In which it suddenly IS my cup of tea

Printed 23/09/10.


I have recently started drinking tea. It's come as some relief, after years of being a wannabe tea drinker in the body of a non-tea drinker, to actually just drink the stuff. For years I've loved the paraphernalia of tea - all the pretty cups and pots and biscuit-dunking - but I just never actually had the urge to consume it.

It was partly down to a long dalliance with lactose intolerance - or at least my own special brand of lactose intolerance, where milk was outlawed but cheese and ice cream received a special medical dispensation. Meanwhile, I was turned against milkless tea years ago by those Brita water filter ads ("Wrong again, Thomas… it's MY lovely cup of tea," shudder shudder vomit etc). And anyway, I was a hardened black coffee drinker. In theory I drank black coffee because it was fuss-free and I liked the taste. In reality I drank it because, at 17, it seemed like the closest I could get to being a beatnik without resorting to hard drugs or sandals.

So where tea was concerned, I Just Said No, much to the dismay of at least half the country. Because when people are into tea, they really want to give it to you as well. It's like a kind of beverage evangelism. Imagine something bad has happened – once that initial, reflex reaction, to get hot steaming Tetleys down you by the bucketload, is thwarted, people don't know what to do. Pat you gently on the head? Hug you? Put Everybody Hurts on the stereo and quietly back out of the room? As a non-tea drinker I was tolerated, but necessarily understood.

Then, three weeks ago, as you'll know if you follow this column or ever listen to me whinging at bus stops, I moved flat. And after we'd huffed the first load of boxes in, the first thing I did was make tea, and drink it, without even noticing. Because that's what you're meant to do when you've just moved flat. You're meant to put the radio on and drink a cup of tea – I've learned that much from adverts. You're also meant to wear an oversized denim shirt and stand in an empty room looking poignant with paint on the end of your nose, so I did that too.

And, as I suspected, I have discovered that people simply like you more when you drink tea. It's true, they do. As a coffee-drinker, particularly a black coffee-drinker, I aroused suspicion and a little disdain. 'Do you think you're hard or summat?' you could see them thinking. As though I might get wired on caffeine and burn their house down.

But suddenly, as a tea drinker, I'm trusted. I'm safe. I can participate in the office tea round, which is nice, particularly as everyone thought I said no mainly just to get out of making it for anyone else. Which is only half true.