Tea tips

My name is Liz and I am a tea-aholic. It’s under control and I have no need of an intervention. Honest.

Obviously, this means that discovering the BBC was showing a two-part documentary on the history of tea was greeted with much joy – coupled with rejoicing at the news that Victoria Wood was presenting it. Tea and one of Britain’s funniest women? Yes please!

A Nice Cup of Tea

The documentary is worth watching (you’ve got a few days left to catch it on iPlayer). True, the first part – exploring the role of tea in the empire – did lack some of the finer nuances of imperial history and Britain’s relationship with the people it governed. [Thus speaks the imperial historian…] The second part looked at the role of tea in British society, revealing who it was who came up with the concept of afternoon tea (the Duchess of Bedford) and why tea is now under threat from the rise of coffee. [Coffee will never overtake tea in my world. Love the smell, hate the taste. I thank my superior taste buds.] I made a categorical error in my watching of the second episode. It accompanied a long bubble bath and stupid me didn’t think to make myself a cuppa before lowering myself into the water.

Essentially, the message was that for Brits especially, little competes with “a nice cup of tea” and that the ritual of making such a beverage – the boiling of water; warming of the pot; brewing of leaves; correct ratio of milk to tea; and the process of consuming it – are a centrepiece of society. Plus, tea-addicts will go to great lengths to get the ‘right’ tea. I don’t have a particular brand loyalty (shocking) but I have had to carry PG Tips half-way across the world to satisfy the cravings of my American Anglophile friend Ian.

As you may remember, prior to travelling to France for Chateau Duffy #4 I was wrestling with the conundrum of how much tea to take with me for 20 people (including 6 Americans and 4 children). You’ll be pleased to hear that not only did we have enough, we also converted an American child to the wonders of tea. Austin returned home to Texas with a spare pack of tea (yes, we even had spares) with which to continue his habit. I suspect, should I make a return trip to Texas this summer (here’s praying) that I’ll need to pack some tea in my luggage for him. Tea bonded several of us while in France, and sparked an interesting tea-themed dialogue on Twitter with our English plumber last week (post the documentary). He was looking for tea recommendations in London (as in places in which to drink it), and I was racking my brains for my favourites. Having come up with some, I thought it only fair to share it wider…

Tea ShotsTea photography…

My basic tea criteria is that tea needs to be respected and understood. Places like Starbucks and Nero do not understand it and do not respect it. There are bags and hot water – not blends and teapots. Yes, it will do when the need strikes, but they are not places to ‘take tea’. I also like a good atmosphere and nice receptacles. This is how the following list should be understood:

Drink, Shop, Do
It’s kitsch, it’s almost try-hard retro and it can be pricey (for this reason I’ve never partaken of their cake) but it has a marvellous tea-list, terrific motley china and has fun activities of an evening. (I went there last year for an alcoholic beverage and ended up making and decorating a cardboard 2CV while drinking a glass of wine. Awesome.) Plus, its proximity to King’s Cross makes it an amazingly convenient location for meeting people and it’s where I have as many of my meetings with one of my favourite student work colleagues as possible.

The Coffeesmiths Collective
Now found in four locations (Leather Lane, Chancery Lane, Carnaby St & Bishopsgate), it is a mecca for true coffee lovers, as you might expect from a company owned by two Kiwis. But it also respects and understands tea. There’s a list of great blends which always arrive with guidance on how long to brew it – the leaves come separately from the pot and it’s your responsibility to put them in and take them out. I’m a particular fan of their Earl Grey…

The Tea Box
In picturesque Richmond, this is the place to do tea. An amazing tea list and a genius device with which to time brews – it’s worth a trek out there for a visit alone.

The Orange Pekoe
If Richmond isn’t quite posh enough for you, head to nearby Barnes. The Orange Pekoe has an even longer tea list (I think) and a fabulous atmosphere. Tea connoisseurs rate it highly.

Finally, if you can’t make it to any of the above, treat yourself to some decent loose-leaf stuff and recreate the experience in the comfort of your own home. My top-tip is Suki Tea – a company that first sold its products at a stall in St George’s Market in Belfast, from which my mother would buy supplies to send to her tea-aholic daughters. Delightfully, this is now available in cafes in London (I’ve discovered it at the lovely Tinderbox on Upper St, where I drank their Earl Grey Blue Flower this very evening) and online. Hunt it out!

It’s also worth seeking out Flint Tea, partly because it’s the creation of a member of clergy at my previous church and partly because their ‘normal’ tea bears the name ‘Our Daily Brew’ thanks to the wit of one of my fellow ordinands. Oh, and their tins look pretty…

Our Daily Brew

Let this be an encouragement to you to re-examine your tea drinking. Take time to make your daily brew in the proper fashion. Try a different blend or tea-drinking establishment. Buy yourself a decent teapot. Most of all, enjoy it.

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