Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tea

Picture the scene; you're sitting at work, it's early evening, the rain is lashing down outside, the wind whistling past, but you're warm, you've just got to finish reading this report and then you're off home for the evening. The ceiling strip lights have been been turned down low but you have your desk lamp on so you create one of those warm glowing pools of light, a small homely oasis amongst the ranks of darkened cubicles around you. Only a few more pages to go - it's not a bad office, all things considered.

You reach to your side, without looking up from the report, to pick up that refreshing mug of tea you made earlier; lifting it to your lips, you draw a healthy draught into your mouth. You recoil in shock, and spit the tea instantly straight back into the mug and do that thing that dogs do when they've got something nasty in their mouth, shaking your head from side to side, your tongue pushed out and spitting simultaneously. Yes, you've guessed it - the tea was COLD. There are few tastes more shocking or repellent to the British palate than cold tea. You wouldn't so much as bat an eyelid if the vicar, or perhaps your maiden aunt, reacted in exactly the same way if they accidentally ingested this wretched abomination of a fluid. It's just what we, the British, do, when presented with this particular flavour.

So, I was intrigued to find during my trip to the US last month that the drink of choice in US business circles, when alcohol is not really an option, is iced tea. This is often brought to the restaurant table in giant pitchers, served in pint glasses and enticingly infused with slices of lemon and sprigs of mint. In the first week I eschewed the iced tea, and instead would ask for mineral water, not really being a soda / pop drinker. Mineral or bottled water however, is often not supplied in American restaurants, they don't seem to get much call for it. After a week of asking for water and often then having to explain exactly what I wanted and then invariably having to settle for American tap water - which is like drinking swimming pool dregs - I decided to try the iced tea.

I'm sure I've had iced tea the past, and although I didn't have any particular memories of it, I didn't remember it as being especially unpleasant. Not like root beer for example. I was happy to give it another go. It would probably be pretty tasteless, just a hint of tea, a light citrus / minty top note flavour, chilled and refreshing. My glass was expertly poured from the pitcher by the waitress, the ice cubes and amber fluid glopping and plocking into the glass with a pleasing sound. It looked pretty good on the table before me. I lifted it to my lips, and, it being a hot Florida day and we'd just walked across the car park, I took a big gulp into my mouth. The shock hit me instantly, I had just taken into my mouth about a quarter of a pint of the fluid no native-born Englishman can abide - it tasted exactly like COLD TEA. Not just weak cold tea though. This was proper, full-on, strong, well stewed cold tea. It was a bitter, unsubtle, spine-shudderingly, tongue-curlingly nasty taste. The option to spit it out, which I so nearly did, would I fear, have been inexcusable in my immediate company. I forced myself to swallow it, without breathing through my nose which fortunately dulls the tastebuds but it was still hard to swallow. I quickly placed the glass down in front of me.

After the initial shock had subsided, I looked around at my fellow diners who were happily necking this hideous infusion with apparent glee. The taste was slow to disappear. It lingered unpleasantly on the palate and the back of the throat; in fact, it acted in exactly the same way as you would expect if you had just drunk a mouthful of cold tea. Some things, I will never understand. I asked the waitress for a nice glass of iced swimming pool dregs instead - to take the taste away.

3 comments:

sabrina said...

Yes i am of a similar persuasion. Iced tea is just a little too weird for my taste although i must tell you that Malaysians just luuuuurvvveee their iced tea and iced lemon tea :p

Old and past it said...

Long Island iced tea is a pretty good drink

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Island_Iced_Tea

King of Scurf said...

Saby: Hot countries seems to be so much better at making cold drinks than us Brits who generally like our beverages at body temperature but I will never understand iced tea.

OAPI: Yes, I'll have a pint of that next time. Thanks for stopping by.