It seems that there is one more thing that Jim of Starcross and I agree on - the importance of a nice cup of tea. I am mortified for having offered him teabag tea when he visited, although he was too polite to mention it. I do therefore confess to frequently succumbing to the convenience of a teabag (to be fair, you can get a decent cup of tea from decent tea bags, it's just that most of them are the sweepings off the floor... of which more later), but aside from that, I am probably as fussy a tea drinker as you could dread meeting.
When asked how I like my tea, I do not say 'as it comes'. How could anyone be so insultingly indiscriminating when someone is offering to go to the trouble of preparing them a hot beverage? I say 'strong, no sugar, medium amount of milk, please, thank you very much, lovely.'
And there are some things I would like to put on record here. Important things.
1. The strength of a cup of tea has nothing to do with the amount of milk in it. Milk does not make tea weaker; it makes it milkier. It is perfectly possible to enjoy strong milky tea, as I believe was fashionable in the Army, in my father's day at least.
2. The strength of a cup of tea has nothing (well, OK, very little) to do with how long it has been brewed. It is perfectly possible (and frequently achieved) to make stewed, weak tea. This is the Devil's piss, and is quite possibly the worst of all possible worlds.
3. The overriding factor in how strong a cup of tea is, is, surprise surprise, how much tea you put in.
4. A frequently overlooked factor is that the tea must have room to move around. This is why those little individual teapots you get in the cafes of trendy art galleries with a sort of inbuilt tea strainer submerged inside, are worse than useless (and worse than teabags, despite the supposed cachet and financial premium attached to using loose tea). They are packed full of tea leaves and trendy bits of twig and only the outer layer even gets wet. When given one of these the only thing to do is to tip the contents of the strainer into the pot, give it a good stir, let it brew, then pour it through the strainer into the cup. And don't forget to demand a jug of hot water to top it up.
Now, what tea to buy? Jim favours Co-op Indian Prince, which is interesting because I nearly bought some of that the other day. We had been managing fine on Asda red label, buying it in 80-bag boxes because it worked out cheapest that way. Then when that offer ended we bought a 160 bag box. Well, it was horrible; a completely different tea. Devil's piss whatever you did with it. So much so that last weekend I gave up on it and started drinking peppermint tea instead. On the Sunday evening I couldn't keep my eyes open, and slept for eleven solid hours. By Monday the nagging headache which I had expected had entrenched itself, and also seemed to have spread to every part of my body. So much so that I was reduced to looking up the incubation period for Weil's disease to see if it could possible be more than the sixteen days since fell in the canal... Then I looked up the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, and realised that's what the problem was. By then it was too late to go shopping so I had not choice but to swallow three cups of the appalling Asda tea, followed by some black spiced Indian tea that was lurking in the back of the cupboard. The cure was almost instantaneous, although the medicine was nasty.
Thus the next morning found me scanning the relatively well-stocked tea shelf of the otherwise very small Co-op in Brewood, and giving serious consideration to Starcross Jim's favourite Indian Prince, although in the end, as it came in smaller boxes, I plumped for Co-op English Breakfast blend. I have to say even this didn't seem particularly robust (maybe there was a low pressure front affecting the boiling temperature of the water?), so when we went shopping yesterday we threw caution to the winds and splashed out on Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold. And at last, as I write this, I have at my elbow a nice cup of tea.