With boutique and speciality tearooms springing up across the UK, tea is fast become fashionable once again. Expect artisan blends, precise leaf-to-water ratios and ‘tearistas’…
Coffee has undergone somewhat of a revolution over the past decade, with coffee houses popping up all over the shop, but now it’s tea’s turn to shine. Since the 18th Century, Britain has staked its claim as one of the world’s largest tea consumers, and now the Americans are jumping on board, too – they drink 20 per cent more brew than they did a decade ago.
It’s not just any kind of tea we’re talking about here, though. When you think of taking tea, fine bone china and the tinkling of teaspoons might come to mind, but how we drink it is really changing. No longer an old-fashioned affair, tea drinkers are young, well-heeled and urban thanks to boutique and artisan tearooms serving adventurous, rare and curious blends. In the concoction of speciality brews, leaf-to-water ratio, temperature and infusion time are all carefully considered by expert ‘tearistas’ and, as with fine wine, flavours should be explored and savoured.
This year, we can expect to see more premium loose tea than ever, and fermented kombucha and green matcha varieties are also predicted to take off.
It’s been thirsty work, but we’ve been busy hunting down some of the best places for artisan tea. In no particular order (they’re all worth a visit), here are our top ten:
1. Waterloo Garden Tea House, Cardiff
The team at Waterloo Tea is ‘committed to an ongoing exploration of the world’s finest teas’, and you can sample their wares at the Waterloo Garden Tea House in Penylan, Cardiff; Washington Tea, Penarth; and Wyndham Tea, Cardiff city centre. Each venue is a little bit different, but the ambience is always laid back and unpretentious and, of course, there’s guaranteed to be tea in abundance. Among the many surprising flavours, you’ll find chai and elderflower, ginger and lime Rooibos, blood orange Pu-erh and the matcha latte – that’s a green tea latte with an Oriental flavour and a touch of caffeine. Yum.
2. Leaf, Liverpool
Located on cobbled Bold Street, in the heart of Liverpool city centre, this independent teashop and bar is a bit of a creative hub. Step inside and you’ll find a mix of the traditional and the contemporary – think 19th Century cornices and shiny glitter balls – which somehow works. This is a rather charming spot in which to enjoy a speciality cuppa – expect Champagne & Cassis white tea (a staff favourite), Gunpowder Supreme green tea (bold and invigorating, but not for the faint hearted), Yellow Cold oolong (clean and refreshing), Pu-erh black tea (strong, aged and popular among celebrities) and Turkish apple fruit-infused tea (vitamin rich and bursting with flavour). Afternoon tea’s a steal, too, at just £10.95 per head.
3. Urban Tea Rooms, Soho
The idea behind Urban Tea Rooms was to create a contemporary version of the traditional tearoom, and it seems they’ve succeeded in their aim. The lattes haven’t completely disappeared (their Allpress coffees are pretty tasty in fact), but there’s certainly no shortage of tea. Ethically sourced and blended by Urban Tea Rooms, varieties include Second Flush Darjeeling, Cornish peppermint, orange and passion fruit, Jasmine blossom and English pink rosebuds. There are also some tempting tea-infused cocktails on offer – the perfect way to get your fix after dark.
4. Char Wallah Tea, Birmingham
Run by brother and sister, Andrew and Julie, this independent café-cum-shop sits just a stone’s throw from the bustle of the Bullring. With a whole host of green, flavoured black, yellow, Rooiboos, oolong and wellness teas, this is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of artisan brews. Your very own teapot will sit above a tea-light heater to keep your tea at the optimum temperature, and the sand timer will ensure you don’t stew your brew. Perfect. Adorable ceramic tea sets are available to buy if you’d like to recreate the experience in your own home.
5. Blueberry Bar, Shoreditch
You might not expect to find an array of speciality teas at this quirky Shoreditch joint, but Blueberry Bar actually has its very own tea bar. Serving over 30 different varieties of organic brew at just £2 a cup, you’ll find varieties from all over the world. How does soothing Egyptian chamomile and mint sound? It’s caffeine-free, too. Or perhaps some Japanese Genmaicha Popcorn green tea, with a nutty flavour and natural sweetness? Other options include Liquorice Root, Black Rose Congue and Tropical Mango – delicious.
6. The Black Swan Tearoom, Yorkshire
Opened in 2007 by Marco Pierre White, afternoon tea at The Black Swan Tearoom in Helmsley has attained legendary status; Michel Roux’s even been singing its praises. A member of the prestigious Tea Guild, here you’ll discover an array of speciality Chinese, green, white, oolong and herbal teas, as well as The Black Swan Tea Company’s own blend: Cygnet Tea. Try the artisan pastries for an extra spot of indulgence.
7. Camellia’s Tea House, Carnaby Street
Sitting pretty in Carnaby Street, with an enviable Kingly Court location, the charming Camellia’s Tea House is part speciality tearoom, part shop. Since its foundation in late 2007, the aim has been to combine the English heritage of tea drinking with the health benefits of wellness tea, and now you’ll find over 100 different blends stocked in the shop, many of which are blended on site. In 2014, Camellia’s Tea House created a breathable tea room where you can sample inhalable cups of tea – that’s a bit different from your standard English breakfast isn’t it?
8. North Tea Power, Manchester
Located on Tib Street in the city’s Northern Quarter, loose-leaf tea is the focus at North Tea Power. Wooden furniture, low-hanging exposed bulbs and shelves crammed with jars of loose tea – it’s an industrial chic vibe they have going on here. If you’ve got a seriously sweet tooth, then plump for the marmalade tea (strong and black tea with a dollop of homemade marmalade), or perhaps popcorn flavour (a green tea mixed with toasted brown rice). If you’re looking for something light and refreshing the elderflower iced tea is a spring and summer sell out. What’s more, North Tea Power boasts Manchester’s first espresso machine tea – how unusual.
9. Birdhouse Tea Company, Sheffield
Expect award-winning hand-blended teas and herbal infusions at the Birdhouse Tea Company in Sheffield. Located in a former post office, this tea house is run by mother and daughter team Julia and Rebecca English, whose quest is to spread the word about the joys of loose-leaf tea. Many varieties served here are named after the city landmarks and inspired by the local surroundings: the Kelham Island is hearty and smoky, the Botanical Gardens is fresh and comforting, and the Full Monty is billed as ‘strong, northern and proud’. If that isn’t enough, the Birdhouse Tea Company even make bespoke blended teas and are always open to new ideas.
10. Teanamu Chaya Teahouse, Notting Hill
For a tranquil tea experience, a visit to Pei Wang’s Teanamu Chaya Teahouse is most definitely in order. Creating the perfect brew is the name of the game here and tea drinking has been turned into a ceremony – the Chinese Congfu Cha tea ceremony to be precise. On arrival, you’ll be presented with a little card detailing the available teas and a warmer is placed on each table so that you can top up as often as you like. In fact, different teapots have been designed to complement the many types of tea. This is a bit of a hidden gem in the capital.