If someone asked you to point out a public place that could represent the campaign for gender equality, would you point to a tea room? Unlikely.
However, tea rooms are an all-but-forgotten part of the history of women’s emancipation. They were one of the first safe, respectable public places that unchaperoned women could meet and talk. The majority of tea rooms were also set up by women, for women, in the early 20th century, making the tea rooms and their proprietors important in the movement for equal opportunities at work as well as in leisure time.
Here are my top tea destinations in London:
32 Heath Street, Hampstead, London, NW3 6TE/12 Harben Parade, Finchley Road, NW3 6JP
Louis is a beautiful café, run by Hungarian women. The decor probably hasn’t changed since it was built; the wood panelling, embroidery, seating… Sitting in there, I feel like I’m in a 70s film. Mind— the cafe is tiny. It could seat perhaps 20 people, with an extra five at a push. Be prepared to queue if you drop in on a Saturday!
Louis offers an array of teas, including, but not limited to Earl Grey, peppermint, camomile, and of course black tea. The tea is always beautifully presented, which makes the overall experience feel like an occasion. Black tea is served in a pot, but others are served in mugs, or glasses in filigree holders. The tea is moderately expensive, at £2.50 per person, but the aesthetics, service and the atmosphere are well worth it.
The most beautiful cakes are baked on site, and offered to all; both in the window, and by a lady who will come to your table with a tray for you to (metaphorically) drool all over. If you end up having to queue for Louis, stay. It is well worth the wait.
216 Strand, London, WC2R 1AP
Thomas Twining started selling tea from his coffee house on the Strand in 1706 – by the 1750s, tea was the most popular drink among the working classes. Twinings was also the first tea company to make teabags in 1956!
The Twinings shop on the Strand isn’t exactly a tea room per se but the choice and the knowledge that the staff have make it a real destination for any tea lover. Also, they have a sampling bar! (read: free tea). One of my favourite things about the Twinings shop is that they offer a ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ of tea bags—you can literally pick any number of different, singular bags, that each come in a little paper jacket, which details the best brewing methods and accompaniments to your cuppa. I would like to suggest the green tea with orange and lotus blossom as an exotic treat.
The Tea House
15a Neal St, Covent Garden WC2
Another destination where tea is not drunk, but bought. The Tea House sells over 70 varieties of their own Tea House blends, as well as an array of tea receptacles, or ‘tea-pheralia’ as they call it; pots, cups, cosies, cards, biscuits, strainers, tins—the works. This tea house packs their own tea, and the shop is always awash with the aroma of one tea or another. The huge front window is split into many different window boxes, each dressed differently. Tea tastings are also held when new types of tea are developed.
22 Wellington St, Covent Garden, WC2E 7DD/branches also at Tower bridge and the Fashion Textile Museum in Bermondsey, addresses here.
Teapod probably wins the prize for the loveliest staff. When I went to their Covent Garden branch (to buy green tea with rose petals— smells like cuddles from grandmothers, tastes like yum) the girls were so kind and chatty I had to drag myself away. Teapod is an environmentally conscious company: if you reuse their bags you can tot up points to get a free drink. Teapod used to promote and stock organic teas, but no longer, as they found that the quality was variable and the qualification of organic is expensive, and only possible for major companies. Teapod like using small tea estates as they often offer facilities such as schools and hospitals for local communities, something often lacking for the urban poor in the areas where tea is produced.
They also have their own initiative; at Teapod, your tea-love could help some of the poorest people across the world—something that should warm your charitable cockles! The company sells tea cosies made by awomen from the Korogocha slum in Nairobi, Kenya, to help them provide for their families. So, you could dress your teapot in something stylish, keep your tea warm, while also helping women across the world! What’s not to love about a multitasking piece of tea-artistry?
Afternoon tea at the Radisson Edwardian Bloomsbury Street Hotel
9-13 Bloomsbury Street, WC1B 3QD
Ashamed that, as a tea-lover extraordinaire, I had never indulged in the great British tradition of afternoon tea, I booked my mum and me in for tea. It was a bit of a giggle as afternoon tea seems very stuffy and posh and really, who has time these days? Well, its a bit of a luxury, and a little old-fashioned, but I loved it! My mum’s a convert too.
The staff at the Bloomsbury hotel were very polite (the doorman went close to the obsequious line, but as he didn’t comment on our rather scruffy attire we let him off) and the service was very quick and attentive. We were offered a choice of Darjeeling, camomile, Earl Gray, and green tea, which arrived in individual pots. The best bit about the whole experience however, was the food. It arrived on a cake stand, crammed with sandwiches, scones and cakes. Afternoon tea is usually an expensive affair, around £40 for two people. However, this hotel has an offer on until 31st December, where afternoon tea is £10 a head. This offer is valid everyday from half past two until five o’clock if you book through this website.
Tina, we salute you
47 King Henrys Walk, N1 4NH
The first thing you notice at ‘Tina’ is the art. On my first visit, the simple monochrome decor was offset by a huge wall-to-wall installation called Inverscape—by some guys from Studiointegrate. Tina, we salute you has been an exhibition space for years, and the everchanging exhibitions have the clients coming back again and again. The food menu is chalked on a wall, and the coffees are from Square Mile. There is another chalked ‘loyalty wall’ covered in signatures from the regulars.
But let us return to the tea. The breakfast tea is served in a teapot-cup-and-saucer trio, ornate in comparison to the stark interior. The walls are whitewashed, glass bottles of water on the side for anyone who wants them. A tip—order the fresh mint tea, which is presented beautifully in large glasses. Tina we salute you is small but beautifully formed, and the tea packs a punch.
I hope you’re inspired to go out and find your own tea spots—and mention them below. Raise your teacups all across town to the feminist history of sociable tea drinking!