How To: Become a Tea Duellist

Become a Tea Duellist

Those of you who have attended a Steampunk convention in the last year or two may have heard of something called "Tea Duelling" and been intrigued.

Tea Duelling is an elegant sport for a more civilized age. Instead of hacking away at each other with long, sharp wedges of metal or, heaven forbid, shooting guns at one another, Major Thadeus Tinker and Dr. Geof Fetishman devised a way to test the mettle of an opponent through the use of a simple cup of brown joy and a biscuit.

By "biscuit", of course I refer to what us yanks call a "cookie", though since tea duelling is a British sport, I thought the Queen's English would be more appropriate. Hence the spelling of 'duelling' rather than the American English 'dueling'.

If you'd like a full listing of the official rules for Tea Duelling, you can find them here, but I'll go ahead and lay them out for you a little bit more plainly.

In tea duelling, two duellists sit across from each other at a small table, each with a cup of tea at as near to 150 degrees Fahrenheit as possible.

Each duellist also has a biscuit. The proper variety is "Malted Milk", though "Nice" biscuits may also be used. However, as these are British brands, Stateside tea duels usually substitute Pepperidge Farm's Chessmen cookies.

The presiding officer, known as a "Tiffin Master" or "Tiffin Mistress" then tells both duellists when to dunk their biscuit into their tea. The biscuits are to be held submerged in tea for an audible count of five seconds, and then are removed and attempted to be eaten.

The goal of tea duelling is to get a clean "nom", which is when you put the biscuit in your mouth and bite it without having lost any pieces along the way. This sounds easy, but as the biscuit has been submerged in hot tea, it will want to immediately fall apart, presenting difficulty in achieving a clean "nom".

Image from the Steampunk Chronicle, featuring Wilhelmina Frame as Tiffin Mistress at STEAMFest

If both duellists achieve a nom, the one who waited the longest before eating their biscuit is declared the winner.

I should add that a Tiffin Master or Mistress can not simply be anyone. A proper Tiffin Master should be officially registered with the Honorable Association of Tea Duellists. Thus, official tea duels can only take place in the presence of a proper officiant.

However, if your area does not have a Tiffin Master or Tiffin Mistress, you may contact the Honorable Association of Tea Duellists and receive their blessing.

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