The French way of life, at least insofar as I have experienced it, has much to recommend it. I am a keen advocate of l’entente cordiale and will pop over there at the drop of any old chapeau. But there’s just one problem: it’s all but impossible to get a decent cup of tea once you cross the Channel.
Problem tea is not just a French conundrum of course. Almost any tea not made in one’s own kitchen just doesn’t taste right, which I assume is down to the familiarity of the local water at home and the patina built up on the inside of the domestic pot (tea made with a bag in a mug is bound to disappoint, being at once both too strong and too weak). But the issue seems peculiarly acute in France.
What, really, is so difficult? Use fresh water, boil it (yes that’s actually to boiling point, for example until the kettle switches itself off), then use it in the not too distant future, pouring the appropriate quantity over, say, Assam leaves or bags in a pot, allow it to brew for an absolute minimum of five minutes, ten to be on the safe side. Serve with milk, offering sugar as required. Personally I like the milk in first, but my sister is a post-lactarian and I can live with that. But somehow much of this good practice escapes our French cousins. In a cafe or restaurant you are offered a yellow packet containing a Lipton Tea bag, no bad thing in itself, but generally it sits without conviction on the saucer which accompanies a cup of water apparently drawn from the hot tap, sometime earlier that day.
These days we order coffee.
But, all is not lost. Our French best friends have seen the light, and Madame can make a pot of tea worthy of a true anglophile. When we visited recently we instituted a tradition (for both of the weeks we were there) of meeting at their house for Friday afternoon tea, and what a pleasing experience it was.
Despite the unfamiliar kitchen in the gite we were renting and the perplexities of the French flour options in the supermarket, I managed to produce some scones one week and lemon shortbread the next. These were greeted with amazement and delight, not least by a teenage son returning hungry from school. But no, en fait ma chere, these are as rock cakes baked on a Stone Age fire compared to the exquisiteness of the tartelettes aux pommes, the mini operas, the eclairs and the macarons adorning the windows of the local patisseries. Perhaps a standard English brew doesn’t come easily, but there other compensations.
And finally … a tea joke …
‘Why do Marxists always drink Earl Grey?’
‘Because proper tea is theft’.
Thank you and goodnight.