When it comes to tea, different cultures have different ideas about what is appropriate and what is criminal adulteration. As an Irish tea drinker I am not a tea lover in the gourmet sense. I would never dream of owning a collection of fine teas. I shudder at the thought of accidently consuming Earl Grey. It’s got to be pure black and preferably one of the classic blends that have been sold by the Irish market leaders for generations. This is what we are talking about when we say we’d love a cup of tea.
Living in Switzerland over the past decade I am now wise to the dangers of tea crimes in everyday life here and can avoid the worst. For the uninitiated:
Crime number 1 – Hospitali-tea: Beware of a Swiss person, or French or German, offering you a cup of tea. If you listen closely you will hear that they are saying: Would you like a tea? Can you hear the broad sweep in there? It could mean literally anything, from lemon and ginger to a fruit berry concoction but almost never means a regular cup of black tea. The worst thing is when you are caught off guard and say yes gratefully to the offer of tea only to be presented with a cup of perfumed water which could not be further from the actual beverage you were gasping for.
Crime number 2 – Austeri-tea: You may work your way through the different brands of Schwarztee/ thé noir as systematically as you like, they all share the same unforgiveable weakness – weakness. Put the tea bag in and you will be drawing a pension before it draws to the right strength. Needless to say you can forget squeezing out a second cup.
Crime number 3 – Traves-tea: Sometimes, despite the best laid plans, you are going to have to order a cup of tea in a café or restaurant because it’s just what you want at that moment more than anything else in the world. Let’s ignore the fact that the French-speaking Swiss waiter will sometimes bring a can of sickly sweet iced tea because this is a more popular drink, the biggest problem is that you will be served a cup of hot water IN A GLASS. The water is not boiling hot and it does not contain tea. No, the tea is in an individually wrapped tea bag on the saucer. Good luck cobbling together a cup of tea with these raw materials.
Crime number 4 – Duplici-tea: In my book a cup of tea needs a decent splash of cold full-fat fresh milk before it is complete. This is considered an eccentricity in this part of the world, very Miss Marple. Tea here is served with no accompaniment apart from sugar and if you have the temerity to ask for milk you will be given one tiny container of UHT creamer. I don’t know what this milk-like product actually is, some kind of cream/milk hybrid, but it does not belong in a cup of tea, even in minute quantities.
Crime number 5 – Atroci-tea: A proper cup of tea belongs in the brown and amber part of the colour spectrum. The final crime against tea in Switzerland is not only that it is weak but also that it lets down the eye. When the milk is added all you have is an insipid grey brew which is about as appetising as all the other grey foods we like to consume. Oh wait, there aren’t any.
Disclaimer: Although black tea is my special area of prejudice, I have to admire how knowledgeable the Swiss are about the medicinal properties of various teas. A new mother in hospital will be served breastfeeding tea, babies with conjunctivitis have their eyes cleaned with cold black tea, children with stomach ache are given fennel tea and in every supermarket you can buy cough tea, bladder tea and, most importantly, calming tea.
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