While to all appearances coffee bar chains have taken over the land, in the last few years a new army of independent teahouses has been quietly coming up behind. We’ve sipped and swirled our way across Britain to find ten of the best.
For a nation of tea lovers, it’s strange that we choose to go out for coffee. But these teahouses aim to change that. Taking tea away from the realms of chintzy cafés and high-end hotels, true teahouses have a passion for tea, how it’s sourced, brewed and infused, to rival your most passionate coffee barista. Flavour tracks down ten of the best teahouses brewing up a storm.
1. The Tea House Theatre, Vauxhall
It looks like a pub, and that’s because once it was, overlooking the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Now they sell nothing except tea, not even coffee. “Our teas have individual subtle flavours which would be overpowered by the instant, coarse, hit of coffee, so we do not sell it,” explains owner Harry Nicholls. They do, however, make their own jams and marmalades, serve marvellous cakes and host debates, theatre, dance, and music in the evenings. Their extensive tea menu takes time to read, and time is one thing they’re happy to give you in this unrushed spot.
2. The Tea House Emporium, Bath
Importing fine tea to the UK since 2005, the Teahouse Emporium is a shop with a range of over 130 loose-leaf teas and herbal tisanes. In their cellar tearoom you can try the teas yourself. Their list includes well-known black teas and more exotic jasmine and green teas, and their expert staff will advise you on the right tea to suit your mood. There’s a choice of homemade cakes as well, but that’s a whole other decision making process…
3. Waterloo Gardens Teahouse, Cardiff
This unimposing teahouse in Cardiff is a welcoming space to all-comers, aiming to give the added value to drinking tea that we’ve become accustomed to when popping out for coffee. Owner Kasim Ali explains: “Before tea was left in the domain of fancy teahouses and hotels, whereas now good tea can be found in everyday places.” They’re committed to quality sourcing and brewing and believe in presenting tea with the same sense of theatre we’re more used to seeing in coffee shops.
4. Yumchaa, Camden and Soho
Describing themselves as ‘curators of immodest tea’, Yumchaa are the ones who, when you’re gasping for a cup of tea and wish that one would just magically appear, can pretty much offer just that. As well as their two teahouses in Camden and Soho, Yumchaa pop up as a series of market stalls across the city, including Portobello Market, Partridges Market and the Sunday Upmarket on Brick Lane.
5. Eteaket, Edinburgh
Determined to stop UK tea from being ‘a prisoner in its own tea bag’, Erica and Stewart Moore founded Eteaket. They personally visit the tea gardens that supply them in order to make sure all their loose-leaf teas are ethically sourced. Drinking tea in this teahouse is a shared experience in the Moores’ genuine excitement about the rich variety of teas on offer, shown in a strong selection from China, India, Sri Lanka and Japan. And Eteaket’s strong emphasis on the welfare of the teapickers who are at the start of their supply chain and the environmental impact of the plantations, makes their tea even more satisfying to drink.
6. Leaf, Liverpool
Leaf on Bold Street in Liverpool city centre is a creative hub. Teahouse by day, in the evening they have a bar and host local new music and a distinctive programme of arts events. Forget the chintz – Leaf is a bright and open space, set up to accommodate unique personalities, wholesome food and of course, lots of different teas all served in glass mugs.
7. Small and Cosy Teahouse, Skye
Drinking tea in the front room of no.4 croft, Digg, on the Isle of Skye is a treat. This remote teahouse has an extensive menu of teas including Japanese Sencha, flowering teas, and their house tea, an organic English Breakfast blend that’s bright and coppery. Served with skill and expertise, the tea comes in locally-made pottery, and with views of Staffin Bay and a pot-stove on the go when it’s damp.
8. Peacock’s, Ely
For tea taken in a more traditional fashion, Peacock’s on the waterfront in Ely offers the quintessentially English tea experience. With wisteria up the walls, mismatched tea cups and a choice of 72 loose-leaf teas on the list, it’s no surprise that Country Living magazine named George and Rachel Peacock’s family-run tea house their favourite. They also claim to be the only tea room serving a tea from five continents – Billy Tea from Queensland, Cornish Tregothnan, Sao Paulo from the Americas, Kwazulu from Africa and of course a large selection from Asia.
9. Metrodeco, Brighton
Tea cocktails and vintage teas with exotic names like ‘Iron Goddess of Mercy’ – it has to be a teahouse in Brighton. Metrodeco is a 1930s Parisian style teahouse, which also sells furniture, crockery and gifts for your dog. Eclectic and quirky, the mission here is to get rid of ‘drab old teabags’, so instead they’ve got 15 blends of loose-leaf tea specially created by a master blender on their list as well as favourites like Jasmine Dragon Pearls and breakfast tea.
10. Comins Tea House, Sturminster Newton, Dorset
Tea-loving Michelle Comins converted her husband Rob to tea-drinking in the plantations of Darjeeling, but when they returned to the UK they couldn’t find the same quality single estate tea that had been so transformational for them in India. So they set up their own tea business, sourcing high quality loose-leaf tea and selling it online. Next, they opened up a tea house complete with tea garden, bringing a little of the spirit of their Darjeeling experience to Thomas Hardy country.
Read the piece as it appeared on flavourfirst.org here