“Je dois avoir une tasse de the” is probably the only words in French I felt were necessary. In fact, given I cannot function without said cup of tea in the morning – “must have” is still one of the only methods of getting me out of bed. In this very cold patch of winter, two cups of tea are carefully prepared by my tea-making husband, a ritual that only he can perform. Maybe its a man thing, but there is timing of adding boiled water to tea-bag, steeping time and the correct ratio of milk to be added to produce the perfect brew. I must also have sugar. No I will never get used to tea without it!
My husband is a coffee man. Strong black coffee, no sugar. The French approve especially as they take this with a cigarette and drive like maniacs off to work without my staple breakfast of poached eggs on toast. How they survive to lunchtime I have no idea, but when that magic hour arrives, do not attempt to race a Frenchman or woman home. The hunger and long lunch break will win them the race, while I as usual forget the lunch closures and wonder why I have to spend two hours in my car looking at the ferme sign!!
French tea – now there’s a thing – or in my case – not a thing. Lipton’s Tea is the only tea that seems to be available or that absolutely abominable Earl Grey. Can’t abide it. That smokey aroma and gnats-pee [excuse my French] quality is not tea. The Lipton’s is passable but still weak. My tea is a robust mix of Ceylon, Assam and Kenyan. Not builders tea, where you can stand a spoon up in it, but a little more milk.
Milk first or after? Oh it must be after. If you put milk first and the tea is too week, the tea is ruined. No more room to top it up with more tea. Put it after and you can gauge the depth of colour, plus the tea will be hotter.
Over twenty years ago, you could not find fresh milk in France for love nor money. For some reason, even though cows were a mainstay of animal husbandry, fresh milk wasn’t on the menu – must be that black coffee again – and no cereals. UHT long-life milk was all that you could find and it makes tea undrinkable. A listeria hysteria and EU nonsense affected the sale of fresh milk which also scuppered a many good fromages along the way. Now as I am about to move permanently, luckily in the last few year fresh milk, semi and full fat are in the supermarkets – hurray the French have caught up. Plus and heaven be praised – they also sell my Yorkshire tea. Civilisation does exist across the channel.
Tea in France of any quality can be bought online and in Paris, tea is being served, especially in the evenings, at tea salons. But French tea is not British tea. I am afraid its more like the Earl Grey I am not fond of. In fact the French are keen on heavily scented blends – Dammann in Paris – its their speciality. A lot of Michelin restaurants serve tea and it does go well with cheese. But then again thats the preserve of the wealthy as it was during Napoleons rein. The wealthy drank tea. In good old Blighty everyone drank tea.
I have tried many teas including fanciful Russian caravan teas. All quite lovely for the occasional exploration and to feel a little tea-smug. But I fall rapidly back to my robust beverage of English Breakfast or Yorkshire tea because it reaches my toes, and well solves every problem known to mankind. Not for nothing the phrase Tea and Sympathy. Coffee is good for shock, for very, very bad news, for nerves, but for those little day to day problems tea does the trick, without the caffeine high and the black teeth.
When our terrace is built and I can take my tea out in the morning sunshine – life will be perfect. I think I might even try to convert the neighbours. Thats British tea not French tea – anything less robust just wont cut the mustard!!!