Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Make Mine Tea!"

I only recently became an occasional coffee drinker, having always preferred the taste of tea. I've been an avid tea consumer - hot or iced, orange pekoe and black only (sorry, my darjeeling) since childhood. The caffeine in a cuppa Lipton is no match for one Tylenol PM, so I guzzle right up til bedtime.

I would drink coffee when I was a firefighter, at the scene of a big fire, when the Coffee Wagon showed up to bring warm drinks and dry socks to the crews. It would seem, I don't know, somehow effete to be seen steeping a tea bag while manning a 2 1/2" hose line at a barn fire or bon fire. When you're out there in the sleet and there's water in your boots and little chincicles hanging off your face, you'd drink warm Lestoil if it were offered, trust me.

Another place where I would go for coffee was the late, lamented Old Country Buffet, where they just had the greatest java ever. It was in the gigantic chrome urn, up by the soda fountain and ice machine. I once saw the lady making coffee; the brand name of the ground bean was Ellis. Not exactly Maxwell House or Folger's in terms of brand name recognition, but they make a fine coffee.

Coffee always seems like the drink for people who want a quick shot of go, and tea, to my mind, is more for pensive moments. There's a whole art in dunking the tea bag into freshly boiled or nuked water, and then waiting three minutes for the full essence to be released. In three minutes, by contrast, your average coffee drinker has already typed two emails and gotten on the phone to Tech Support about the new printer.

And that's just at home! Imagine how it is at work!

But here's the thing. You go to a restaurant - and I hear tell that they have this new kind of restaurant, unlike a buffet, where people actually wait on you and bring you things... Novel, no? But - in one of these fancy-schmancy uptown ritzy joints, be it the corner diner or some French outfit on Broadway (Les Pommes Frites), if you order coffee as a post-prandial pick-me-up (-and-send-me-home), they have an entire cadre of people devoted to filling and refilling your cup. Yeah, as soon as you tell Marge at the diner or Maurice at the Purple Poodle that you wanna cuppa joe, a team springs into action with awe-inspiring military precision, and you are sipping Sumatra in seconds. And, many of America's top waiters got their start, roaming restaurants in search of cups that are less than 15/16ths of their capacity, and refilling them with a zest usually reserved for Druid purification rites. Many eating establishments, in fact, have installed the space-age COLD system - Concealed Overhead Level Detection - which is a network of cameras, monitored by eatery executives, who can dispatch their pedi-pourers on foot, regular in the right hand, decaf in the left, tiny containers of 1/2 and 1/2 in their smockpocket. Should a restaurant patron leave after dinner without consuming 3 quarts of coffee, there are forms that need to be filled out and reviewed in the morning.

Truly, for coffee lovers, their cup runneth over. Compare that to when someone orders a hot tea after dinner. You ought to try it once, just to see the look you get from Marge or Maurice...a look of unbridled scorn, mixed in with a touch of the pity one feels for an acquaintance who lives on raw vegetables and bulgur wheat. Oh, I can tell you where I've seen that look before! Years ago we had a lovely teenage neighbor who became a model, so beautiful was her visage, and so porcelain her unblemished complexion. Her mother called me one day to say that her photo was in a certain magazine aimed at teenaged women, in an ad. I went to the newsstand in the mall and bought a copy of this periodical, and the woman behind the counter looked at me as I were wearing a trench coat and the bottom parts of a pair of pants tied to my knees. Even though I flipped to the page where was depicted our gorgeous friend, the woman gave me a look as if she owned a middle school and I were Roman Polansky.

That's the look you get when you order a hot tea. And they bring you a slice of lemon with the little tin teapot and the one teabag that dates back so far that it contains a message of congratulations to our newly-elected President, Warren G. Harding. Did I order a fruit salad? No lemon needed.

And just try asking for more hot water!

1 comment:

Peggy said...

Very amusing! Time for a cup of coffee now!