Steph: ‘It’s not going to be wanky is it?’
Me: ‘I don’t think so babe, it’s in Walkley. People are pretty down to earth in Walkley.’
Steph: ‘And I’m not going to have to choose from a tea menu that sounds like a catalogue of STDs am I? Like…I will know what I am ordering?’
Me: ‘I’m sure you will be fine darling. Look *points at website*, they even have a English Breakfast tea, y’know, like Tetley do. You could manage that surely?’
Steph: ‘I guess…it won’t be full of hipsters in polo necks that smell of lavender will it?’
Me: ‘…Look, are you coming with me or what Ms PG sodding Tips?’
No, this is not a preview of next week’s Jeremy Kyle special on ‘Couples at War: This Teabagging Has to Stop.’ This was the routine exchange when trying to convince my wonderful tea-heathen and moo-moo juice averse Steph to join me on a visit to Gerties Cafe on South Road in Walkley. I had wanted to go for ages. Work colleagues, neighbours and locals alike had kept recommending it to me, to the point where one avid Gerties fan at work sat me down, shone a light in my face and urged me to go otherwise they would tell everyone about the Yorkshire Tea bag they had pictures of me dunking repeatedly the day before (lies, all lies). So I did the logical thing; I broke off my dalliance with Yorkshire Tea, investigated filing a harassment case and followed their advice.
(Oh, and Steph did eventually agree to come with me. I promised I would buy her a Playstation game and let her have a PG Tips afterwards if she was good. I actually wish I was joking about this…)
After cajoling my little Tea Witch’s apprentice into joining me, we wandered down to Gerties on a bright Sunday morning in search of a decent, honest brew and something sweet to celebrate that work was still at least 18 hours away. Gerties was an unassuming cultural hub on a corner, with a kitsch retro typewriter typography sign of upper and lower case letters that sent my grammar Nazi radar into overdrive. Once I had calmed down my urge to goose-step in and demand a bucket of paint in a German accent to correct their frontage, we wandered in.
Cosy, approachable and full of warmth (both literally and metaphorically), walking into Gerties reminded me of that comforting feeling you get when you walk through the door at your parents’ house for Friday night dinner. Minus your Dad cross dressed as Cher asking if his legs look alright in these fish net stockings – again, I wish I was joking about this. It had a real homely northern charm, with waitresses in full circle skirts, mismatched wooden tables and chairs, and a vintage Americana chalk board of the most impressive selection of loose leaf tea, proper English breakfasts and British treats I had ever seen.
‘Oh I can already tell you bloody love this…you think you are Elvis don’t you?’ Steph retorted as she saw my eyes light up as we walked in to this fifties vibe.
‘Uh huh, it’s got me all shook up baby, I won’t get the GI Blues in here…OMG they have got a first flush Darjeeling on offer! Have I died and gone to retro cafe heaven, a place where I can finally reconcile my five year old fanatical desire to be The King AND slightly unhealthy obsession with tea?!’
‘Chill out dickhead, it’s just some bloody tea and a nice caff…OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD – LAU, THEY HAVE A DAIRY FREE ALMOND CAKE…DAIRY FREE, SANS MILK, NO MOO JUICE! THERE IS A GOD! Slap me, am I dreaming?!’ Jeez…can’t take the old ‘say no to cow’ connoisseur anywhere. Chill out.
So, safe to say, our first impressions were pretty good.
We finally managed to chill our tits long enough to choose something to have. This in itself could have entertained me for the whole day as the lovely Julie – owner of Gerties – had named her blends with such panache that it made even a seasoned tea punner like myself go weak at the knees. From the brutally honest ‘Bloody Odd’ tea (she’s right, Lapsang is weirder than my cross dressing father) to the wonderfully irreverent ‘The Dogs Bollocks’ tea (again, she’s right, Darjeeling is the best canine hairy swinging ball sack of a tea), I was truly impressed with the selection, and convinced that with names like these, Julie was about to become my new BFF…maybe even my Elvis-replacing hero. Despite just finishing breakfast at home, I was also severely tempted to break the Guiness World Record for the quickest progression through dress sizes to sample each one of Gerties’ sweet and savoury offerings in portion size ‘you lardy bugger’. These offerings consisted of: every version of a Full English that you could ever ask for including – god forbid – a vegetarian one; tray bakes and cakes with a yummy rustic charm; and paninis that would even make Señor Panini salivate like a rabid dog. However, I resisted…I had a cracker bread yesterday.
I went for the aforementioned first flush Darjeeling with the witty, truly original and utterly groundbreaking title…’First Flush Darjeeling-Pot for One, £3.50′. You gotta tell it like it is sometimes I suppose. My little lactose Gestapo Steph went for the no-nonsense, reassuring, and definitely not STD-like ‘Sheffield Brew’ – a hearty Assam ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ blend. And a slice of dairy, gluten and indeed food free almond cake, just because she normally can’t in dirty milk worshipping tea dens. She was impressed that they had soya milk and proper sugar cubes the size of a fist too.
The tea was adorably served in different coloured stump tea pots on wooden trays, by a waitress who was incredibly friendly, knowledgable and a vision of the gold standard of femininity in a mint green polka dot dress, that I could only dream of aspiring to with my addiction to plaid and loungewear. The Darjeeling was tea-riffic; I had it black and indulged in the light, delicate and floral nectar, with a refreshingly earthy after taste. The delicious tea and homely setting was the perfect detoxifier after our sugar binge and GBBO style social gathering the night before; a bit like enjoying a cuppa made by your mom after a heavy night out and some questionable life choices, that you would then spend the afternoon trying to piece together via tagged Facebook photos and playing dot to dot with unexplained bruises. I imagine, y’know, from friends’ experiences…
I also pinched some of Steph’s ‘Sheffield Brew’ which was one of Gerties’ own blends. It was a northern cuppa at its best; strong, malty and with a full bodied mouthfeel, this brew put hairs on me chest and make me wanted to go down t’pit t’earn me keep. Best served with milk and sugar, this tea reminded me of Birdhouse Tea Company’s Full Monty, and both blends would act as the perfect morning kick up the arse or the necessary lubrication to navigate a difficult conversation (like ‘Mom. Dad. I think Justin Bieber is the next messiah and intend to travel around India preaching his sacred word. I’ll put the kettle on’). Even Ms PG sodding Tips liked it, giving it the rave and eloquent review of, ‘eee tha’s alright that. I’d have that again.’ The cake also went down a storm as it didn’t taste like the normal stodgy breeze blocks that profess to be ‘dairy, gluten, wheat, fun and nutrient’ free, and more closely resemble turds after too much madras at the local Indian than actual food . But Gerties’ cake was fluffy, moist and satisfyingly almondy without being too sweet or heavy, resembling more of an angel’s turd that only excretes rainbows, sunshine and perfect dairy free baked goods. In other words, it was yummy!
The little elves at Gerties were very much like their tea; hot, homely and quintessentially northern. They were chatty, attentive and knew their shit about tea. They also knew their shit about their customers too as they addressed some of the regulars by name and brought over their poison of choice, which was refreshing in this age of faceless chain coffee shops and baristas with personality bypasses. Julie, the owner, was also kind enough to come out and have a chat with me, after her suspicions were piqued when she heard me over enthusiastically ask for a first flush Darjeeling. Nobody in these parts ever asks for a first flush Darjeeling apparently, and certainly don’t sound like they are stifling a #teagasm when ordering it.
Julie was fab; as soon as she mentioned the words ‘Elvis-themed Christmas Afternoon Tea’, I was already on one knee asking how I could serve her as her humble tea minion…in my mind I hasten to add, I didn’t have enough room to do it in Gerties’ cosy surroundings. Don’t doubt that I would have embarrassed myself doing this if I could. After politely enduring my Elvis fangirl ravings, Julie explained that she is especially interested in tea culture. In particular, why the British tea room has taken on a snobby, elitist character with inaccessible tea menus that read like Stephen Hawking’s notebook translated into latin, rather than catering for the average person who enjoys a special cuppa once in a while. So, with Gerties she set about creating a friendly cafe environment for the local community – I witnessed it acting as a community hub even in the half an hour I was there – with straightforward brew names like ‘Lovely Tea’ & ‘Bakewell Tart Tea’ that don’t bamboozle the layman, whilst surreptitiously getting them to try something other than an Assam based breakfast blend. It is a theory that works; Ms Steph ‘Tetleys or f**k off’ decided she wanted to come back and try the ‘Opium Den’, that is a brew allegedly and not a secret back room that I should be worried about. Julie was also a doll and let me take some of her blends home to try too – watch this space for a review.
Gerties was my retro tea and breakfast wet dream. Its toilet was also like a throne room, and I come from a family tradition of rating the quality of an establishment on its WC facilities. Toilet aside, Gerties’ tea selection, service and welcoming atmosphere was second to none, and even melted ice queen Steph’s heart to the point that we have made a date to go back next weekend for breakfast. If you like good tea, you like good food and you like good manners, get yer arses to Gerties. You will most likely see me there. Dressed as Elvis. Acting as Julie’s tea minion. Licking at ‘The Dogs Bollocks’.
Gerties…you have been T*witched!
Who else has been to Gerties? What did you think?