Since my retirement from paid work I have become part of the tea-house set, and a rather picky member at that. On most days I will have tea out somewhere. It could be because I need a break from work, often it is to while away the time between appointments, sometimes it is because the café is being used as a rendezvous. I prefer that tea leaves are loose and served in a pot for me to pour, rather than presented in a cup with its sad teabag. Importantly there must be a real spoon (not a wooden or plastic stirrer) and the cup must be ceramic (best of all china). I regularly leave to search out another café rather than stay and drink from a cup made of paper or polystyrene.

Twice recently, at teahouses that met my basic demands, things went very wrong. In both instances the waitress tried to make amends but it was calamitous. I have not been back to either since.

In the first, which had only recently opened, there was clearly still a problem with the plumbing or more precisely with the pipes that carried the waste. A pot of English breakfast and a lemon drizzle cake were served and soon after, a malodorous pong wafted through the tearoom. There was no obvious source to be seen but the origin was unmistakable. Moreover it was not a new pong, at least not to the waitress. Discretely, she walked amongst the tables spraying knee-height puffs of masking scent from an aerosol, with the result that the smell of her air ‘freshener’ was more pungent and more invasive than the erstwhile natural odour. Once up one’s nose and in one’s mouth the aerosol lingered and managed to mask the delicate taste and smell of the tea. Other customers soon began to leave, and I went with them.

My experience at the second café was all together more unpleasant. I had gone there to work and took enough for around an hour. I had rather fancied having a particular blend of Indian that I had become one of my favourites. This time the blend was uncustomarily bitter, in fact so bitter it made my lips curl. Adding sugar did not help and, preoccupied with my work, I later poured myself another. Nothing had improved, the grimace returned and the taste stayed. As I was given the bill, I wondered whether the culprit could have been the milk. There was some left in the jug and, eureka, while it did not smell off it did indeed have that very bitter taste of milk that had turned.

At the till, I pointed out the bitterness of my cuppa and how it had ruined my tea break. The milk was then tasted first by the waitress and then by the manager and all agreed with my observation – the milk was off.

With an apology and a smile the manager offered me 10% off. In my mind I was due another pot with fresh milk gratis, if not now then in the future. Her proposal was derisory, tantamount to insulting. It was the taste of her misjudged generosity that lingered – not that of the tea, and it is that feeling which endures.

There are ways and means of making amends for errors, here both approaches fell short and just made things worse, much worse.

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