STEPHEN CLARKE

Spe­cial­ity teas and or­ganic wines bring out the in­verted snob in our colum­nist.

France - - Bienvenue -

Ire­alised re­cently that I am a shame­less in­verted snob. (Yes, I don’t know how it took me so long). I was at a friend’s house in Lon­don and was asked if I wanted a cup of tea. Thanks to years of liv­ing in France, I am much more of a cof­fee drinker – af­ter a few at­tempts at or­der­ing tea in a Parisian café, you tend to give up. Not only do they charge you a small for­tune, you are likely to re­ceive an empty cup, a pot of vaguely warm wa­ter, and a lit­tle plate host­ing a teabag still in its plas­tic wrap­ping.

Even if the bag is left stew­ing in the cup for sev­eral hours, the tea flavour you even­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence will be as strong as if you walked into an old-fash­ioned English café, poked out your tongue and tasted the at­mos­phere. Hence my swift con­ver­sion to cof­fee.

How­ever, when I re­turn to Eng­land, I get back into tea. So I gladly ac­cepted my Lon­don friend’s in­vi­ta­tion – un­til, that is, she ex­plained it in more de­tail. “I’ve got As­sam, Or­ange Pekoe, Earl Grey, or if you want herbal, there is fresh camomile, or I en­joy brew­ing up thyme leaves – very good for the di­ges­tion.”

“Haven’t you got any tea?” I asked. “You know, as in, tea?”

I have long be­lieved that herbal teas are just soup with­out 99 per cent of the in­gre­di­ents, and that in­di­vid­ual teas are just ex­pen­sive ways of al­low­ing tea com­pa­nies to pay less to their highly ex­pe­ri­enced blenders.

So a box of su­per­mar­ket teabags was ex­humed from the back of a cup­board, and I was given a good old cup of ma­hogany-coloured, dye-your-teeth-brown, 1950s tea. I also re­ceived a lec­ture about be­ing a shame­less, over-nos­tal­gic, in­verted snob, which I was able to ac­cept with­out tak­ing of­fence be­cause of the com­fort­ing ef­fect of a good old, ma­hogany-coloured, etc etc.

This snob­bery was con­firmed al­most im­me­di­ately when I got back to Paris. I was lunch­ing with an Amer­i­can friend who is a huge wine fan. I don’t think I have ever seen him with­out a glass of red in his hand. Ex­cept once when he was driv­ing, but even then, I am sure he would have been tempted if the law had per­mit­ted it.

I had cho­sen the restau­rant, a newish place that does cheap three-course lunches of freshly cooked, imag­i­na­tive food. (I keep see­ing un­ex­pected-coloured veg­eta­bles: mauve car­rots, blue pota­toes and the like.)

We or­dered, and I al­most fell off my chair when my friend told the waiter “juste une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît.” Wa­ter? This was like see­ing a lion, in a cage full of baby gazelles, pre­par­ing to eat cel­ery.

He ex­plained that the wine list was de­voted to ‘ vins na­turels’. This is a re­cent trend in France, with small, of­ten young and vaguely hip­pie-ish pro­duc­ers opt­ing to re­ject pes­ti­cides, but with­out go­ing through the red tape to get an of­fi­cial ‘ bi­ologique’ (or­ganic) la­bel.

“It’s just an ex­cuse to sell bad wine,” my friend opined. In English, for­tu­nately, and when the waiter wasn’t lis­ten­ing.

To me, that sounded like old-school, non-in­verted snob­bery. He re­fused even to taste one and see if his re­fined palate didn’t feel that it was be­ing beaten up by a French hip­pie.

So I asked the waiter to rec­om­mend a ‘ vin na­turel’, and he brought me a glass of cloudy liq­uid that was the colour of con­gealed blood. “It’s made by a young cou­ple in the Cor­bières moun­tains,” the waiter told me. “They make wine from old grape va­ri­eties – and pro­duce good goat’s cheese, too.”

I tasted it, and had to ad­mit that the first words that sprang to mind were ‘old’ and ‘goat’.

“Très in­téres­sant,” I gasped from a burn­ing throat. “Leave the bot­tle.”

Like I said, a shame­less in­verted snob.

The waiter brought me a glass of cloudy liq­uid that was the colour of con­gealed blood

Why not take a look at the Oc­to­ber is­sue of French Prop­erty News? On sale 20 Septem­ber

Stephen Clarke’s lat­est book is Merde in Europe, a comic novel about Bri­tain’s con­fused and chaotic re­la­tion­ship with Brus­sels.

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