Would you be wanting tea in your cup of hot water?

LOVING THE PINKY WORK: Have the days of builders tea disappeared into a world of fancy brews?

LOVING THE PINKY WORK: Have the days of builders tea disappeared into a world of fancy brews? - Credit: Archant

Every day there are questions that we find hard to answer.

1. “Would you like builders’ tea, fruit or herbal tea?”

As comedian and TV midwife Miranda Hart pointed out on the BBC comedy show Room 101, only the first of these is actually tea. The rest are infusions as enjoyed by Hercule Poirot and a couple of others. They are not tea. Try dunking a Rich Tea biscuit in a cup of scalding blackcurrant “tea” and you would have to concede.

My preferred tea is Assam and although it undoubtedly qualifies as builders’, I don’t know whether this is builders’ favourite tipple or not. But it is an indicator of how complicated our world has become that we can no longer ask the simple question: “Would you like a cup of tea?”

The last time I tried it, I was asked if I had any green tea.

To which I replied something like “certainly not” and my crestfallen visitor then promptly asked for a cup of hot water.

At which point I suppose I should have inquired if that was with or without milk and sugar. But I didn’t. I guiltily poured hot water from the kettle into a mug and presented it to my guest.

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“Dry bread with that?”

I have also been asked if I have decaff tea, red bush (don’t even go there), lemon tea, black tea and of course, Earl Grey and other fragrant varieties that genuinely are tea.

When I was a girl, just after the last Ice Age, it was Brooke Bond PG Tips (unbagged – with cards) or nothing. Tea was tea was tea, plus you could buy a book in which to display your cards depicting, variously, butterflies, birds, flags of the world and so on.

Back then, the standard definition of builders’ tea would have been a dark brown brew with four teaspoons of white, granulated sugar decanted straight from the packet and served in a mug, possibly chipped. The viscous liquid had the potential apocryphally, to put hairs on your chest. (And stupidly, I didn’t believe it.)

The tea we had at home was served in a cup, on a saucer with a spoon for optional sugar stirring. Posh relatives had sugar cubes and tongs.

The world has changed. I have had a builder ask for fruit tea and the plumber doesn’t even take sugar.

As we know, real tea has special properties for those in shock. A cup of hot, sweet tea is the panacea if, as once happened to me, a mouse runs up the inside of your trouser leg. I had to make it myself, mind. My nanna couldn’t stop laughing.

Before 1990 my sole encounter with the otherwise teas was when I was pregnant (yes, I can remember that far back). I was told the cumulative effect of drinking raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy would alleviate labour pains. It was dreadful stuff, not a bit like tea... which is probably why you can now buy it in tablet form.

You can’t do that with Assam.

Oh, and by the way, labour still flipping well hurt.

2. How do you like your coffee?

There used to be Camp coffee, instant coffee and, among the middle classes, percolated or filter coffee but they all looked pretty much the same.

The main difference between coffees was whether you made them with boiling milk or boiling water.

Today, not only are there coffee recipes ranging from a double shot of black stuff that will have you pacing the floor all night singing the Birdie Song, to a beige, milky concoction often served with an unbiteable biscuit.

Is it true that biscotti is made from bits of terracotta?

Until recently, I have been a coffee Philistine, choosing to ask rebelliously for “bog standard” in the coffee emporia of our high streets. A shout of “Americano with milk,” would go up. It’s the nearest to bog, apparently.

But lately, there’s a newcomer. I saw it on the vast menu as I was waiting for my Americano to be individually and lovingly crafted by a specially-trained barista who, after selecting the correct receptacle, will create your coffee and finish off by adding a coffee bean pattern to your froth, if you take yours with froth. The newcomer is “flat white” and to me, it most resembles a cup of coffee. The term “flat white” is also a bit like “flat cap”, sort of working class and comforting. I don’t feel poncey asking for a flat white.

3. Did you enjoy the theatre/film/book?

While I’m batting on about the old days, may I ask what is wrong with a straight answer?

You show an interest by asking a question and increasingly, you get the response: “Yeh... no”. It now seems to prefix every reply to any question... even when the inquiry would suggest a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

I know not from whence it came. Maybe it is derived from the irritating character in The Vicar of Dibley whose standard response is “no, no, no, no, no, no, no... yes” or maybe it is deliberately non-commital; the reply that just keeps on giving.

4. How is your steak?

You’re in a restaurant. You’re tucking into your main course and just when you’ve pushed a forkful of food into your mouth, the maitre d’ appears at your shoulder and asks if everything is all right with your meal.

Incapable of speech you have to wave your knife and fork about in a bizarre mime of “yes, thank you, it’s very nice”... even if it’s not.

I’m British, I never complain about the food in a restaurant until I’ve paid the bill (plus tip) and left the premises.

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