COLUMN: May 3, 2012

I FOUND a really good tea shop.

As I grow older, I am becoming increasingly obsessed by tea. You might say to me at this point that I wrote about tea a few weeks ago and surely I can’t be writing about tea again.

And I would say to you this: “I’ve just said I’m obsessed by tea. That’s the point of an obsession. Now take your teapot and… oh, sorry, I thought it was a teapot.”

Specifically, I am becoming obsessed by the quest for the perfect cup of tea. I know I can get the perfect cup of tea any time, brewed correctly, with a snid of milk, by making it myself. It would probably not be your perfect cup of tea, but tea preference is like fingerprints, unique and admissible as evidence in a court of law.

But it is virtually impossible to find a cafe which can furnish me with a cup of tea which is as good as my own.

It’s all right for coffee drinkers. Coffee is coffee. I don’t actually believe people like coffee anyway. They just pretend to like coffee because coffee has got a better press than tea.

For I have watched people drinking tiny cups of espresso, with their faces turning inside out, their mouths puckering like tea towel holders from the sheer bitterness. People would be much better off having a nice cocoa and a Pro Plus.

But the one advantage of coffee is that there is a scale of strength, from espresso through Americano to … I don’t know, I don’t drink coffee, it’s horrid. And there is a scale of milkiness from black to vaguely-coffee-flavoured milk shake.

So the poor dupes who buy coffee “for pleasure,” as long as their delusion allows them to distinguish between the varying levels of discomfort drinking varying potencies of coffee can afford, are guaranteed a consistent experience every time.

Not so for tea drinkers. We are the poor relations, when we should be treated as the toffs.

“But look,” say the coffee shops. “Ah ha! Look at the range of blends we have – Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, twigs, fruit-scented-but-in-no-way-actually-flavoured tea.”

“Yes,” I say, “But I watched Tiswas and not Swap Shop as a child. Yes, I have clawed my way up to lower middle class, and take a newspaper with foreign news in it, but I cannot entirely shake off my humble origins. Look, sunshine, do you have a Yorkshire, or a Tetley, or a PG Tips? And can you brew it so that I have the perfect cup of tea?”

I don’t say that at all. I just convey it with my eyes. Then I point at the English breakfast tea and hope for the best.

If I am lucky I will get to put my own milk in. If not, they will ask, “Milk?” I will say yes, and then try to explain exactly how much I like, which is not very much, but it depends on how strong the tea is. I momentarily feel like a prima donna for wanting to specify the amount of milk I want, but then I remember that I am paying roughly a 1500% mark-up price on a teabag, water and a splash of milk and I get over myself.

“Just a…” I begin, but am drowned out by the glub of half a cow’s daily capacity being sploshed into my cup. I take my ruined beverage and sit down, gently seething.

But then I found my tea shop. The tea came in leaves, in a little clear teapot, so I could judge the exact teaness of it before pouring it into my cup. And I could take the edge off with a little jug of milk, rather than having to walk over to a condiments station, and tentatively depress a plunger, unsure of the milk flow. And it was perfect.

But when I went to visit a few weeks ago, it had suddenly closed down, a victim of the double-dip recession, and the coffee conspiracy.

And I walked home, past a dozen Starbucks and Costas, with dark thoughts of revenge in my head. Because one day the tea lovers will rise. For we are obsessive.

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