This blog post was originally published on 1 November 2021 via my newsletter. Sign up to be the first to read articles like this, delivered straight into your inbox (also, you get a copy of my free book, not bad right?).
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links and images, at no extra cost to you. Please read the full disclosure here.
8 Teas That Inspired The Toxic Teas of Benaghar’s Tea Rooms
There are two tea houses in the city of Bengahar: The Grand Tea Rooms in the city’s Grand leisure area, and the other is in the murky labyrinth of Old Town.
The former is frequented by high society, rich families, their gambling husbands and sons, the gossiping women, and their unruly children. This tea house is modelled on the likes of Regency tearooms that would not look out of place in a Jane Austen novel, but with a more Edwardian/Victorian clientele. There is also a lot of cake to be had.
The latter is for the inhabitants of Old Town only and frequented by the likes of O’scilla Juur and his boys. This tearoom is more akin to the traditional Hong Kong tearooms, where tea is served alongside dim sum, although much shabbier than you would find in real life. The many birds in their cages hanging from the ceiling are inspired by the Hong Kong tea house tradition of elderly folk whiling away their morning talking to the other customers, whilst their caged birds chirp alongside them – think John Woo’s Hard Boiled.
And although both tearooms differ in their clientele, and what side dishes they have to offer, both source their tea leaves from the same place, the country of Palestra full of fields of tea leaves. Both of them are just as good at serving hot green tea and bad as each other at blending the good and the bad leaf to make their own toxic combinations. But the idea of tea being toxic or providing you with more than a caffeine boost was not something I made up, nope – because you can find many varieties of tea that can perk you up, cause you to fall ill or even kill you. From CBD-infused tea to radioactive poisons, let’s have a look at a selection of some of these teas.
1 | Death by Aconite Tea
In March 2017, a woman died after drinking tea she purchased from the Sun Wing Woo Trading Company, whilst out shopping in Chinatown, San Francisco. The laboratory tested the tea and found that the plant-based toxin, aconite, was present, and immediately issued a health warning. Also known as wolf’s bane and helmet flower, the roots from the aconite plant are processed and then used in traditional Chinese medicine. But raw aconite, which the Sun Wing Woo Trading Company was packaging and selling as tea, once consumed is extremely toxic – causing numbness in the body, paralysis or even death, depending on how much the individual had consumed.
2 | Execution by Scabby Hands
Hemlock, also known by the nicknames of beaver poison, break-your-mother’s heart and scabby hands, to name a few, is one nasty poisonous plant. When consumed, all hell will break loose in your central nervous system. Drinking hemlock tea will make you feel a little tipsy but then after 48-78 hours, at best, your respiratory system will collapse, at worst you will die from your neuromuscular junction becoming blocked and your only chance of survival is mechanical or artificial ventilation – lovely! Somehow, Plato’s description of Socrates’s death by drinking Scabby Hands did not capture such a torturous death. Instead, Socrates, who willingly drank the poison (for being condemned to death for his democratic principles) apparently cited the mythical god of healing, Asclepius, asking Crito to not forget to pay the debt. So…Plato…Asclepius healed Socrates, by making him gasp for breath, did he? Really?
3 | One Radioactive Tea, Coming Up!
If break-your-mother’s heart or wolf’s bane don’t take your fancy, what about some nice herbal tea with a drop of Polonium-210, and a slice of Medovick cake, courtesy of a not-so-subtle spy network. In all seriousness, this is not even slightly funny. Whether you lived in London at the time, or not, you might remember the case of the poisoning of ex-FSB agent (a.k.a. the KGB but wearing slightly better suits), Alexander Litvinenko. Back in November 2006, having made allegations against the then and present-day Russian President, Litvinenko was becoming increasingly paranoid that he would be killed by his former employer. On the day he was poisoned, he met with two former colleagues at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair’s Grosvenor Square for a cuppa. After twenty-two days of being ill with severe vomiting, losing his hair, an ever-decreasing white cell blood count and multiple organ failure, and after an extensive investigation that included nuclear weapons scientists, Litvinenko was pronounced dead. A lethal dose of radioactive Polonium-210 had been added to his tea… by his friends, who kindly left a trail of P-210 over London, British Airways and Berlin. Thankfully, this stuff cannot be made by curating tea leaves.
4 | Mushroom Tea with an Infusion of Magic
Stepping away from the more poisonous types of tea, there is always the option of taking a psychedelic trip by adding some psilocybin to your ginger tea. Now, although Shroom infused tea has proven to be a health benefit to some, and is non-addictive, this stuff does come with several warnings. Besides the possibility of a bad trip, it will kick in sooner and be much stronger than eating the mushrooms that you might have found whilst foraging on the forest floor. It’s also not a good idea to consume if you have a dodgy tummy, a previous history of mental health issues or psychosis or a heart condition. In fact, maybe skip this tea on the menu altogether, just in case any of the above health symptoms have yet to present themselves.
5 | The Non-Psychedelic Tea
Want to avoid going down the rabbit hole and just want to relax? Then try a CBD-infused tea. Unlike the THC from cannabis plants, CBD does not have psychoactive effects but will help you to relax. In fact, CBD is calming to both the body and mind since it has anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties. CBD is so popular now that it can be found in most products – from chocolate to face cream. But back to tea – add a drop or two of CBD oil to your peppermint tea or brew one of the CBD tea bags from your local health shop for a relaxing brew.
6 | Would You Like a Sachet of Rat Poison With Your Tea?
It turns out that at the beginning of the 19th Century, it wasn’t just long-suffering/abused women who chose rat poison to get rid of their husbands, men waiting for their inheritance or to settle a score also loved to use the ‘woman’s weapon’ – and both sexes loved to add it to a freshly brewed hot beverage. Arsenic in its natural element can be found in things like rocks, water, animals and plants, but the availability of the stuff was one reason for such high use of it back then – just pretend you had a rat infestation in the home, pop to the chemist, hand over your tuppence and you’d get half an ounce in return – just enough to kill your whole family. Not bad, right? Unfortunately for some, this nearly did happen – like the 1833 case of George Bodle (the intended victim), who died shortly after consuming his arsenic-laced coffee (okay, so it wasn’t tea in this instance), but members of his family, some staff and their family members all fell ill after reusing the same poisoned grounds. I mean … you could argue that was karma for being so disgusting as to reboil the already brewed coffee beans, what, three times? Yuk!
7 | I Take My Tea With a Drop of Milk and Liver Failure
Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating with the liver failure for this next tea, but I can’t write an article on tea without including the South Pacific psychoactive drink known as Kava. Made by grinding down the root of the Piper Methysticium plant (Kava) and soaking it in water, you are left with a muddy, watery-looking concoction – and I can tell you from personal experience, it’s not nice. Having spent some time in Fiji whilst heading back from Kiribati, I took part in a welcome ceremony with some other unsuspecting tourists. The fact that the Fijian guides screwed their faces up and shook their heads when asked if they would like to try some of their local delicacies, said it all. It has the texture of runny mud and the flavour of it with a little hint of mint. I can honestly say I did not consume enough of it to get high. But, if you live in Australia, there is good news – because coming to a supermarket near you (sometime soon) will be lots more Kava. This is still highly regulated because although it has similar benefits to CBD, its side effects include skin rashes, potential liver failure and general feelings of ill health as well as dependency on it by some people. So, if you want you can add this to your brew as you would do with CBD oil or look at buying one of the new Kava teabags, but it’s pretty disgusting and personally, I would like to keep my liver.
8 | Benaghar’s Toxic Tea of Choice
Let’s get to the fictional teas of Benaghar, in particular, the Astro Hibdaluca tea. Though the only one of the eight which is not real and nor is the fictional plant it is brewed from, it is potentially one of the worst. Like the consumption of mushrooms, you can happily microdose on the leaf of this plant so long as you mix it with milder and less intoxicating leaf, such as those from the Pink Mountains of Aebra – just as Queen Phenice enjoys her tea. Consumed in high doses and frequently, you quickly become dependent on the stuff. At first, you enjoy happy psychedelic trips and then begin to entertain darker thoughts, until eventually your addiction to the brew leads you into the oblivion of tea dens in the harbourside taverns of the city, just like the opium dens of Victorian London. I wanted to use the tea in part as a narrative for the Wolf King’s downfall, as the vice of choice for consumers and dealers alike in the city, but also a nod to the destructive nature of the British Empire’s trade with both China (The Opium Wars) and the poor working conditions of the Indian tea plantation workers in the 1800s – an empire that the Aebran Empire of the books is a fictional parallel of.
If You Add Milk First, There are Consequences
The teas of Benaghar are a particularly fun element to the book series, and one I might look at creating a short story about, so keep your eyes peeled for that one. However, I would like to add that I do not condone or condemn the drinking/or reasons why you might use any of the above teas. Whatever tea you drink, or the purpose for which you brewed it is your choice and your actions and methods of brewing are solely your responsibility. I am not liable for your tea-making or tea-drinking habits, but I’ll warn you now – the Tea Police will arrest you if you add milk first, instead of after your teabag has brewed! In the meantime, I’ll carry on drinking my tea black, brewed strongly, with a drop of milk.