Tea for time?

September 27, 2010

Ever since strong coffee started doing tricky things to my insides, a couple of years ago now, I have taken to drinking tea. Before that, of course, I had the typical Brit’s attitude to tea: so long as it’s warm and wet and has so much sugar that you can stand your spoon up in it, it’s fine.

I remember – it must have been on one of his rare visits – my dad dunking Rich Tea biscuits in his tea, and I watched, fascinated, as he held the biscuit while it curled up, then started to disintegrate. He smiled at me, then stirred the biscuit residue into his tea and drank it with theatrical sighs of delight.

I keep being reminded of this image, every time I see that film of a chunk of glacier falling into the sea that the BBC shows us whenever someone else wants to frighten us about global warming.  Funny how your past links up with your (possible) future in such unexpected ways, isn’t it?

So anyway, I was talking about tea, not glaciers. Once I had finally established the causal connection between coffee and my state of health – I’ll spare you the details, but it was almost instantaneous – I realised I needed to revise my hot drink regime.

Chocolate wasn’t an option – gives me hives, much to the distress of my feminine side –  so tea it was. I ashamed to say that, Northern though I might well be (or some would say, once have been), I couldn’t being doing with builder’s tea, mahogany coloured from a pot that was never washed. Maybe it was the associations with my dad. More than likely, in fact.

So, it was what my  posher, less politically correct chums would call ‘lesbian tea’, By that they mean anything that isn’t Indian, dark brown or has milk in it. That narrowed my choice down to about 900 different flavours. I canvassed opinion, hoping for a little direction in this minefield of choice. It did occur to me at first to actually consult a lesbian, because my mind is quite literal, but I realised I didn’t know any, or at least not knowingly.  Mine’s been a sheltered life, really, although there are lots of rampantly gay men in advertising, and probably a lot more who are still in the closet.

My ex-wife may well have known some lesbians, although I wasn’t about to ask her. Not only would I have that awful deafening laugh to contend with, but she would probably end up screwing more money out of me for some thinly-disguised cause she was supporting.

Someone suggested going to Fortnum and Masons and asking them. I browsed their website, and was immediately confronted with 32 different ‘single estate’ teas. I guessed these were like single malts but with the hangover the next day. The first one was Cornish and priced at 75 pounds – rather a lot for a cup of Rosie Lee, even if it did come from the land of cream teas.

Luckily, they were in price order, with the first ones being the most expensive, and I was soon down among the 5 pound  packages. I was hoping this meant a pound weight, although the photos showed a teaspoonful, so maybe that was what they meant.

Still, in for a penny, and all that. I had a good look at everything I needed to know about tea, alarmed to find out straight away that there aren’t just two types of tea, but six – white, yellow, green, black, oolong and puerh.  There are only two types of tea bush, though, the Chinese and the Indian, so I wasn’t that far wrong. The difference, apparently,  is all in the processing – how they are picked, from which bit of the bush, how they are withered in warm air, how the tea is dried, rolled and so on.

So I strolled up Piccadilly to Fortnums and, in a sort of daze, found the tea department. And after 10 minutes with Darren, tasting like a connoisseur,  I know that the truth rests in the grey dragon… at least for now.


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