning on using to disguise explosives. German saboteurs also utilized tinned plums, throat lozenges, shaving brushes, batteries, wood, and my personal favourite – stuffed dogs. I can’t imagine how the latter would even work.

I’d like to finish by thanking everyone who contacted me after my Darrell Lea article. It was incredibly touching and I very much appreciated it.

Have a lovely Thursday!

Darrell Lea – An Employee’s Tale

As a young girl Saturday was always shopping day. Each week, three generations of Jones women – my nan, my mum, and my little self, would head off to Shellharbour Square. It’s a Stocklands now, but I don’t think I’ll ever call it that.

Our morning would consist of browsing the stores, putting a dollar in the Salvation Army box and buying the weekly groceries. I of course hated the latter task. Food is supposed to magically appear in the cupboard, right?

After spending half an hour in Coles (I, ever the brat, would complain loudly for the entirety), we would FINALLY finish the shopping and sit down for a snack. Coffee for mum and nan, a lemonade spider for me. Remember, these were the days before seven year olds were fed sushi and baby chinos.

I would always eat lightning fast and then have to wait for them to finish – rather impatiently of course. You see, my favourite part of the day was still to come. Eventually I would drag them away, only barely allowing a short pause for the bill to be paid.

I could smell it already.

Grasping mum’s hand, I dragged her through the centre, closer and closer to my childhood Nirvana.

We were almost there…just…a bit…further.

And there it was.

Sandwiched between two forgettable stores was every child’s dream. With its bright decor, shiny packets and the delicious mixed scent of liquorice and chocolate, there was no mistaking where we were.

Darrell Lea.

Caramel Snows – one of my favourites

It didn’t matter that I was there every week, it never failed to delight me anew each time. I would gaze around in wonder, not understanding how so much happiness could be contained in one place. The shop ladies knew us by name, and would always call me over with a wink and smile for a little taste test. I thought they had the best job in the world.

Mum would roll her eyes but also smile as she picked up some liquorice for herself and a little chocolate frog or a jar of Bo Peeps for me. Nan preferred the dark chocolate ginger. Eventually mum would say that it was time to go and that I should let the ladies get back to work. How she ever managed to drag me away I’ll never understand.

Little did I know that I would grow up to work for the company that is so firmly entrenched in the memories of my childhood. It happened about two years ago, not long before Christmas. I was handing out resumes around Miranda Fair, but wasn’t having much luck. I had all but given up, and was wandering around aimlessly when I saw Darrell Lea in the distance. I had nothing to lose, so I mustered as much confidence as possible, strode in and introduced myself to the manager. I was hired on the spot.

Mum laughed for about ten minutes when I told her the news. She referred to it as chocolate coated fate.

I’ve held several different positions since then – Christmas Casual, 2IC, Store Manager, and now I’m a Corporate Consultant at our head office. One could say that I’ve had a finger in many pieces of proverbial Rocklea Road. What I’ve found most remarkable is that no matter what position I’ve been in, I always hear from people who have had incredibly similar experiences to myself – The childhood memories, the weekly visits, the way that the company has permeated each living generation of their family.

The lesson that I’ve learned is that my family isn’t unique when it comes to our Darrell Lea experiences, and I absolutely adore that. It’s incredible. Inspiring. Beautiful.

The most touching story I ever heard was when I was managing the Hurstville store. I was busy packing shelves when a lovely old lady shuffled in and asked for a carton of coffee creams. As I began ringing up the sale she explained how these were husband’s favourite. Unfortunately, he had died four years previous. They had been together for over five decades. Every year since he had passed she would buy the creams on his birthday, sit down in his favourite chair and eat them whilst reflecting on their life together. I’m not ashamed to say that my eyes welled up on the spot, and they still do whenever I think about that story. I hope that she will be able to buy them next year.

You see, Darrell Lea is more than just a retailer – it’s something that has been an integral part of Australian family life for 85 years. It was created by a family for families. How many other companies can genuinely claim that?

In my time there I’ve heard hundreds of people comment on how Christmas, Easter, Birthdays and every other special occasion wouldn’t be the same without Darrell Lea. Evidence of this has can be found in the outpouring of love and support that the company has received over the last five days.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Darrell Lea, but I have hope. I believe in the magic that it has woven into people’s lives, including my own. All I can say is that I’m optimistic. I hope that the next generation of Australians will be popping into stores to ask when the Christmas Puddings/Coconut Roughs are going to arrive, and to suggest that we sell them all year round.

Thank you to everyone who has been supporting us with both sales and kind words over the past week. You have been an inspiration to us all, and we are incredibly appreciative. I believe that your support is what will secure the future of Darrell Lea for years to come.