Years and years ago there was a very simple yet brilliant ad for tea on British TV.
It showed absolutely nothing, just a blank screen. But the soundtrack was a series of those charmingly familiar sounds involved in making a nice cuppa: filling the kettle, the whistle as it comes to the boil, water being poured into the pot, tea going into the cup, the clink of a spoon as it stirs, the slurp and that satisfied “aahh” as it slips down.
The tag line was the simple text on the blank screen:
“Tea. Best drink of the day.”
Greeks just don’t get the English obsession with tea. To them it is a tasteless brew which they only resort to in cases of high fever, severe colic or extreme diets. It is not something that they associate with anything approaching pleasure.
There’s a reason for that - they haven’t got the foggiest idea how to make a decent cup of tea.
I found that out the hard way when I first arrived in Athens. Whenever I asked for tea, even when it was billed as 'English Breakfast Tea' in some fancy kafeneio, the result was (and still is) always the same. An insipid brew made by briefly introducing a sachet filled with something resembling sawdust to a cup of warm water. And then – horror of horrors – adding a drop of sweet creamy evaporated milk from a tin. Bleurgh!
No wonder most Greeks think that tea is awful.
Just like most Brits, who wouldn’t know a decent cup of coffee if they were slapped in the face with one (and no, Starbucks has not changed that).
If you don’t believe me, compare the shelf allocation in two average supermarkets - one in Greece and one back in Blighty. In the UK, you will find about 6 square inches of space devoted to that particular type of powder than produces the boring grey-tinged beverage the English call coffee, hidden at the end of two full aisles packed with every kind of tea imaginable. Lapsong Souchong, Gunpowder, Orange Pekoe, Darjeeling, Jasmine, Green Tea, English Breakfast, Prince of Wales’ Blend, the list goes on and on and on... while the coffees are all a variation on the bland freeze-dried theme introduced to the UK in the 1970s.
But visit a Greek supermarket and – despite recent marketing drives to promote tea as cool, trendy and healthy – you’ll need a magnifying glass and the detective skills of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes to find a pack of PG Tips.
The secret to making a nice cuppa is really very simple. To get the proper flavour, the water has to be boiling - not boiled, but actually boiling when it hits the tealeaves. That why English tea-purists like my Nana insist on using a ceramic pot (metal robs the water of its heat too quickly), which must ALWAYS be warmed first.
It’s also why the habit of putting a cup of hot water in the approximate vicinity of a teabag is the absolute guaranteed way to produce something that is almost entirely, but not quite, undrinkable.
So, next time you hear me or one of my fellow ex-pats getting all misty-eyed at the thought of a decent cup of tea, drive from your mind that image of a thin, weak, insipid drink served in the afternoons with scones and cucumber sandwiches. Instead, give me a ring and let me show you what a REAL red-blooded Englishwoman can do with a teabag!
And it doesn’t even have to be 4 o’clock...