‘Assam tea please Armando’ I called over to our Mediterranean café owner who was stationed behind his fresh muffin stand. I sat down opposite Lil.
‘Bloody Assam tea and Sherry. That’s all I hear and read about,’ Cackled Lil. ‘Are Boulevardiers allowed to consume other liquid refreshments?’ she added in a faux snob accent.
‘And good morning to you too Lil.’ I leaned across and pecked her on the cheek. It was the first time I had ventured into kissing territory with Lil, but as she appeared in good humour and I was feeling brave I gave it a go.
Lil was taken a little by surprise but she didn’t recoil. I think I’d smoothly managed to increase our outward displays of affection without painful consequences.
‘At least they serve proper tea here. I met with an old friend last week who lives up Crouch Hill. She’s not very mobile and I had to meet her at Starbucks. I shan’t be going back there any time soon.’ Lil pursed her lips and looked far from amused. Lil’s humour had suddenly vanished and I was relieved I’d snuck the affection in earlier.
‘Is it too American for you Lil?’ I settled halfway between a joke and something I could style as a genuine question if her humour didn’t respond.
‘Well first they asked whether I wanted to drink my tea in or out. I asked them whether I looked like the type of woman who would drink tea as she walked along the streets pulling my trolley.’
Lil paused theatrically. I hoped the staff in Starbucks had interpreted the rhetorical nature of Lil’s question.
‘And then they asked me if I needed room for milk.’ This sentence was delivered melodramatically. It reminded me of the production of Romeo and Juliet as performed by the Crummles theatre troupe in Nicholoas Nickleby. We’d enacted it at school and I had the role of Mr Folair, the Dance Instructor.
Lil continued and jolted me back into the present. ‘‘‘Pardon’’ I said thinking I hadn’t heard them properly. They repeated it. ‘’Of course I want bloody milk in my English Breakfast Tea!’’ I emphatically answered, and told them to bring it to my seat.’
Lil was on a roll and continued.
‘What is Crouch End coming to when you’re asked such ridiculous questions?’
Lil at this point deliberately lifted the stainless steel milk jug and added a further dash of milk to her already poured tea, stirred slowly, and raised the cup to her lips. ‘Delicious,’ she affirmed.
‘Lil I agree with you. It is however, only the British who routinely take milk in their tea and a lot of the servers are European.’
Lil placed her cup down firmly. I thought she was about to launch into another tirade but instead she smiled at Armando who delivered her full English. Lil breathed deep the aroma of sausage, egg and bacon and again announced ‘delicious.’
‘It’s fortunate you haven’t been to America,’ I said.
‘Why’s that?’ asked Lil as she buttered the toast Armando had provided on a separate, mismatched, china plate.
‘Well you firstly need to specify that you want hot tea, especially in the south.’
‘Now you’re just trying to make me angry. What other type is there… lukewarm?’ said Lil pointing her fork towards my face.
‘No honestly Lil. They drink a lot of iced tea and tea, our tea, is the secondary option. I was travelling alone through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia…‘
This cheered Lil up who instantly burst into a verse of the Laurel and Hardy classic followed by a familiar cackle.
‘…and I stopped at a diner and ordered tea and they asked whether I wanted ‘‘sweetened or unsweetened’’ which I thought was odd. Sugar is not usually added to the cup or pot. I was presented with a large glass of unsweetened iced tea. My American friends confirmed when I relayed the story to them when I eventually reached Atlanta that you need to be specific when ordering tea, hot tea.’
‘Aren’t Starbucks American too?’ asked Lil with an all-knowing look.
‘I’m not even sure I should tell you that my lovely American friend Jackie once popped a teabag into a cup of cold water and put it in the microwave to heat and brew.’
‘Right that’s it Boulevardier, I can’t cope with any more! I’ve never heard such practices. Bloody stupid even if it is your lovely friends. They need a lesson in tea etiquette.’
‘I don’t see you with your Kundle anymore? Given up reading Boulevardier?’
‘It’s called a Kindle.’
‘That’s what I said. Don’t be so bloody evasive. What’s the blog about this week anyway?’
‘Tea,’ I announced.
Lil crossed her arms and glanced at Armando for support.
‘You get no support from me, especially as I’m one of those Europeans,’ bantered Armando.
‘Could I please have a fresh pot of tea?’ asked Lil as innocently as she could muster followed by the loudest crow I’d ever heard.