Oh, Fiddlesticks!Feb 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Karey Solomon
In the former Baptist Church in Odessa, now the home of Deborah and Daniel Yeager, community members still gather for special events like crafts fairs, retreats, library sales, and tea parties. It’s also the headquarters for Deborah’s business, Fiddlesticks Tea.
Deborah’s appreciation of tea began early. She grew up in York, England, where visits with her grandma generally involved chats over a cup of tea. In her teens, she worked at a tea room specializing in teas and coffees sourced from all corners of the world.
Fast forward to adult life, and a move across the pond, where for several years she worked as a makeup artist in Beverly Hills. She experimented with making furniture, and acted in live theater. This last was where she met her husband, film actor and writer Daniel Yeager, possibly best known for his 2013 portrayal of Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 3D.
When the newlyweds lived in the mountains outside Los Angeles in 2014, Deborah wanted to start a business that would allow her to express her creative side. After tasting several blends of tea, she thought, “I can do this—and do a better job. It just evolved. I started buying more herbs and spices. I don’t grow my own because I don’t have a green thumb, and I want them to be the best quality. I just throw things together, taste it, and think I have something. Then I have friends test it.”
Sounds recreational, but it may take months to come up with a final blend because her palate needs to rest between tastings. The experiment continues. “I will know what it needs more or less of—or maybe I should add that as well.”
Her workroom is a sunny office with shelves of glass jars containing tea ingredients, scales for exact measurements, and, of course, a kettle. It’s also where she stores her library of fine china, from delicate floral-decorated cup and saucer sets, to tiered serving platters for scones and other small delectables, as well as a collection of teapots. She’s learned surprising combinations of flavors may play well together, as in her newest blend, “Dilly Dally,” a mix of the citrussy bergamot of Earl Grey tea with the fragrant tang of lavender. Or the interplay of dandelion, lemongrass, and Assam in “Monk’s Tea,” developed at the request of two friends who are monks.
The business got its name because Deborah, ever polite, exclaims “Fiddlesticks!” instead of an earthier expletive when something goes wrong, “and Daniel said, ‘You should call the business that—considering the number of times you say it!’” They moved East in 2017 to enjoy all four seasons.
Fiddlesticks (fiddlestickstea.com) currently offers a dozen blends, including several herbal teas. Deborah aims to eventually have twenty.
Not surprisingly, Deborah is precise about brewing tea. No fan of teabags dunked in just-boiled water, she most often uses an infuser immersed in a digital kettle, which brings the water to a pre-programmed temperature, then holds it there while herbs and tea leaves steep. At its peak, the brew is served immediately or decanted into one of her beautiful teapots.
She is expert in the aesthetics of a proper English tea. When she caters a tea party, an enterprise she’s done many times on both sides of the country, she prepares English scones—round ones, not triangles. These are complemented with homemade clotted cream and her signature blood orange marmalade.
For those who need more sustenance, there may be egg, smoked salmon, or cucumber-and-cress sandwiches presented on crustless triangles of buttered bread. Sometimes there are little cheesecakes, coffee kisses, or macarons. But you won’t see ordinary cookies, nor crumbling chunks of cake.
Deborah puts her aesthetic to use at the tea parties she caters for large and small groups. The former sanctuary can seem to cradle guests in an intimate space near the crackling wood stove, or accommodate a large group seated in cushioned oak church pews drawn up to long tables elegantly draped with the vintage white linen tablecloths Deborah collects.
She recently catered a tea party for a family’s birthday. Pre-pandemic she put together several historical teas, including a Downton Abbey-themed party in California and events for Stourbridge Line Train Excursions in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. She always encourages guests to dress up in period costume from a gentler time—at least from the tea table on up—complete with fancy hats.
Her last large-scale tea event was in February 2020, organized for the Schuyler County (New York) Historical Society to commemorate Susan B. Anthony’s 200th birthday. “It was a wonderful experience to gather in this former church,” says Glenda Gephart, executive director of the Historical Society. “Deborah offers a unique experience. I’m glad we were able to enjoy it right before the shutdown.”
Jean Hubsch, president of the Historical Society’s board of trustees, agrees. “It seemed quite authentic,” she says. “To use a cliché, people were dressed up in their Sunday go-to-church clothes. It was very lovely and well done, and her tea is delicious.” During the party, the Historical Society unveiled a letter they’d found in their holdings, written by Susan B. Anthony to one of her Schuyler County supporters.
“It was one of my favorite events,” Deborah says. She’s now hoping to host future tea parties, including an Easter event. And, “I’d like to do something for children,” she says. “I think it could be a cultural introduction to tea. And many children do like tea, and using pretty china.”
She’s also developing two new blends of tea. “I’m hoping to have them available by the summer,” she says. Look for the Fiddlesticks Tea Company on Facebook for announcements of upcoming events and new tea releases. You can also give her a call at (607) 923-8009.