It’s awful. Like so many other things the British railway network has been infected by a practice that has found its way over the Atlantic. Forget about the need for massive investment in the railway infrastructure; forget about the exorbitant fares and the bewildering array of ticket prices. This is all about the nature of customer care and satisfaction and lies at the heart of the train – the buffet car.
I do not understand why Johnny Foreigner has such a problem with making and presenting a cup of tea; it is, after all, an international beverage with universal appeal. Go anywhere south of Dover and you are immediately forced into abandoning the most civilised of brews and adopting ugly coffee as your preferred refreshment; not out of choice but because tea that is served abroad has only one common feature that it shares with a domestic cuppa and that is its name.
Whilst you can anticipate that once you leave the White Cliffs behind you will not get a decent cup of tea until you return to the sceptred isle it is most disturbing to find that repugnant continental and north American attitudes towards tea in general, and the making of it in particular, are embedding themselves in British institutions – the rail service for one. It’s a disgrace.
Making a cup of tea is not difficult. You need boiling water – that means water that is or has just been boiling. Not water that is really hot or water that has been boiled. I remember explaining this to a really helpful waiter in a Cracker Barrel restaurant in the U.S. to whom I explained that in order for the tea to release its true flavour it has to be scalded. Only boiling water will release the full flavour of the tea and water that is any less than boiling will simply turn into a weak version of a true cuppa. That’s it. The only rule you must follow. Pour boiling water onto tea leaves or a tea bag, though why anyone wants to taste paper in their tea is beyond me. You can pour the boiling water onto tea leaves in a cup, or in a kettle or, preferably, into a warmed tea pot (metal ones should be avoided as they go cold quickly). That’s it – just one rule to follow – pour boiling water onto the tea.
I am on a train. I have just been parted from £1.30 that I gave to the man in the buffet car in exchange for a cup of tea – albeit a cup of tea served in a paper cup and with the now ubiquitous strip of wood that serves as a stirrer. I knew what to expect. It would be less than perfect but hey, compromises have to be made when travelling at 125m.p.h. I could see the steaming shining stainless steel tap that rose out of the kitchen worktop. I could hear it hissing as pressurised steam escaped from it. £1.30 was a price well worth paying for a jolly good hot cup of tea. I took my eye off the ball after I had ordered and was presented with a paper bag that held the tea. I popped in the stirrer and one of those fiddly sachets of sugar and paid the man.
I made my way back to my seat and took out the cup that had a plastic lid on it. I set it out on the table and sat back to let the tea stew. After five minutes waiting I could hold back no more and I took off the lid. I was greeted by a cup of hot water. No tea. No teabag. Just a cup of hot water. Peering into the paper bag I found a teabag. I dropped it in the water and sighed. Can you imagine that happening ten years ago? It is time to make a stand. If you get such service don’t do what I didn’t have the guts to do – ask for a refund!