Life

Nuala McCann: Timer for tea? It was far from tea timers I was reared

There were three timers in all – each had a distinct bright colour of sand. The waiter advised that the first timer would provide the exact timing of the brew to have a weak tea; the second would give reasonable tea and the third would give the good strong treacle variety, the kind you could tap dance on

Not even the man I married whispering in my ear that he could do the same latte at home for 10p puts me off coffee places

TIME moves at a slower pace in hip cafes. Men grow long beards while they're brewing you the perfect coffee. They sell you “energy balls” when they clearly need to pop a few themselves.

There's always a nasty healthy avocado lurking about on the menu and there's never tripe. The vibe is laidback. The hot chocolate is a social climber – Cadburys? Never, wash your mouth out!

But I love coffee places. Not even the man I married whispering in my ear that he could do the same latte at home for 10p puts me off.

I know this because I ended up in one such cafe last week to meet a few friends. It took a while to get the tea – not Typhoo but Earl Grey served with a pithy quote from Goethe on the side.

“Choose well, your choice is brief and yet endless,” said Goethe from the noticeboard.

That was a hard one to swallow. I'd rather have had: “Here you go, love,” and two Marie biscuits buttered together.

Goethe makes you think. You needed the time it took to make the tea just to ponder – who are we, where are we going and why are we paying £2.20 for a small pot of tea?

Ah, but there was a reason. When the very polite and kind waiter brought me the tea, he brought a miniature set of egg timers too.

There were three timers in all – each had a distinct bright colour of sand – and he advised that the first timer would provide the exact timing of the brew to have a weak tea; the second would give reasonable tea and the third would give the good strong treacle variety – the kind you could tap dance on.

The waiter didn't quite phrase it that way, but the sight of the egg timers made my jaw drop. When I had recovered, I went with the weak tea. Yes, I sat and watched the grains of sand flow so that my tea would be just right.

“Milk in your Earl Grey?” queried one of my friends.

And why not?

The timers took me to the fair. It was far from tea timers I was reared. As I like my tea weak, I couldn't testify to the reliability of the other two timers.

“Nuala McCann, cat's pee not tea,” is what my flatmate used to shriek after I'd serve her a freshly brewed cup.

I like to introduce the bag to the boiling water then whisk it out again... a few seconds is quite enough... a brief hot kiss, that's all – like teenagers surprised outside the parish disco by a black-frocked priest.

Other tea lovers do not agree. But can't you just stick a spoon in the pot and stir like fury to get the colour right?

There are those in work who are fussy about their tea. They do not like when you throw a bag in a cup, toss in a drop of milk and then pour the boiling water on. Milk before boiling water, my friends, is sacrilege.

Those people would probably like the tea timers. The funny thing was, I was overcome with a terrible urge to slip said timers into my bag. I didn't, of course. I know what the wages of sin are and I'd like to skip a midnight tryst with Lucifer, thank you. But the timers were so ridiculous that I liked them.

Sitting waiting for my tea felt like a Japanese ritual. It brought me back to a holiday in France with my sister in a campsite. The kids were teenagers and eyed us like we were crawling with nits, so we sat at the table outside.

She had packed her favourite Yorkshire brew for the holiday. The man who cycled about organising the campsite every day said: “Did you enjoy that holiday, because all you and your sister did was sit and talk all day long with a big pot of tea in front of you?”

Simple pleasures keep us all going. My husband's uncle liked his Beano, his iced diamond and two Woodbine... well into middle age.

Nearer to the parish, my very first job included a morning tea-break dash to the bakery across the road for the boss's coconut finger. It's the small pleasures that count.

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