2014 was a really good year for tea, well drinking it anyway. During the year I visited some tearooms that had been been on my ‘to visit’ list for a very long time and discovered new places too. From all my travels, pots of tea drunk and cakes consumed, I have compiled my 5 favourite places to take tea from 2014.
Each recommendation is really different, chosen on the quality of tea served, the atmosphere of the tea room or the sheer fun of visiting. Whatever your preference, budget or location I hope that you will give at least one of these 5 places a visit in 2015.
1) Chinese tea ceremony at: Teanamu, Chaya Teahouse, Notting Hill, London
The Chaya Teahouse had been on my list of tea rooms to visit for at least 2 years. Only open during the summer season, and then only on Saturdays and Sundays, means booking is essential and even then a reservation is hard to come by.
The focus of the afternoon is providing a Chinese Gong Fu Cha afternoon tea that encompasses handmade patisserie, delicate Chinese dim sum and fine Chinese and Japanese teas. There are two set menus and I opted for the slightly more expensive, but wholly worthwhile ‘ichi-go ichi-e afternoon tea’.
Delicate is how I would sum up the Chaya afternoon tea. No builders brew and starchy sandwiches here, instead fragrant teas are served; focussing on oolongs, green teas and prized infusions such as Pu Erh. These are accompanied by bite sized and beautiful savoury and sweet snacks, my favourite being the accompanying rose petal jam.
Best for: Learning about tea and tea making techniques. I came away having learned many facets of tea that have refined my own tea making.
Top tip: Check the directions to the teahouse carefully. Chaya is held in a residential house so it’s easy to walk straight past and end up horribly lost. I speak from experience!
2) Tea tasting at: Postcard Teas, New Bond Street, London
My first visit to Postcard Teas came at the end of my quest for 2014 First Flush Darjeeling tea. You can read a full review of my visit here but I wanted to recommend Postcard again as I still maintain that it’s the best venue in central London for a truly refreshing proper cup of tea.
Best for: A simple cup of loose leaf tea brewed to perfection.
Top tip: Try before you buy. If you are seeking a specific tea, or want to widen your repertoire, visit Postcard to try infusions before you commit to buying.
3) A classic country afternoon tea at: Catherines Cafe, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Sometimes you take a walk to build up an appetite, sometimes you need a walk to work off an afternoon tea. My visit to Catherine’s Cafe definitely fell into the latter category! Situated in the pretty Oxfordshire town of Wallingford, Catherine’s Cafe is a comfy combination of homely cooking and afternoon teas. Close to the Ridgeway Trail and the Thames Path, the cafe is a great stop off to rest and replenish.
I visited the cafe in late summer to enjoy the full set afternoon tea. The tea starts with sandwiches and scones then continues with a choice of freshly baked cake. To be honest I was so stuffed after the first two courses that I took my lovely slice of cake away with me, that’s how generous this tea is! At £12 per head (as of 2014) this tea is a steal however leave your ‘airs and graces’ at home as Catherine’s tea offerings are traditional bagged builders brew and Earl Grey, no Oloongs here.
Best for: A comfy country afternoon tea.
Top tip: The full afternoon tea is not available on Saturdays. It’s normally very busy, and hectic with families (and noisy children!) on Saturdays anyway. So book in for a calm and leisurely Sunday tea instead.
4) Grand tea tradition at: Betty’s Cafe and Tearooms, York
Although I’d had several fleeting visits to Betty’s I’d never had the experience of afternoon tea in the grand setting of Betty’s formal tea rooms. However that all changed in July when I was in York for the Grand Depart of the Tour de France. Disappointingly I was unable to book in prior to my visit, as bookings had been suspended due to the Le Tour, in what I can only assume was a hope to get more tourists through the door.
Being met with a long queue wasn’t a great start but once seated that all changed. Panelled walls and waitresses in frilly pinnies all adds to the charm of Betty’s. The draw of Betty’s for me is the perfect combination of high calibre loose leaf teas and patisserie, normally you get only one or the other. I opted for the single estate Rwandan Gisovu tea and to celebrate Le Tour; the classic ‘Paris Brest’ patisserie. Lovely.
Best for: A grand afternoon tea.
Top tip: Wait staff are keen on pushing extras that soon mount up on the bill. Choose carefully from the menu and stick to your original order.
5) and for something completely different: Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, Bethnal Green, London
Tea + cats, who could ask for more? Certainly not this crazy cat lady! Yes the final tearoom I’m recommending from 2014 is London’s Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium.
Back in the scorching summer of 2014 Lady Dinah’s was defiantly the hot ticket to have. As London’s first cat cafe, crazy cat ladies (and men!) and cool kids alike, flocked to the capitals most hyped new venue. But do cats and tea make purrrfect afternoon?
After making my booking I did wonder about the calibre of afternoon tea at Lady D’s. Would the emporium be all hype, cats, but not great tea? Well aside from the fun of the cats I’m recommending Lady Dinah’s because the tea menu and the food options are great. I sampled several loose leaf teas all of which were excellent. For food I opted for Brick Lane baked bagels and a over-generous slice of red velvet cake. Both very fresh and delicious.
Best for: Crazy cat ladies and gentlemen.
Top tip: You have to book well in advance, normally a month ahead, more if you want a prime weekend slot. However it’s little know that tables for 1 are really easy to come by, often available same day. Don’t be put off by tea for one as you are never alone with a cafe full of cats!