‘This is the best cup of tea you’ll ever drink,’ I told my host last Saturday night.
She looked at the coppery brown liquid in the delicate China cup with utter disgust. My eyes bored into her willing her on. She gripped the cup, brought it to her lips and nervously took a sip. Her eyes shut.
‘Mmm,’ she replied forcing the liquid down her throat. ‘Nice. A bit sweet. And we don’t normally add milk. And I use Earl Grey as a rule. Or mint.’
‘In other words,’ I wanted to scold her. ‘You’ve never had a cup of tea. You’ve been drinking hot water with a dash. Like a man saying he drinks beer and then ordering shandy.’
The tea incident came about after a boozy dinner last weekend at a friend of a friend’s house. It’s still somewhat of a miracle that I was invited. They knew me for one. But I behaved myself. So much so that I even offered to make tea after the meal. They were angling for coffee, but I insisted, perhaps rather aggressively, on Yorkshire tea.
I wouldn’t have normally forced the issue, but as I was walking up through Caluire-sur-Soane on my way to the party, I noticed an English food shop wedged in-between a boulangerie and a patisserie on Grande Rue de Saint Clair. It was a pleasing sight. The old adversaries inviting one another to share their culinary delights: fluffy white pain de campagne, stomach busting brioche, coronary clotting croissants versus fish fingers, baked beans and brown sauce – no comparison.
I wasn’t interested in their stock (nothing you couldn’t get in Tesco Express) except for a packet of Taylor’s of Harrogate Yorkshire Tea next to a jar of Mellow Birds (yes, I know, who drinks that still?). The experience of finding top-notch tea was like a Frenchman finding a decent bottle of wine in an English corner shop. I’d hit the jackpot and wanted to share it with my friends.
Unfortunately and much to my chagrin, only one out of the four people finished it. There were actually seven people at the party including me, but one was in the toilet feeling the effects of the host’s incredibly rich Goulash, and the other was passed out on the sofa. When he arrived I assumed he was English by the smell of daytime drinking he brought into the room. So it was no surprise that after the tart au lemon, he got up, walked a few paces forward and then collapsed onto the lush sofa to await his hangover in a few hours time.
The man who actually finished his tea, and enjoyed it I hasten to add, had lived in Birmingham for four years as an English teacher and said it brought back many memories. Hard to imagine I know living in the West Midlands (the East Midlands is bad enough) but he seemed to enjoy the canals and ‘funny’ accent, as he called it. The others simply sloshed the tea around in their cups willing it to go away, until finally they said it was too cold to drink. Like hell it was.
But it was no problem, as the food and wine were excellent as standard. Moreover, it was an honour to have been invited to a French dinner party. It’s quite a rare occurrence unless you know people well. I say well. I mean almost married. True they wanted to practice their English, so there was a motive, but it isn’t something that happens everyday. Although, while I was indeed polite, sober, engaging, and courteous, I doubt another invite will be forthcoming.
‘Do you remember that English guy we invited here a few months ago?’
Horror descends over their faces.
I probably disappointed them anyway by announcing that it was a grand opportunity for me to practice my French. I did speak English towards the end, but that’s only because it was eleven o’clock on a Saturday night and my brain thought I was watching Match of the Day.