Tea & No Sympathy

I'm intrigued. Has anybody else had a run in with the chap who runs East Teas in Borough Market?

This planned Saturday post was supposed to be a retrospective of a lovely celebratory lunch at Roast to mark Mrs L's Birthday, my birthday and (sort-of) cousin-L's promotion. It was indeed, a lovely lunch - kidneys, roast Welsh Black sirloin, custard, how could it not be? - and we also enjoyed a little meander around the market where I picked up some of the sexiest Ardrahan cheese I have EVER seen, and discovered a huge stack of fresh English Muffins.

And then we ran into East Teas. Admittedly, I missed a bit of the exchange - I was over at the Cool Chile Co trying to remember what I needed to have a stab at Tortilla Soup - so had left Mrs L and (sort-of) cousin-L to seek out a tea pot for a friend.

We'd actually returned because the girl working on the East Teas stand had been so helpful this morning, saying she'd go and get some more stock out and would be around until 5pm if we wanted to come back after lunch. She had, we did, and the relevant pot / cup had been selected and paid for - with, I'd say, a reasonable chunk of cash.

Mrs L then mentioned that, actually, she'd just run out of the lovely Henrietta's delicious white tea and, while she was here, perhaps she should get something different. That launched a diatribe from the Penfold-a-like running the stall (which I caught the end of), about how Henrietta's tea wasn't all that, that he questioned her business practices, her sourcing, etc - and then he launched into a similar character assassination about another tea person none of us knew.

While spewing this really rather odd stream of bile - Mrs L had explained that we knew Henrietta quite well, so this chap knew he was slagging off a friend - Penfold was brewing us a little sample of a white tea he was selling. We sipped, we slooshed... and we were all a little underwhelmed. There was a lovely cleanness to it, a freshness that certainly revived the palate but as for something to be drunk for pleasure? We like something with a little more flavour, to be honest.

We started to leave, but Penfold wasn't finished. Would we like to try some of his green tea? Again, we sipped, we slooshed... and both Mrs L and (sort-of) cousin L declared it had a bit of a seaweed quality they didn't like.

Now, during my brief time behind the Neal's Yard Dairy counter, if someone declared they didn't like a particular cheese, we saw it as a friendly challenge to find them something that suited their palate, to work out likes and dislikes, to match the customer to one of the many products on display. That, you see, is what good customer service is about: being engaging, having a chat, trying to find a product that fits the bill.

What good customer service isn't is: a) slagging off your customer's friend; and b) prissily telling your customer: "I see what the problem is. The problem is you don't actually like tea."

To which Mrs L replied, quite calmly, "Well, I certainly don't like either of those" and politely walked away.

It might have been the end of a very long week. He might have recently been the recipient of some bad news. He might have been feeling his age. He might have been cold and wet and miserable. He might have been - and I suspect he was - insanely jealous that he's still running a little market stall week in, week out for as long as I've been going to Borough while other tea people are supplying Waitrose and winning OFM awards. But I don't care. Had he been nice or friendly or helpful, we'd have added to the large sum of money he'd already happily accepted from these philistines who "don't like tea" and taken a chance on one of the other 20 or so varieties he was selling. But he wasn't nice and he certainly wasn't friendly. What he was was a mealy-mouthed, sanctimonious, hatchet faced little prick with a chip on his shoulder the size of Southwark Cathedral.

I bit my tongue at the time, because when I lose my temper, I really lose it and, after such a nice meal, I didn't want to cause a scene or put a downer on our otherwise lovely day. However, four hours on, I'm still dwelling on his astonishing comment and attitude. And so, in the hope that he reads this and can finally understand why others have eclipsed his success so easily and why I'm never returning to his stall, I'd just like to replay the conversation in the manner that it would normally have happened.

"I see what the problem is. The problem is you don't actually like tea."
Me: "No, the problem is you're a snide, sad, patronising, bitchy little twat."


Chris Wotton said…
Love the post! Everything you say is so true. He might have had a bad day/week/whatever as you say, but frankly if he can't keep up a smiling customer service face, he ought to find another job - he certainly shouldn't be working on a stall like this, let alone running his own! Well put.
Great post.
Such a shame when somebody has to tear strips off their competition in front of man and boy. I personally love chuntering about other fish shops but not to customers. To them i smile and say i never new there was a shop there or i have never been to that place. It would sound like this chaps days at Borough are numbered.
Helen said…
Well said. I know Henrietta too and therefore I know that his attitude stinks. He couldn't be more wrong about her not selling the best tea possible and about her not knowing her sources. Nothing is more important to her. He sounds like a jumped up, jobsworth little twat who needs a good talking to.
Kavey said…
I believe I know the man you are referring to. He's an odd character, for sure. I'll DM you a link later, to check. Extremely intense, and extremely smug about his teas. We were underwhelmed with them too, despite his prices and hoopla.

We didn't get any rudeness but I can absolutely picture him behaving like this.

As you say, explains why Henrietta is going from success to success and he's... well... not!
Lizzie said…
Well done for keeping your cool. What a sad little man.
Paunchos said…
O dear o dear. What an awful encounter. You should "tea-ch" him a lesson.
gastrogeek said…
Penfold! how hilarious. He does look a little bit like him doesn't he? I've seen him sporting a rather natty fez on occasion. Poor Mrs L, maybe he's just bitter because he has run that stall for years now, and let's face it, we all prefer Henrietta's stuff.
Celidh said…
I've bought from East Teas several times, though not met the guy describe. All the teas have been good and the lady at the market was fine. You can also buy online (Paypal & minimum order, but that's not unusual these days).

For anyone else reading this, don't let it put you off trying their goods.

It's a shame Mr Lambshank had a bad experience, but that was 3 years ago so give it another go.

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