There’s one part of English culture which I have never taken to and which I still feel alienated from even after many years of being a British citizen. I’ve become a big fan of pies, I’ve eaten fish and chips by the seaside, I enjoy a nice pint of bitter and a packet of pork scratchings at the pub and I can queue with the best of them. Even so, I know in my heart that I’ll never be truly accepted because I am not a tea drinker.
The truth of it is that I don’t like hot drinks. I never have. Quite honestly, I don’t particularly enjoy anything that is hot. Don’t get me wrong, I want my food cooked through, but I just won’t eat it until it has cooled down considerably. It’s the same with hot drinks. My uncle won’t touch a cup of coffee unless it is so hot that you can melt gold in it. For me, the very idea of trying to eat or drink hot things evokes memories of burning the roof of my mouth and seeing the sore, tiny bumps on my tongue after biting over-zealously into a toastie oozing molten cheese. This aversion to heat has prevented me from participating in the daily tea-drinking ceremonies that the English rely on for comfort and as a vehicle for chat and gossip.
Travel, however, broadens the palate as well as the mind. Time spent in Hong Kong got me semi-addicted to iced lemon tea and I’d grown up adoring frappe. It was not until a visit to Hungary that I decided to be a little more open-minded. Coffee seems to fuel most activity in Europe and has done for some time. Sitting outside a cafe with a cup of something hot, dark and sweet is the only way to people-watch in Hungary. A short stay in the town of Szeged prompted me to do just that one warm evening. I was delighted by the intensity of the coffee and the satisfying warmth that filled my body. I began to drink coffee on a daily basis after that. It felt like a real treat and one that I began looking forward to more and more. By the time we had returned from our trip, I was buying fresh coffee grounds to fill our cafetière and eagerly looking forward to my next cup.
Of course, I still can’t drink it when it is piping hot; I wait a little for it to cool. Dunking Lotus biscuits into the coffee helps pass the time. I stare into the black, swirling liquid and breathe in the tempting aroma. “Where have you been all my life?” I ask. The answer is, right in front of my big Greek nose. I only drink it once a week, but boy do I look forward to it. Saturday morning, I get out the Lotus biscuits, I set out my Fairtrade mug and I take my time preparing the coffee. I make a point of buying only Fairtrade coffee and I choose the strongest available. I figure, if I’m only drinking it once a week, it’s worth doing it properly. I’m still the only person in the room who doesn’t say, “Ooh, yes please!” when everyone is offered “a brew”, but I’m used to the raised eyebrows denoting slight suspicion. Hot drinks just aren’t my cup of tea.