Making a cup of tea is far from a Greek strongpoint
Tea drinking is part of British culture, even though we are rank amateurs compared with the Chinese where the art of leaf (and its cost) rivals the western obsession with viniculture. But we do know a thing or two about making a cuppa, especially the strong black variety known as builders' tea. Sadly, the simple process of making a passable cup of tea is largely lost on our neighbours other parts of Europe (with the honourable exception of Ireland, of course).
Recently I spent a week in Athens, in the southern seaside suburb of Glyfada to be precise undergoing a bit of constitutional therapy. There, comfortable, relaxing cafés of a high standard are ten to a eurocent. Greek establishments, with courteous and efficient table service, are wholly admirable.
Self-service, fortunately, is not a big thing in Greece, unlike in Britain. That's perhaps why Greek branches of Starbucks and Costa outlets are somewhat neglected in contrast with to case in almost all other parts of Europe. I do approve of sitting back and ordering at the table instead of having my name scribbled on a paper cup in case I forget before reaching the dispensing counter.
Admirable in most respects: But in tea-making skills? "Ochi", as the Greeks like to say, "then boroume".¹ Most of these smart cafes have now latched on to the ploy of supplying a teapot, rather than the tradition glass of lukewarm water with a teabag in the saucer, wholly wasting its valuable time.
Up to no good
Yet, pot or not, they still insist on leaving the teabag outside the pot where it is decidedly up to no good. For starters, the water was probably not even boiling when poured into the pot (and we all know that brewing black tea demands boiling water). It is certainly nowhere near boiling point when it has sat "brewing" on my table for three minutes while I forgot to notice the fancy tea bag in its little envelope lurking under saucer. I lose count of how many times I've absentmindedly poured out a cup of tepid water, unadulterated by the merest hint of the leaf.
Often I try to explain to the waiter, or even to the manager, that it is necessary to warm the pot with hot water, put the tea inside rather than in the saucer and then pour on boiling water. We British are noted bores on the subject Not, I emphasise, water at 70 degrees, nor even 80 degrees; it should be at nothing less than ninety nine. It sounds pretty simple. It is pretty simple, but well beyond the caterers of Athens.
All this sage, well rehearsed advice goes in at one ear and out the other. This wisdom of the English tea drinker is lost on the smartypants waiters of Athens who believe that a teabag can thrive even in a pot of cold water. They simper obligingly but never learn.
Incidentally, I must give honourable mention to one well-known Athenian chain, Flocafe, which does things properly: Teabag in a nicely weighted Chinese metal pot and water at something approaching boiling point. It's the best cup of tea in Glyfada.
You may think I'm obsessed with tea. To some extent I am, especially since I cut down drastically on coffee and upped my input of liquids. Tea, unlike coffee, feels like a real liquid designed to hydrate. I am aiming for my 2.8 litres a day, as monitored by the invaluable iPhone app, WaterMinder.
After a week of therapy at the BodyHealth clinic in Glyfada I am a new man, water and all.
This article is dedicated to John Shingleton who demanded more whimsy and less Apple Watch commentary.
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- Ochi, then boroume (όχι δεν μπορούμε) = "No, we can't" ↩︎