Observant readers will already have clocked my love of that great British institution, the cup of tea.
Such was the dedication to my art that, when working at The Times, the editor even installed a small table in his office, specifically on which to rest my cup during afternoon conference!
According to the UK Tea and Infusions Association, over 100 million brews are consumed in Blighty every single day, with a whopping 84% population take-up rate.
I’m not sure even treasured British institution Dame Judi Dench could claim such impressive market penetration.
For a milestone birthday, no surprise that it was marked with tea at that great Perthshire institution, Gleneagles. A first and, almost certainly, last such occasion, it was a moment to savour with (borderline undignified) pre-match enthusiasm: “Are we there yet?!”
During nearly a century, the hotel's pampered punters have enjoyed the double whammy of splendid views across the rolling Ochil hills, while indulging in finely-cut sandwiches, buttery scones and Assam’s liquid gold. And I was no different.
Lolling in a squishy seat, surrounded by attentive staff and sticky cakes, what’s not to like?
Admittedly, the delicate handling of the Kalamansi and ginger choux and knowing quite what to do with a Tonka bean, momentarily interrupted my stride. However, dignity recovered, the thrill of teeny tiny fluffy scones wobbling with obscenely large dollops of jam was enough to have the excitement barometer scaling new heights.
In a desperate attempt to prolong the already generous timeframe, single-handedly, I think I drank most of the UKs daily quota. “It is afternoon tea, not pre-dinner drinks,” my partner noted sagely, herding me towards the exit.
Until recently, that experience remained at the top of my tea-consumption hit-list. Unchallenged, elements had achieved legendary status like some mythical beast whose claws grow longer and eyes shine brighter with each retelling of the tale.
I’d had my moment in the sun; culinary considerations replete, tea-tasting piqued.
Until, that was, Nicola told us that we could go out to play in a private garden.
But it came with limitations. Five-mile radius, no nipping inside to visit the bathroom, no sharing of cutlery or crockery, no alcohol (obviously if you got there on wheels) and no more than one other family. Digging into the detail, social options were few.
BBQs; tricky (lengthy timeframe and a beer’s mandatory, awkward too wrestling with a sausage while socially distancing from a fork-wielding chef).
Lunch; hmmm, lots of work for the host and potentially straddling a bladder-taxing section of the day.
Curry nights; in Scotland? It’s chilly for June and no chance of not using ’the facilities’.
What about afternoon tea? Now we’re ticking all the boxes! Easy to transport your own equipment and timing slots neatly between catering demands of lunch and dinner. Everyone’s already full and answered the all-important call of nature. Little pressure on the host as well, just emphasis on the crucial catch-up conversation of “What happened to you when we disappeared down the rabbit hole on March 23rd?”
Bingo. The reunion topped any previous tea-time endeavour. Admittedly, tablecloths weren’t starched to perfection, but did it matter. Shop-bought cakes were eaten. The shame, but undeniably delicious. A cheeky little breeze wafted about our ankles, but midges were stalled. Hedge strimmers hummed in the distance. Good to have some background noise, gave the birds a bit of competition.
Never mind tea and sympathy, we had tea and company and I couldn’t have been happier. Topping any previous caffeine-consuming event, it just goes to prove that the sweetener of good company is really the only ingredient you need.
08 June 2020