Saturday, 8 May 2010
Tea for one
I'm fussy about tea. I like it in large quantities. If it's ordinary tea in a market or transport café, I like a half-pint mug. If I go to a café or tea-room - or if I drink tea at home - I expect to pour my tea from a pot.
Just lately, tea-drinking at home has improved, thanks to my daughter. She never got round to sending her mother's day present but brought it with her when she visited for Easter. She knows I enjoy tea and presented me with an elaborately-wrapped wooden tea-box with tea pigs inside. I think they're called tea pigs. They are exotic, silky tea bags which feel as though they've been hand-crafted. The tea is delicious, worthy of my best Chinese tea-pot, which I bought as a treat for myself in my student days. It makes tea-drinking even more of a special occasion.
I felt the contrast when I made a journey to a good, free exhibition at a local art gallery. I'd decided the whole outing could be a special treat and that I'd round it off with tea and cake in the café. There was carrot cake - in the kind of big, chunky slices that require tea in a pot, ideally with a pot of hot water on the side to keep tea at the proper strength.
I chose my cake and asked for a pot of tea for one. "You can't have that," the young woman at the counter said. "You have to have a cup of tea. We only do pots of tea for two."
I smiled and asked whether I could just have one tea bag in a large pot. "Yes, but we'd have to charge you for a pot of tea for two."
I gave up. I was feeling embarrassed. Plainly there was something odd and awkward about the idea that someone should sit in a café alone and enjoy tea and cake. I was given a cup of tea, which consisted of a tea-bag floating in hot water. The tea was stewed before I paid for it and cold before I'd finished my cake. It wasn't much of a treat.
I wrote it off as a solitary episode. But the following week I went to the theatre. I decided to order an interval drink: nothing exciting - just a half of cider. "Just ONE drink?" the young woman serving me asked. She was polite and friendly. I explained that I had gone to the theatre alone - as I've been doing since my teens - and wondered if she pitied me. Or perhaps women on their own are expected to have ice cream in the interval rather than alcohol.
At this point I was feeling fed up. I tweeted about the theatre and, to my surprise, got a polite and friendly tweet in reply from the theatre. I felt better. I finally sent a message to the café and got a reply from them too, telling me their cups are big (yes, they may be, but they don't keep the tea warm and there's something depressing about a teabag floating in a cup) and that, if I asked, staff would provide tea for one in a pot at a reasonable price. I may try again, when I'm feeling tougher.
I'm beginning to notice a world increasingly geared for pairs and couples. Even the café of Nottingham Contemporary, one of my favourite places, has an evening menu based around "sharing platters." When I'm alone I can order "nibbles" but that's all. I like olives but sometimes I want bread and cheese. Sometimes I want to feel it's OK for a single, middle-aged woman to venture out alone. There's lots going on in the world and I'd like to enjoy it.