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