Tea Dueling in the American Tradition

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The tournament for the Fourth Annual Dragon Con Tea Duel quickly filled up with contestants willing to put their honor—and their fingers—on the line. You could be forgiven for not knowing that there is an annual tea duel at Dragon Con, but over the four years that the tournament has taken place, the popularity has grown enough that it took place in the Hilton’s Crystal Ballroom instead of in the Alternate History track room in Sheraton Augusta.

Photo by Brownlee Currey
Photo by Brownlee Currey

The rules of tea dueling are relatively simple. The duel is a contest of wills between two competitors. Each competitor is provided a cup of tea and their choice of weapon, in this case, a Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookie. Five cookies are presented face down to avoid any advantage that may or may not be conferred by the chess piece on the cookie. Once a competitor places a finger on a cookie, that cookie is considered chosen.

The competitors must hold the cookie in a two-fingered hold. Any two fingers may be used. When instructed to dunk, the competitors must submerge at least 75% of the cookie in the tea for a count of five. The cookies are removed and then the duel begins. The last person to achieve a “clean Nom,” meaning that the entire cookie is consumed without it breaking or falling on the participant’s hand or body, is the winner. One elbow is allowed on the table as a steadying mechanism, but competitors may not use gravity to achieve their nom.

All of this is great fun and quite silly, and the competitors approached it with a large dose of good humor. However, Tiffin Master Gretchen did make sure to warn everyone that the tea used in the duel is quite hot and certain two-fingered holds may not be recommended so that the correct amount of the cookie might be submerged without also submerging the fingers.

Photo by Photo by Brownlee Currey
Photo by Photo by Brownlee Currey

The first duel was between Jack P, a young girl with dueling experience, versus Clifford, a dueling newbie. Unfortunately for them, both cookies broke before the nom could be completed, and thus, both competitors were eliminated from the tournament. As the competitors went head-to-head, it was clear that the humidity in the room was playing a factor, because several duels ended in a double scratch. The duelers were drawn at random from the group who signed up, which lead to a match between Vance, last year’s Dragon Con Tea Duel champion, and Livia, the first ever American Tea Dueling Champion. This was a duel for the ages! In the end, Livia did not achieve a clean nom, and Vance moved forward into the next round.

Photo by Brownlee Currey
Photo by Brownlee Currey

In the end, just three competitors remained, and someone from the audience volunteered as tribute to fill the slot. By agreement of all the competitors, the new contestant was permitted. Buttercup emerged as an early fan favorite during the competition and was pitted against the new tribute. It was an intense duel, but Buttercup triumphed to proceed to the finals to face Vance, who defeated his second opponent, Gwen.  The audience was overwhelmingly on Buttercup’s side, and even Vance was cheering them on. The duel between them had everyone on the edge, but Vance’s cookie broke just as he went for his nom while Buttercup achieved a clean nom to win.

Photo by Brownlee Currey
Photo by Brownlee Currey

This is Buttercup’s first Dragon Con and their first time dueling. They were thrilled and excited to have won. Vance was similarly happy to have been defeated by Buttercup and could not think of a better way to finish a duel.

Tea dueling was started by two British gentlemen, and the complete rules can be found here. The American Tea Dueling Society, which coordinated and ran the event for the Alternate History Track, can be found on Facebook.

About the author

Maggie Caracappa By day, Maggie Caracappa is the editorial director at a medical communications company in Yardley, PA. The rest of the time, Maggie sees to the needs of her kitty overlords; polices the grammar on all kinds of published material including signage, menus, and food packaging; and multitasks online, frequently chatting with multiple people while writing fan fiction and watching her favorite shows (Sherlock, Game of Thrones, and Doctor Who among them). She continues to be far too excited to be working for the Daily Dragon.

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