The garden is bleakly melancholy, in the way that only a mid-afternoon winter English garden can be. No spider beads of delicate moisture here; just the relentless, streaming khaki smear of leafless winter uncheer. Your vintage lemon tea dress slips between your knees a little, caught in the cross-draft that shudders through the conservatory door; it is far too cold for such a paucity of stuff, such a susurration of tulle, but Earl Grey requires a lady. You drag the scratchy fisherman’s jumper a little closer around your shoulders and reach forward to the tarnished silver tray, steadying a hand on the cold latticed metal of the small circular table before you, flakes of paint leaving crusted white tears on your knees.
No milk, of course. With a boisterous breakfast blend it must always be first into the cup (one has the body of a muse but the brain of a scientist, after all), but this pale, subtle brew is one of few things best left unaccessorised. Wrist-wrenching china pot in one hand, tiny strainer in the other, a scented, urinous stream splashes into your plain white cup, steeped leaves skittering against the mesh like dirty fairies’ fingernails.
Pause for a minute or two, to take off the scalding edge; you use the time to continue with the collected letters of Woolf, Volume V. And then the sip: flushed against the gums, stinging the teeth, lining the throat with bergamot’s bright, sunshine thrill. This is tea as catalyst rather than comfort, stimulant rather than snug, bursting through the lugubrious dishwater gloom like a flash of Dior Spring ‘09 couture.
For some, the perfect cup of tea may taste of chalked faces and red mouths, smell of cherry blossom’s putrid pollen waft, and sound like distantly tolling copper gongs. For others, it is rare silver-tip white, or $3,000 Tieguanyin green, plucked from virgin bushes by gently probing virgin hands. But Anglo genes cry out for the crusading tea of colonies and crimpoline, a gustatory passage to India: a deep golden draught of Old Stinky that washes mouth and mind clean with roborant citrus herb.
Deep down, your small and shivering inner child is crying out for a chipped mug of two-bagged builders with full fat milk and three spoons of the white stuff; a turd-brown, curd-thick glucose slug served on an overstuffed chintz pouf in front of a smelly fire by a woman who calls you ‘love’; social services for the soul.
But this shit sounds better, so you’re sticking with it.