In the sleepy market town of Sturminster Newton, in Dorset’s bucolic Blackmore Vale, Michelle and Rob Comins opened their very modern British teahouse in an old Georgian building a couple of years ago. Having been inspired by a visit to a tea estate in Darjeeling, they now sell only the finest single estate leaf teas (no blended or herbal teas), online as well (don’t come here for a cappuccino – this is a tea-only zone, although you can tuck into a traditional afternoon tea with local clotted cream and blueberry scones). Michelle guides customers through a traditional tea ceremony, pouring hot water onto leaves in a Gaiwan, Chinese bowl. The leaves steep for three minutes at 80 degrees, then the tea is decanted into a cup, where water is poured onto the leaves six to eight times (“it’s important to drink through the infusions to understand the nature of tea and to get the whole experience”). The couple started out with just five teas and now stock 28, ranging from black to white (the most popular) via oolong and green.
After a few years of selling their tea online, the Quilliam brothers set their sights on creating a Budapest-style tea house in Newcastle city centre. Aiming to shine a spotlight both on great tea and emerging artists, it’s the perfect place to relax into a squishy leather sofa while enjoying a stottie over a game of Scrabble.
The tea menu (coded by letter and number) boasts 60 different loose-leaf varieties, split into sections for black, white, green, yellow, oolong, flavoured and rooibos teas. Choose between a sweet and fragrant mango royale or a Turkish blend of Ceylon OPA. There’s no risk of that over-brewed, bitter taste either, as they brew each pot for the optimum time and always remove the leaves before serving.
Wedgwood tea room
When the Duke and Duchess of Bedford started the British tradition for afternoon tea in the 18th century it was an opportunity Josiah Wedgwood quickly recognised, creating his company’s distinctive china teaware. Jump forward three centuries and, in Wedgwood’s contemporary, flagship, Tea Room which opened last summer in Stoke-on-Trent, you can sip one of 50 Wedgwood teas from the company’s delicate bone china. Choose from small batch roasted Oolong (a rich, dark roasted flavour with fruit and cinnamon notes) created from just six ancient trees in the Unesco-protected Wuyi area of China or Darjeeling First Flush from India, for which tasting notes outline its delicate, floral nature with hints of apple, pear and melon. Also on the menu are black tea selections from Sri Lanka, China and Kenya, along with flavoured black teas, green and white teas, herbal and fruit infusions.
Lee Rosy’s has been selling loose-leaf tea in their cosy Nottingham café (on the edge of Hockley) since 2005. Step foot in the shop and you’re offered over 100 types of teas to smell, try and buy including scented green teas, pure green teas and herbal infusions.
As well as the leaves, it sells all the equipment you need to brew the perfect cup at home, including strainers and iron Chinese teapots. If you fancy trying something new, join their subscription service and have four bags delivered by post each month.
Back in 2005 coffee was king. Tea, according to Erica Moore, founder of contemporary Edinburgh tearoom Eteaket, had an image problem. To counter this, she travelled from China to India, Sri Lanka to Japan in search of the best loose-leaf teas, learning from masters along the way, and returning to open a tiny teahouse in Edinburgh’s genteel New Town, along with an online shop. Today, the extensive Eteaket tea menu features black teas such as Lapsang Souchong with its distinctive wood-smoke aroma, Oolong, green and white. You can even order flowering teas such as Jasmine Flower Blossom, made from the finest green tea and jasmine flowers sewn together which then blossom when steeped in hot water. Or, if you’re after something stronger how about a tea cocktail? A Royal Earl Grey G and T or maybe an Iced Chai White Russian…
Teanamu chaya teahouse
Learn the difference between a pouching, a dancong and a yancha – Oolong teas from the mountainous Wuyi region in China – during a masterclass in the Teanamu Chaya Teahouse, a calm hideaway just off Portobello Road in Notting Hill. The Black Dragon and Tea Lovers masterclasses here take two hours on selected Saturdays but if you just fancy afternoon tea (incorporating the Chinese Gongfu Cha tea ceremony, said to increase mindfulness), book a table anytime and nibble on handmade patisserie and Chinese dim sum. The two tea set menus are ichi-go-ichi-e and wabi sabi. Think wakame seaweed brown bread open sandwiches with garlic pickled-miso cream cheese with cucumber and shichimi pepper as a savoury option and sweets such as snow skin marzipan with guava.
Cox and baloney
For a vintage tearoom experience Cox and Baloney in Bristol’s creative Stokes Croft area is a floral-frock and granny’s-china kind of place. Sink into a sofa and step back in time with an old-fashioned tea party. Lilly’s Afternoon Tea features finger sandwiches, homemade cakes, scones with jam and clotted cream and a pot of own-label tea. If you’d rather enjoy the experience in your own home, the tearoom also sells a range of loose teas including Lord Earl Afternoon Loose Tea (Earl Grey), Chai Walla (black Ceylon tea with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, red peppercorns, cardamom pods) and Catherine of Braganza (Shou Mei white tea, peaches, apricots, china bancha green tea, snow buds, peach blossom).
Opening as a small tea shop in Liverpool back in 2007, LEAF was born out a love for both tea and music; a combination it celebrates through its selection of 50 loose-leaf teas and live music events. Whether you’re joining them for a mid-morning cuppa or perhaps a ‘T’ that involves more gin than ginseng, LEAF has an extensive drinks menu that includes blood orange rooibos, white peony and classic chai.
As you’d expect of a music-minded venue, LEAF stays open till late with an evening menu serving Greek mezze sharing platters, Goan vegetable curries and slow braised Moroccan spiced lamb spring rolls.
Written by Lucy Gillmore
First published November 2015
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