A tea-dueling Comic-Con panel teaches you how to settle that parking dispute the steampunk way

Panelists from Comic-Con 2018’s tea-dueling panel.
(Makeda Easter / Los Angeles Times)

How do you settle a dispute in the world of steampunk? Over tea, of course.

As the first day of Comic-Con came to a close, a group of about 100 people gathered at one of the wackiest panels of the day to learn about the art of teapot racing and tea dueling.

Steampunk, which gets its name from science fiction literature, mixes modern technology with the aesthetic of the Victorian age. Think gears and gadgets, corsets, ruffles, duster coats, top hats and binoculars.

Several steampunks on the panel showed off their homemade teapot racers constructed from materials such as an ultrasonic humidifier, a copper tea kettle and a radio-controlled toy car. Racers must comply with strict dimensions and be able to beat other teapots on a set course.

Madame Askew, mistress of tea and professional teapot-racing commentator, gave the rapt audience a breakdown of how to properly engage in a tea duel.

“Tea dueling is the arts and sciences of settling the matters of honor over tea,” she said.

Panelists at a Comic-Con 2018 panel discuss the art and science of tea dueling onJuly 19.
(Makeda Easter / Los Angeles Times)

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First, two duelers must each take a cookie (also called a biscuit or bickie) between two fingers and dunk it into a cup of steaming tea for a set period of time. Keeping the cookie between two fingers, the duelers must then remove the bickie from the tea. “Your biscuit is soggy and it wants to thwart you,” Madame Askew explained. “It’s going to crumble at any minute.”

In order to win, the tea dueler must keep their cookie intact for as long as possible before taking a big bite. If the cookie crumbles, the dueler loses.

Several special rules — such as making people dance or stand on one leg during the bout — may also foil tea duelers. And what’s a tea duel without a bit of trash-talking? Madame Askew gave an example.

“The way you’re holding your bickie is weak and offends me,” she said to a fellow panelist, drawing laughter from the panel’s attendees.

But although the battle sounds simple, panelist Karina Walsh (a 2015 tea-dueling winner) gave a warning to prospective duelers — the art of tea dueling may take minutes to learn and years to perfect.