Most Italians don’t understand the concept of a nice cup of tea, any more than most English people understand the concept of coffee. I was in the queue for the till at Imec (pronounced Eemech), the local electrical shop, with our new electric kettle in my hand, when the lady in front of me turned round and asked if you put the tea bag in the kettle. I replied with my standard disquisition on how to make tea, which she listened to politely and with every appearance of interest.
If you are renting a holiday home, check that a kettle is supplied and ask for one if not. Be careful when boiling it. You don’t want to trip the system. Turn off any other unnecessary bits of electrical equipment. In the supermarket, only buy Twining’s tea. It’s a bit weak but not nearly as weak as Lipton’s or any of the other brands.
If after your trip to a cultural institution, you ask for the Englishwoman’s birthright, a nice cup of tea (specify té caldo, hot tea) and a piece of cake, this is what you will get: a delicious cake and a teapot with previously boiled water in it. Next to the teapot will be a daintily arranged pile of tea bags, including Lipton’s and various herb teas, plus a slice of lemon. You will have to ask for latte freddo (cold milk) – specify cold. If it’s quiet and the barmaid is a nice middle-aged lady, you can supervise her and ask her to put the tea-bag in the pot first. This led me on to an interesting conversation once, when the barmaid and I agreed that this was the best way to make tea. Otherwise, don’t bother; ask for hot chocolate or a latte caldo macchiato (hot milk with a dash of coffee).
Iced tea is a sort of sweet soft drink; it doesn’t taste like tea and is too sweet to be refreshing.
Speaking of coffee, Italian decaffeinated is much better than ours. It doesn’t have that wishy-washy, bitter, sour taste which is characteristic of English decaf. Caffè HAG is always reliable; our local decaf, Saccaria, is good too. In England Lavazza decaf is the best.
What do you drink instead of tea in the afternoon? I’d love to know.